83-year-old veteran lawyer leads defense of Chief Justice in impeachment trial
MANILA, Philippines—The daunting task to prove the innocence of Chief Justice Renato Corona nearly caused his lead counsel to turn down his request to represent Corona in his impeachment trial in the Senate.
Serafin Cuevas, a retired Supreme Court justice, said he was reluctant to take on the challenge to defend Corona because of the physical demands of the job as lead counsel.
He said he also considered the several cases pending in the high tribunal that his law office had been handling.
“This is no ordinary case. I know I may have to stay in the Senate as late as 9 p.m. just to argue our point,” Cuevas told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
“I’m already 83 and I’m not getting any younger. I know this is a big burden for me,” he continued.
According to Cuevas, a high court official informed him that Corona had been looking for him after reports spread that the House would file the articles of impeachment against the chief justice.
He said he was actually “avoiding” talking with Corona since he knew that Corona would eventually convince him.
“When I visited the chief justice, he told me he wanted me to be his lead counsel because he saw me argue similar cases before,” Cuevas said.
“His wife (Ma. Cristina) wept when she spoke to me. So I consulted my family and they allowed me,” he continued.
The octogenarian lawyer said it took him two weeks to accept Corona’s invitation to lead a battery of over 30 seasoned litigation lawyers to prove his innocence.
He said his being a former associate of the Supreme Court also prompted him to be at the forefront in defending the institution.
Cuevas was appointed to the high court by the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos on June 1, 1984. But he resigned after a popular uprising ended the Marcos dictatorship two years later.
“The attacks were directed against the Supreme Court and it pains my heart being a former associate justice,” he said. “What they (House panel) were saying were not true. A chief justice cannot prevail over the members of the court.”
He also doused speculations that his decision to join Corona’s defense team was an indication that the chief justice had the support of the influential Iglesia ni Cristo.
Said Cuevas: “The perception of the people is that wherever Cuevas goes, there goes the Iglesia Ni Cristo. But I’m only a member of the church. I happen to be a chief legal counsel of the Iglesia. But I’m not a minister or a deacon.”
As lead counsel, Cuevas said he would conduct the cross-examination of all the prosecution witnesses that the House panel would present in the witness stand.
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