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Estrada’s aborted impeachment trial haunts Senate

By: - Reporter / @KatyYam
/ 08:13 PM December 25, 2011

MANILA, Philippines—The ghost of Joseph Estrada haunts the Senate.

Apparently still smarting from Estrada’s aborted impeachment trial in 2001, two senators reminded the public that the rules of court that would be observed in the trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona in the Upper Chamber beginning next month may result in unpopular decisions regarding evidence.

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Senator Miriam Santiago recalled that in 2001, the senator-judges voted 11-10 in rejecting the presentation of the so-called second envelope that supposedly contained damning evidence against Estrada.

“At one point, we had to decide, should we open the second envelope?  I voted no.  I explained that under the rules of court, that cannot be done because we would need to alter or amend the complaint before we can open it,” she explained.

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Santiago said there was an immediate perception then that those who voted not to accept the second envelope did it to protect Estrada.

“But since the people were only watching (on television), they thought I just didn’t want the envelope opened.  And they got very upset…because not all people are familiar with the rules of court,” Santiago noted.

Senate majority leader Vicente Sotto III, who voted against the opening of the second envelope, recalled the public hostility against those who favored the move.

“People thought the vote against the envelope was a favor to the former president.  And of course we all know the consequences that followed,” Sotto said.

The rejection of the evidence triggered a walkout in the Senate and the People Power uprising that ousted Estrada, who was replaced by then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

“There was nothing wrong there. People thought we were just defending (Estrada), but they were wrong,” Santiago said.

The second envelope contained a letter from businessman Jose Dichaves requesting Equitable-PCI Bank vice president Romualdo Ang that he be allowed to open an account under the name of Jose Velarde. The letter also asked that all of Velarde’s banking transactions be coursed through Dichaves.

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Santiago’s office said she opposed the opening of the second envelope because it was not included in the original list of evidence that prosecutors planned to present in court.

On Sunday, Santiago said this decision was “one example of when common sense does not achieve justice because there are technicalities involved that cannot just be dismissed as technicalities.” She said these were issues “borne out of centuries of trial practice.”

The former trial court judge who was recently elected to the International Court of Justice in the Hague said she hoped that this experience would also be an eye-opener for media “that they do not immediately give color to our decisions.”

“It would help if you also consult your legal advisers to determine if we are doing the right thing,” she said.

Come Corona’s impeachment trial, Santiago said senator-judges would be critical of evidence that prosecutors would present.

“People would be watching and people have native wisdom that would help them determine who is telling the truth,” she noted.

“It (will be) a question of whose story is more credible.  It would also be a question of whether the laws would be applied correctly and whether people agree that these laws are applied correctly.  There would be documents, witnesses…” she trailed off.

The House minority believes that if Corona is ousted, Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, as President Benigno Aquino’s personal choice, would replace him.

Incoming Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said that Carpio as the next chief justice was a “no brainer” since the law firm, which he founded—Villaraza Cruz Marcelo & Angangco— went all out for Aquino and his losing vice presidential bet Mar Roxas in the 2010 campaign. With a report from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.


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TAGS: chief justice, Congress, History, Impeachment, Joseph Estrada, Renato Corona, Senate, Supreme Court
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