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Corona gambit meant to stall trial, say solons

Chief Justice Renato Corona’s gambit questioning the veracity of the 188 signatures on the impeachment complaint filed against him would stall his trial in the Senate until after the 2013 elections, or the end of the term of the incumbent members of the House of Representatives, a lawmaker said on Friday.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said Corona’s move would render the impeachment complaint functus officio or lapse until the 2013 elections.

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“Evardone is just speculating,” a highly-placed source who is privy to the matter but who does not want to be named for lack of authority, told the Inquirer.

“This means the Senate may have to receive evidence on the issue of verification before it could proceed to try on the more important allegations in the articles of impeachment,” Evardone also said.

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Corona is scheduled to go on trial in the Senate impeachment court in the middle of January on eight charges, including betrayal of public trust, as a result of his alleged partiality in cases involving the Arroyo administration.

‘Propriety of verification’

In his answer to the impeachment complaint, Corona raised the “propriety of verification as a preliminary matter,” as he questioned the “blitzkrieg” filing, signing and transmittal of the impeachment complaint. He claimed that most of the 188 lawmaker-signatories did not read the complaint before they affixed their names to it.

All this was denied by the House leadership. It said the processes were followed, including verification, in the filing of the complaint.

Evardone said that if the Senate should decide to go through the verification process, each of the 188 signatories would be required to testify on whether they had read the resolution.

“This would eat up roughly 188 trial days, or more than six months, including weekends and holidays. If that happens, the power of the Senate as an impeachment court could lapse since the terms of office of the congressmen-prosecutors and 12 of the senator-judges would end,” Evardone said.

He said that should the Senate ignore Corona’s motion for verification, the Chief Justice could use this as basis for filing a petition for certiorari or injunction in the Supreme Court against the Senate for grave abuse of discretion.

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Evardone, who is not a lawyer, said the verification process was a “non-issue.”

“The issue of verification is proper only when what was filed was a complaint. What the 188 House members filed here was a resolution of impeachment. We did not file a verified complaint,” said Evardone, who noted that the signatures of the representatives were sufficient proof of impeachment under the Constitution.

Delaying tactics

Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo, House prosecution spokesperson, said Corona’s filing of a motion for a preliminary hearing in the Senate showed that his defense team was resorting to technicalities to delay the trial.

In a statement, Quimbo said he was surprised that the defense team was resorting to delaying tactics when it had belittled the impeachment case as weak. “Is it possible they are now using every means to prevent the trial from taking place? What are they scared of?” he said.

Like Evardone, Quimbo saw Corona’s motion as a “preliminary step” to seeking Supreme Court intervention.

Quimbo said Corona would have to show that at least 94 of the 188 House members did not verify that they had affixed their signatures to the complaint. “To date, they have not even shown a single member of Congress who has disavowed their verification,” he said.

Acquittal possible

A Malacañang official said Corona’s acquittal remained a possibility.

Secretary Ronald Llamas, President Aquino’s adviser for political affairs, said the race for votes among senator-judges could still go either way for Corona’s acquittal or conviction.

Llamas believes the evidence presented against Corona would be the dominant factor in the decision-making of senators but added that the lawmakers’ sense of their political future would also come into play.

Asked if the administration was preparing for Corona getting cleared of the articles of impeachment, Llamas said, “Well, that’s a possibility.”

“But we’re confident that Corona would be (convicted). But of course, having confidence is different from being certain,” the political adviser said.

A conviction in the impeachment court requires the concurrence of two-thirds (16) of all senators.

Live media coverage

Two former senators said that a key component of Corona’s trial—live media coverage—would help determine its outcome.

But while former senator Francisco Tatad warned of repercussions a live coverage of the trial might bring, his then contemporary in the Senate, Aquilino Pimentel Jr., welcomed cameras in the courtroom.

For Tatad, it would be allowing “public opinion to reign” instead of the judgment of the senator-judges who will weigh the evidence.

“It’s a mistake to televise the trial because public opinion would reign and the judges would be afraid to go against it,” Tatad told the Inquirer in a phone interview on Thursday.

“The trial should be judged by judges, not by the public, so the senators should be insulated (from public opinion),” he said.

Pimentel said live coverage of the trial could not be avoided, “especially in this day and age.” Current impeachment rules allow for full and live media coverage of the Corona trial, which is set to begin on Jan. 16.

Tatad and Pimentel sat as judges in the Senate impeachment court that tried President Joseph Estrada in 2000 for betrayal of the public trust and culpable violations of the Constitution. With reports from Christian V. Esguerra and Norman Bordadora

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TAGS: 2013 senatorial elections, Chief Justice Renato Corona, Corona impeachment trial, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, Supreme Court
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