With most of the senator-judges having purportedly “made up their minds,” the fate of Chief Justice Renato Corona in his impeachment trial will be known by early next week.
A day after the diabetic Corona unceremoniously left the witness stand purportedly prompted by a spell of dizziness due to low blood sugar, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Wednesday gave the Chief Justice until 2 p.m. Friday to return to the witness stand for the continuation of his testimony.
“We will grant you (the chance) to finish your evidence. After that, if you do not submit your evidence, we will consider the matter submitted on the record,” Enrile, the presiding officer, told the defense panel on Day 41 of the impeachment trial.
Enrile set the oral arguments for both the defense and the prosecution on Monday, after which the court could immediately rule on whether to acquit or convict Corona over charges of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.
“We will render a decision thereafter or maybe, at the very latest, on Tuesday. So ordered,” said Enrile, who made it clear that the ruling could no longer be reconsidered.
Under the rules, the defense and the prosecution would each be given one hour for the oral argument.
Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said both camps could designate two speakers each and use the time allotted to them “as you wish.”
16 senators to convict
On judgment day, Enrile said each of the 23 senator-judges would be asked about his or her decision and would be given an extendable two minutes to explain the vote. A vote of 16 senators is required to convict.
“I think majority of the senator-judges have already made up their minds,” Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada told reporters after Wednesday’s trial, which lasted for only around 30 minutes. “I already know what my decision will be.”
Corona, a longtime diabetic with two bypass surgeries in the past, was still confined at the intensive care unit of The Medical City in Pasig City due to the “hypoglycemic episode” he suffered soon after delivering a three-hour “opening statement” on Tuesday.
The Chief Justice left the witness stand without being formally discharged, angering a number of senators, including Enrile who immediately ordered the sergeant at arms to lock the doors of the Senate.
Corona’s “walkout” had nothing to do with the court’s deadline for the chief magistrate’s appearance, some senators said.
“There’s been speculation about whether it’s walkout or not. But senator-judges don’t think that way. It can never be a retaliatory move or a reaction move. It’s more in keeping with the schedule. There’s no reason for us to change the schedule,” Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said.
Enrile abandons threat
Enrile appeared to have reversed his position when he announced that he would allow Corona’s opening statement on Tuesday to form “part of his testimony and defense in chief.”
An angry Enrile on Tuesday warned that Corona’s testimony would be stricken off the record unless he would submit himself to cross examination.
On Wednesday, Estrada said that Enrile had rejected at the last minute a suggestion that a Senate medical team examine Corona in his hospital bed, relying on the integrity of the defense report on condition of the Chief Justice.
Representative Niel Tupas Jr., the chief House prosecutor, told the court that his camp, which had been taunting Corona to testify, was willing to forgo the cross-examination.
But the lead defense counsel, Serafin Cuevas, said he still wanted to conduct a direct examination of the Chief Justice.
Cayetano asked Cuevas whether the defense would provide documentary evidence to support Corona’s narrative.
Cuevas replied, “The testimony will lie entirely on his credibility and validity of his assertions.”
Cuevas profusely apologized in open court for Corona’s failure to appear at Wednesday’s hearing. He said he and other defense lawyers had gone to the hospital to check on Corona, but were told that he was “sedated” and unavailable for consultation.
Cuevas said he had been assured by the family that the Chief Justice was “willing to be back” to continue his testimony and be placed under cross-examination.
“But the stumbling block against that desire of the Chief Justice is his mental and physical condition,” he explained before submitting a copy of the medical bulletin on Corona to the impeachment court.
“I don’t think that his condition will warrant an intelligible examination, whether direct or cross examination.”
Cuevas also apologized for Corona’s decision to leave the stand without Enrile’s clearance, saying “we never anticipated these things.”
“(But) I want to adhere to the rule that investigate first before condemning,” he said, before Enrile cut him off. The Senate President said Corona would be asked about the incident upon his return.
Senator Edgardo Angara, whose son, Representative Juan Edgardo Angara was among the House spokespersons who had lashed out at Corona relentlessly in the past four months in defiance of the Senate tribunal’s injunction against discussing the merits of the case in public, believed that Corona’s abrupt departure on Tuesday was premeditated, and didn’t help his cause.
“That kind of scenario is almost like toying and playing with the process of the impeachment court,” Angara told reporters. He said Corona was fortunate Enrile “kept his cool.”
‘I’m no thief’
On the witness stand, Corona denied prosecution charges he had $10 million to $12 million in bank deposits, had illegally amassed assets and had failed to disclose them truthfully.
“I’m no thief, no criminal. I’ve done no wrong. But I am also no fool,” he said. Corona then signed a waiver for the examination of all his assets on condition that the 188 representatives who signed the impeachment complaint and his arch critic Senator Franklin Drilon do the same. The lawmakers spurned his challenge.
Corona said for the past five months President Benigno Aquino III had mobilized the entire government machinery to malign him “24/7” after the Cojuangco family lost its sprawling sugar plantation in an adverse Supreme Court decision last November. He decried that laws had been trampled to prosecute him and declared that as chief magistrate and defender of the rule of law this was unacceptable to him.
Estrada acknowledged that Corona’s abrupt departure, without Enrile’s permission, might have a bearing on the verdict of the senator-judges.
“When he testified, he was not the Chief Justice. He was an ordinary witness so he should have shown respect to the court,” Estrada added.