Unprepared prosecution gets dressing down
MANILA, Philippines – The prosecution team was again caught unprepared on Tuesday when it failed to disclose the number of witnesses it would present against Chief Justice Renato Corona.
This time, it was Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, appearing for the first time on Tuesday’s trial in the Senate after a weeklong of absence due to hypertension, who wanted to know.
“Wag na tayong magpa epal dito dahil nawawalan ng gana ang mga nanonood,” the senator said when she stood to ask questions.
Santiago then went directly to ask the prosecution and the defense teams about the number of witnesses that they would present in the entire trial.
“Your honor, we will present today [Tuesday] at least seven witnesses,” said the chief prosecutor, Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas Jr.
“For today? But for the totality of the trial period, how many do you intend to present?” asked Santiago.
And when Tupas could not immediately give an answer and started shaking his head, an irate senator said, “And don’t shake your head at me. You should have known, you should even have a trial brief.”
“So what? What’s the answer, how many witnesses do you intend to present? Do you have any idea?” said the senator.
“I have to ask your honor…” Tupas said but was interrupted by Santiago, “That’s not acceptable. You come to court prepared. You will not waste the time of this court.”
The brief exchange between Santiago and Tupas left many people inside the session hall shaking their heads. Social media was also abuzz with comments either criticizing or ridiculing the performance of the prosecution on Tuesday.
Unlike Tupas, Corona’s lead counsel, former Supreme Court Associate Justice Serafin Cuevas, quickly gave an answer to Santiago’s query.
“We are prepared to present 15 witnesses your honor,” said Cuevas, adding that they have submitted 23 pieces of documentary evidence to the Senate and would submit 25 more before trial ends.
But despite giving Tupas a dressing down, Santiago agreed with the prosecution’s request to allow them to present evidence against Corona’s alleged ill-gotten wealth.
Santiago recalled how she was “demonized” when she voted not to open the second envelope supposedly containing evidence against then former President Joseph Estrada in his impeachment trial in 2000.
“It was a very painful experience,” she said.
Since the prosecution team expressed its intention to call Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares to testify on Corona’s filing of income tax return, Santiago said the Chief Justice should be given at least three days starting this Tuesday to prepare for his defense.
“I respectfully propose that there’s already sufficient notice being given to the defendant. He should therefore [place] himself on notice and prepare his defense,” she said.
“It’s not being sprung at him overnight. If let’s say, we give three days from now for preparation, there should be no more argument about whether we should admit evidence or not,” Santiago said.
“The more evidence we admit, the more the people will believe that our decision has been fair,” the senator added.
In the end, the impeachment court acted in favor of Santiago’s suggestion and asked the prosecution and the defense to submit their respective lists of witnesses and documents to be presented as evidence.
“Is there any objection from the chamber, the members of this court? The chair hears none. The suggestion, which is taken to be a motion, is hereby approved,” Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the presiding officer, declared.
Tupas asked that his panel be given three days to comply. Prosecutors on Monday convinced Lauro Vizconde to testify against Corona for granting him an audience and allegedly discussing his family’s pending case. Corona later voted in favor of Vizconde.
Santiago said her suggestion was intended to help “determine the length of the trial.”
The senator also provided occasional humor when she asked Enrile not to call her “lady senator.” She said it sounded like “baby senator.”
But she was all business, especially in arguing for the independence and supremacy of the impeachment court in the face of requests for the Supreme Court to halt the proceedings.
“There may be a Supreme Court, but nonetheless, we are the sole and only high court of presidential and chief justice impeachment,” she said on the floor. “We are not a senator court. We are the high court of impeachment.”
In the same proceedings, the prosecution team also asked the Senate to give them “flexibility” in asking questions, noting that the defense team raised at least 30 objections during last week’s proceedings.
“We observed that in the last two hearings, there have been at least 30 objections from the defense and the prosecution reformed our questions around at least 20 times,” said Tupas.
“Our request is for the honorable tribunal to be liberal in the asking of questions by the prosecution so that that the truth would really come out,” he said.
“Are you suggesting that we should allow misleading questions? Are you suggesting that we should allow hearsay evidence? Are you suggesting that we should allow argumentative questions?” asked Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile, who presided over the trial.
Tupas answered in the negative.
“What then are you suggesting? Are you suggesting that we should allow hypothetical questions? Are you suggesting that we should allow leading questions teaching the witness what to say?” said the Senate leader.
“That’s not the suggestion of the representation – just giving flexibility to the prosecution,” said Tupas.
Enrile answered, “The chair is open to any suggestion. How flexible you want the chair to be? If you want me to relax the rules, tell me.” He even pointed out how he helped the prosecution at one point to ferret out the truth in his desire to immediately end the trial.
The Senate leader assured that he was not favoring anyone and that he would allowed himself or the institution be used by anybody for their own interests.
“Kung sakali na hindi nyo matanggap ang aking pamamalakad sa paglilitis nitong kaso na ito, ako po ay open…ibibigay ko itong upuan sa sinumang gustong pumalit sa akin. So ordered,” said Enrile.
After Enrile’s statement, Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III moved to adjourn the proceeding pending the submission by the prosecution of a memorandum explaining why the ill-gotten wealth allegation against Corona should be allowed as part of their evidence against him.
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