Corona, family hurt by charges
Chief Justice Renato Corona and his family are hurting from accusations aired through the media by House prosecutors and Malacañang that he had amassed ill-gotten wealth since he was appointed by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the Supreme Court in 2002, his lead counsel said.
Serafin Cuevas, a retired Supreme Court justice, said Corona was prepared to disprove allegations that he and his wife Ma. Cristina had acquired a 300-square-meter unit at the ritzy The Bellagio in Taguig City and other properties through illicit means.
“Of course, they are hurt. I believe as human beings, they are also affected by these (accusations of corruption),” Cuevas told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an interview on Thursday. “Even a simple accusation is enough to destroy your equilibrium and equanimity.”
Corona is aware of what he will face in his Senate impeachment trial, which begins on Jan. 16, Cuevas said.
“This is no joke. This is a real legal battle,” he said. “They (Malacañang and its allies) have everything. They have positions they can dispense with. They have pork barrel worth billions of pesos. What can he (Corona) offer? Nothing.”
Cuevas said that while his client was prepared for the long haul, Corona would block attempts by the House panel to prolong the impeachment trial by presenting new allegations.
The rules on evidence prohibit the presentation of materials in support of allegations which are not stated in the eight articles of impeachment that the House had submitted to the Senate, according to Cuevas.
“A prolonged impeachment trial will not happen because we will not allow it. They cannot present evidence not in support of the allegations they made in their complaint. We would object to it,” he said.
Cuevas said Corona and members of his legal team had been continuously meeting “for long hours” for the trial for alleged culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust and graft and corruption.
“I’m trying to elicit important and material facts from the Chief Justice because we have to gravitate and circulate on that. You cannot manufacture evidence,” said Cuevas, who served as former President Joseph Estrada’s lawyer in his plunder trial in the Sandiganbayan. Estrada lost the case, but he was later pardoned by Arroyo.
Not hiding anything
Cuevas insisted that the Coronas bought the Bellagio unit and other properties using “hard-earned money.” In fact, he said, the Chief Justice was still amortizing the condominium unit.
“We already discussed that in our answer (to the articles of impeachment). We are not hiding anything. Until now, that is not yet fully paid,” he said.
Cuevas, however, admitted that he had yet to see the documents pertaining to the ownership of the Bellagio unit, saying: “If the Chief Justice was an ordinary person, I would have asked him to give me the documents.”
“But I believe he will give me all those things. We assume that when he told his lawyers that he was still paying for that, it was accurate and true.”
By disclosing Corona’s alleged questionable acquisition of wealth to the media, the House panel was clearly resorting to “trial by publicity” and that it was a sign that evidence against the Chief Justice was “weak,” Cuevas said.
“They are really trying to demonize the Chief Justice,” he said. “I hope I’m wrong. But there could be no motive whatsoever, except (to sway) public opinion and to portray Corona as a violator of the law and a tax evader.”
He said Corona’s legal team would ask the Senate to “prohibit” the congressmen from further discussing to the public the supposed evidence against the Chief Justice.
“My honest opinion is that (the revelation about the Bellagio unit) should not have been done because we are prohibited from discussing in public the merits and demerits of our respective articulation or postulation,” Cuevas said.
“That’s not in accordance with the rules of the Senate. In doing so, it’s like they are arguing this case before the public.”
Citing Senate Resolution
No. 39, which set the rules of procedure for Corona’s trial, Cuevas said members of the Senate “shall refrain from making any comments and disclosures in public pertaining to the merits of a pending impeachment trial.”
“The same shall likewise apply to the prosecutors, to the person impeached and the respective counsels and witnesses. So there is that prohibition,” he said.
“We will definitely invite the attention of the impeachment court that there should be some remedy of sort to stop this kind of trial (by publicity). Secondly, it’s a violation of the very rules of the impeachment court.”
‘Plan B’ assailed
Also on Sunday, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and the Metropolitcan and City Judges Association of the Philippines (MetCJAP) lambasted Malacañang for its purported high-handedness in preparing a “Plan B” if the Senate acquits Corona.
The groups also denounced President Aquino’s reported directive to his legal team to look for Corona’s possible replacement.
Roland Inting, IBP executive director, stressed that the 1987 Constitution explicitly stated that Corona may only be replaced through impeachment or his voluntary resignation.
“It’s very hard and difficult to equate (Plan B) to our understanding of the law,” Inting said. “There’s no other constitutional way of removing the Chief Justice other than those two. We don’t know of any other way.”
He also assailed presidential spokespersons Edwin Lacierda and Abigail Valte, who are both lawyers, for announcing that the President had ordered a search for Corona’s successor.
“They should know the process of nomination of Chief Justice is through the constitutional body called the JBC (Judicial and Bar Council). We find it hard to believe that the two lawyers would say that,” Inting said.
“The only process sanctioned by the Constitution to remove the Chief Justice is by impeachment. Any ‘Plan B,’ therefore, to remove Corona, if he is acquitted by the Senate, is unconstitutional,” said Judge Cesar Merlas, MetCJAP president.
The Cagayan de Oro City judge said the Palace move to initiate a search committee aside from the JBC was a “disrespect” to the body constitutionally mandated to screen candidates for vacancies in the judiciary.
“While the President no doubt has the power to appoint a Chief Justice, the selection process, however, constitutionally belongs to the JBC,” Merlas said.
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