Senate won’t call Corona, kin
The Senate impeachment court on Tuesday rejected the prosecution’s move to compel Chief Justice Renato Corona and members of his family to testify at his trial, giving him a preliminary victory.
But the impeachment court issued subpoenas to compel the presentation of key documents against the Coronas, such as statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) and titles covering their alleged properties.
“I would like to state for the record that the chair has no intention of … shackling the prosecution from obtaining evidence to prove their case,” Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the presiding officer, said before announcing the release of the subpoenas on the second day of the trial.
“I think the prosecution has all the means to obtain the evidence properly if they apply the rules of evidence,” Enrile said.
Voting 14-6, the senator-judges denied the prosecution’s request that Corona and his family be made to appear at the trial and produce documentary evidence—a move that the defense had earlier described as “a fishing expedition.”
Enrile’s eight-page ruling was initially read at the start of the hearing.
But while the prosecutors from the House of Representatives led by Representative Niel Tupas Jr. “submitted” to Enrile’s ruling, Senate Minority Leader Alan Cayetano contested it, leading Enrile to put the matter to a vote.
In his ruling, Enrile said compelling Corona to appear in his own trial would violate the rule against self-incrimination.
He said summoning the Chief Justice’s wife Cristina, their daughter Carla and husband Constantino Castillo III, and their son Francis and wife Charina would go against “parental and filial privilege.”
Said Enrile: “The request for the issuance of subpoenas dated Jan. 12, 2012, is denied for lack of merit.
“It would violate the constitutional right of respondent Chief Justice against self-incrimination if he would be compelled to appear and testify against himself by virtue of a subpoena directed to him by the court upon the request of the prosecution.
“This court finds the request for subpoena duces tecum and ad testificandum Mrs. Cristina Corona without legal justification.”
Those who voted against Enrile’s ruling were Cayetano and Senators Antonio Trillanes IV, Aquilino Pimentel III, Teofisto Guingona III, Manuel Villar and Pia Cayetano.
Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Loren Legarda were absent.
The voting took place after a caucus of more than 15 minutes, during which the senator-judges discussed how to deal with a member’s opposition to the presiding officer’s ruling. Under the rules, the presiding officer may decide on an issue himself or put the matter to a vote by all members of the chamber.
“The ruling of the chair is sustained so it stays as a ruling of the Senate,” Enrile said after the votes were counted on the floor.
‘Product of my mind’
After the chamber voted to sustain Enrile’s ruling, Tupas manifested that the prosecution did not agree with Enrile’s position that the impeachment trial was “akin to a criminal case.” His move appeared that he was trying to make up for the perceived blunder earlier.
Enrile elaborated on his position, noting, for example, that there was “punitive action” on an impeached official as in the case of a person facing criminal charges.
Asked by Tupas where he got “the material just read,” Enrile replied: “This is the product of my own mind.”
Tupas initially asked that his camp be allowed to file a written motion for reconsideration.
But he said the prosecution “submits to the ruling of the Senate President” after Enrile lectured him on the nature of an impeachment, which, Enrile said, was “akin to a criminal case.”
A member of the prosecution shook his head when asked by the Philippine Daily Inquirer about Tupas’ action after the hearing.
Alan Cayetano appeared to be taking up the cudgels for Tupas when he took the floor and argued against Enrile’s ruling. He asked that the decision be modified and that Corona’s wife, children and in-laws be summoned.
“Clearly, the law points us to the fact that these people may be called if the allegation is that these properties were hidden and their names were used,” he said, adding:
“The question is: May they claim disqualification or privilege not to testify against the respondent in an impeachment trial? It really depends on the purpose and the offer of evidence, but we are not yet there, Mr. President.”
In refusing to subpoena Cristina Corona, Enrile cited a provision in the Revised Rules of Court barring a spouse from testifying against the other during marriage, “except in a civil case by one against the other, or in a criminal case for a crime committed by one against the other or the latter’s direct descendants or ascendants.”
Under the concept of “parental and filial privilege,” Enrile cited the rule that “no person may be compelled to testify against his parents, other direct ascendants, children or other direct descendants.”
In a text message after the hearing, Tupas told the Inquirer that the nonappearance of the Coronas “won’t affect our case … We can still prove that he amassed ill-gotten wealth even without the testimony of his family.”
Tranquil Salvador III, a member of the defense team, sought to downplay observations that the performance of the prosecution during the first two days of the impeachment trial indicated that Corona would eventually be acquitted.
“I know that for laymen, there’s an impression that [the trial] is like a day-to-day [contest] or a basketball game. But it’s not that way in a trial,” Salvador said in a news briefing after the hearing.
“We are very happy with the advances we had in the sense that our requests were entertained. But we still have to see the evidence as they are presented [by the House panel],” he said.
When asked if the defense viewed the Senate ruling as a major victory, Salvador said: “What happened is really good for us because it’s an initial victory. In a protracted struggle, we have little battles and there is a war. [On Tuesday] we gained advances.”
Asked if the Senate ruling bolstered the defense’s confidence, he replied: “We live by the day, we prepare by the day and we pray a lot.”
Subpoenas for documents
Despite the prosecution’s setback, Enrile granted its request for the issuance of subpoenas to witnesses, including the registers of deeds and assessors of the cities of Taguig, Marikina and Quezon, where the prosecution had earlier alleged that the Coronas had properties.
The prosecution will also get to keep the services of its private lawyers, with Enrile denying a separate motion filed by the defense asking that the appearance of the private prosecutors be disallowed.
Said Enrile: “With due respect to the defense, the chair rules that the request is not in order because the rules of the House allow the presence of a private prosecutor to assist the panel of prosecutors designated by the House … It is a matter of law and matter of precedence.”
The prosecution will first argue the second article of impeachment, which pertains to the nonfiling of Corona’s SALNs.
Ready for 2nd article
Quezon Representative Lorenzo Tañada III, deputy spokesperson of the House prosecutors, said in a press conference that the panel had decided to proceed with the evidence on the SALNs and the supposed properties of Corona and his family.
Tañada said the prosecution was ready with the documents and other evidence with respect to the second article.
“There is nothing in the rules that state that you should put the strongest [article] first,” he said later.
Tañada also said that while the panel believed that all the articles of impeachment were strong, it was not aware which were the strongest at the time the impeachment complaint was approved.
On Monday, the prosecutors asked the Senate to summon prospective witnesses led by Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares to testify on the alleged properties of the Coronas.
Also included in the request for subpoenas were Enriqueta Esguerra-Vidal, clerk of court of the Supreme Court and the personnel officers of the Offices of the President and the Vice President.
The prosecutors want them to submit to the Senate original and certified true copies of Corona’s SALNs, which the Chief Justice said he had been annually filing with the tribunal’s clerk of court, as required by law.
Henares was requested to bring copies of the income tax returns of Corona and his wife covering the years 1992 to 2010, of Carla and Constantino Castillo from 2000 to 2010, and of Francis and Charina Corona from 2005 to 2010.
Henares was asked, as well, to produce a certificate authorizing registrations covering the sale of all units, including parking lots, at The Bellagio, Tower I, in Taguig City sold in 2009; all lots in McKinley Hill in Taguig City sold in 2008; all units in Spanish Bay Tower in Bonifacio Ridge, Taguig, sold in 2005; all units in Burgundy Plaza on Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City sold in 2003; all units in The Columns on Ayala Avenue corner Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue in Makati sold in 2004; and all houses and lots in La Vista Subdivision in Quezon City sold in 2010.
Realty firms’ reps
The prosecutors also asked that six representatives of major realty companies be summoned: Giovanni Ng of Megaworld Corp., Aniceto Bisnar and Lourdes Reyes of Fort Bonifacio Development Corp., Grace Sta. Ana and Nerissa Josef of Community Innovations Inc., and Rogelio Serafica of Burgundy Realty Corp.
They were requested to bring documents pertinent to the alleged properties of the Coronas.
Jamie Agbayani, president and CEO of Camp John Hay Management Corp., has been asked to bring a copy of the SALN of Cristina Corona. With reports from Cynthia D. Balana and Marlon Ramos
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