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Enrile nixes Corona team’s bid for pretrial

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

In a preview of legal strategy, Chief Justice Renato Corona’s team is seeking a pretrial conference in an attempt to look at the prosecution evidence, but Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has rejected the initiative.

The defense team headed by retired Justice Serafin Cuevas wants to have the conference to settle a variety of issues, from the “quantum of proof” needed for a conviction to the identification of witnesses and how much time would be devoted to their examination by both camps.

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Ramon Esguerra, a member of the defense team, said settling these issues during the preliminary conference would “help abbreviate the proceedings, the entire process.”

Corona’s camp said the pretrial conference would give an opportunity to determine what type of evidence would be needed to secure a conviction.

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Esguerra said it remained unclear whether the basis would be “preponderance of evidence,” as was purportedly the case during the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada in 2001 that was aborted and led to his ouster in a people power uprising.

But Enrile on Tuesday had said a pretrial conference was no longer needed, noting that issues, such as the one on the time limit for the examination of witness, were already covered by existing rules.

“There will be no pretrial,” he told reporters, citing the Senate’s mandate to “forthwith proceed” with the trial once the articles of impeachment had been transmitted by the House of Representatives.

Not delaying tactic

Esguerra said the pretrial option was not a dilatory tactic. So was the previous motion for a preliminary hearing to verify the impeachment complaint signed by 188 House members, he said.

Enrile said the senators, sitting as an impeachment court, would rule on the motion when the trial of Corona opens on Monday.

Esguerra (no relation to this reporter) said his camp could also go to the Supreme Court if the Senate ruled against them.

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“You cannot say that you cannot go to the Supreme Court. Remember that we still have the option on the particular incident about verification,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an interview.

“If the Senate rules against our motion, then under the broader jurisdiction provided for under the Constitution, if we find that there is grave abuse of discretion on the part of the impeaching body, we’ll go to the Supreme Court,” the lawyer added.

Unnecessary arguments

Esguerra acknowledged that such a tack could be portrayed as dilatory by House prosecutors, but he said: “What can we do? That remedy is available to us. The Constitution provides for it.”

Said Enrile: “We will not shackle the parties in presenting their side. The only thing that I will probably ask is no dilatory, unnecessary arguments.”

Esguerra said “surprise” witnesses should not be admitted during the trial, but acknowledged that the decision would be up to the impeachment court. “There should be none,” he said.

Definition of terms

Esguerra said the preliminary conference could also clarify the “definition” of “betrayal of public trust” and “culpable violation of the Constitution,” which constitute the case against Corona, along with alleged graft.

“No one has defined it (betrayal of public trust) that’s why we need to clarify it,” he said.

Enrile said prosecutors could amend an article of impeachment in the middle of the trial, but would have to “bring it back to the House and vote upon it again.”

“Yes, unless I’m outvoted by the other members (of the Senate),” Enrile replied when asked if a charge against Corona could be revised during trial.

“We do that all the time, an amendment to the complaint,” he added.

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TAGS: Congress, Corona Impeachment, Corona SALN, Government, Impeachment court, Juan Ponce Enrile, Judiciary, Politics, Renato Corona, Senate, Supreme Court
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