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Prosecutors say all they need is 3 weeks to wrap up case vs Corona

/ 12:48 AM January 12, 2012

Chief Justice Renato Corona

Three weeks.

That’s all the time the House prosecutors say they need to wrap up their case against Chief Justice Renato Corona, whose trial for culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust and graft and corruption begins on Monday before the Senate impeachment court.

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The trial is expected to be covered live by major television and radio networks, aside from print and blog reports.

The Senate court will hold hearings from Monday to Thursday starting at 2 p.m. beginning on Monday. Congress is scheduled to go on recess on March 24 for the summer break and resume its sessions on May 6.

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Asked if he will watch the TV coverage, President Benigno Aquino III said: “Obviously, in addition to my regular duties, one would want to know what has transpired already.”

The prosecutors’ office at the Senate is ready.

On Wednesday, three officers of the prosecution panel inspected its assigned working area in the Senate building, the spacious Ambrosio Padilla Room. This is located far from the session hall, where the trial will be conducted.

“We are barred from talking to (senators) unless it is for administrative purposes. We have been advised not to talk to them so as not to create any impression that we are cooking something up,” said Cavite Representative Joseph Emilio “Jun” Abaya, the panel’s manager.

Abaya came to the Senate with the prosecution panel spokespersons—Marikina Representative Romero “Miro” Quimbo and Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara.

“We would tell the prosecutors that everything is already in place. That changes were made at minimal expense. We just spent for the divider constructed by an engineering team from the House,” Quimbo said.

Delaying tactic

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In an unprecedented move, 188 representatives last month signed eight articles of impeachment against Corona during a five-hour caucus and transmitted them the following day for trial in the Senate.

“We think our presentation of evidence will not be more than three weeks for all eight articles. We don’t know on the part of the defense, but we think that delaying the proceedings is part of their strategy,” said Quezon Representative Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III.

Tañada told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Wednesday a prolonged trial would benefit Corona.

“There is a risk that the public and media might lose interest in the case if it lasts more than six months. But if the evidence of guilt is overwhelming, and this is firmly planted in the minds of the public, the Corona team runs the risks of earning the ire of the public for its dilatory tactics,” he said.

The prosecution has already accused Corona of “obvious delaying tactics,” such as seeking a prehearing trial and questioning the validity of the 188 lawmakers who endorsed and signed his impeachment.

“We expect more preliminary motions to be filed, but we are hopeful that this trial will proceed. The quicker it is terminated, the better it is for the Filipinos,” said Quimbo.

Angara said the entire trial should take no more than a month and a half to two months.

“I talked with senior lawmakers and they said three months will be too long, six months will be unbearable,” Angara said.

He said that the Corona team would consider it a “key victory” if they are able to extend the trial beyond six months, betting on the public’s short attention span and the media’s hankering for fresh stories.

Back and forth

Skirmishing before the media continued Wednesday in spite of a gag rule adopted by the Senate and warnings issued after the prosecutors last week released documents purportedly showing Corona’s alleged illicit acquisition of a swank condominium unit and other properties.

Akbayan Representative Arlene Bag-ao told reporters that Corona was “grasping at straws to turn the table against the prosecution and to deflect the attention of the public,” citing his motion to the Senate to cite prosecutors in contempt.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said he did not believe the prosecutors should be sanctioned. “Eventually, (the evidence) will come out anyway.”

Also on Wednesday, private defense lawyers Homobono Adaza and Alan Paguia filed an urgent motion urging the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order to stop the trial on Monday until it rules on their petition questioning the constitutionality of the proceedings.

The two lawyers feared the case they earlier filed could be rendered moot.

Reacting to the fireworks, Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez told reporters: “We are hoping that the proper bodies will not be unduly influenced by these obvious maneuvers by the two parties.”

‘Be engaged’

The spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines called on Filipinos to closely monitor the trial.

“We should be critical observers of the proceedings,” Iñiguez said. “Follow it closely and not make judgments immediately.”

The civil society group Kaya Natin! said in an interview with the Inquirer that Filipinos—whether for or against Corona—should get “engaged” and not be mere “bystanders.”

“Let’s act now. We should not wait for the trial to end in another Edsa revolt.  We only act  when we’re disgruntled,” said Kaya Natin! convenor Harvey Keh.

The 2001 impeachment trial of then President Joseph Estrada was short-circuited during the presentation of evidence and led to a walkout by senators, triggering a people power revolt that ousted him.

“Let the impeachment proceed and let us ensure that it’s credible,” Keh said. With reports from Cathy Yamsuan, Cynthia D. Balana, TJ Burgonio, Jocelyn R. Uy, Norman Bordadora, Christine O. Avendaño and Jerome Aning

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TAGS: Congress, Corona Impeachment, Feliciano Belmonte, Government, Judiciary, Politics, Renato Corona, Senate, Supreme Court
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