The defense at the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona plans to present the magistrate himself as its last witness.
Corona’s counsels have decided on the tack despite the concern that the Chief Justice could become a sitting duck when he finally faces his accusers and all 23 senator-judges in the televised proceedings.
Defense counsels Tranquil Salvador and Karen Jimeno on Friday acknowledged this possibility, considering that the impeachment rules prohibit lawyers from raising objections to questions propounded by senator-judges, no matter how off-field.
For this reason, Salvador, a seasoned litigator, prefers that prosecutors—particularly the congressmen—cross-examine the Chief Justice themselves. For most of their presentation of evidence, House prosecutors had relied on private counsels assisting them.
Salvador noted that House prosecutors had been demanding that Corona spoke for himself in his defense. Particularly insistent were chief House prosecutor Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. and Rep. Miro Quimbo, who speaks for the prosecution but is not part of the legal team.
“It would be best if they would ask the questions because it would appear during interviews that they know the facts of the case,” Salvador said in a press conference in Manila. “They are the complainants here and they swore to represent the 188 congressmen (who signed the impeachment complaint).”
Under the rules, objections are allowed only when raised against questions coming from either defense or prosecution lawyers. Counsels are barred from arguing with senator-judges, many of whom are not lawyers.
“That was one of our basic concerns before, that we know we cannot control the range of questions (by senator-judges),” said Salvador. “We have to be prepared and the Chief Justice should not be prepared only mentally, but also physically.”
Jimeno admitted that defense lawyers “can’t do anything about the questions of the senator-judges.”
As in a sporting event, Corona would go through a “difficult preparation” before he took the stand, said Salvador. He surmised that senators’ questions could go beyond his client’s stint with the Supreme Court.
Salvador declined to elaborate on Corona’s preparation, but made it clear that the defense would not seek any accommodation from the impeachment court. He said doing so could only provoke accusations that Corona was “afraid.”
10 more witnesses
“He comes to court just as a witness, as a lawyer, as a chief justice, knowing his rights,” the counsel said. “Yes, we can invoke that right and we respect the institution of the Senate.”
Salvador said Corona could decline to respond to certain questions, especially those unrelated to the impeachment case. “The judges would have to make their own conclusions why he didn’t want to answer,” he said.
Salvador said the defense still had some 10 witnesses, including Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and four complainants who alleged that Corona had a stash of $10 million in bank deposits.
But two of the complainants, former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros and civil society leader Harvey Keh, appeared to have backtracked on the allegation after they were subpoenaed by the Senate.
“When you sign something, you attest to the truthfulness contained therein and what is alleged therein,” said Salvador, referring to the complainants.
Keh had claimed he had received copies of alleged Corona bank transactions from an anonymous source. He later gave copies to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, presiding officer of the impeachment court.
Jimeno said Corona should not be prejudged especially when he had yet to take the stand.
“To render impartial judgment, you have to listen to all sides of the story. You need to be open to what the accused would say as a witness. We hope there would be no prejudgments,” she said.
Salvador said the defense had yet to get in touch with the Ombudsman, who had also been subpoenaed by the Senate. He said it was possible that there would be no communication with Morales until she took the stand next week.
Salvador said it would be the court that would declare her as a hostile witness. Until then, he said, the Ombudsman would be considered an ordinary witness, meaning the defense would be bound by her testimony.