Corona prosecutors lack courtroom experience—Enrile
MANILA, Philippines—Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile laments the lack of trial court experience of most members of the House prosecution panel which he blamed for the humiliating request for the impeachment court to be “more liberal” in the observance of the rules.
“I think (the prosecutors) are having a hard time to put their questions across. There’s a reason for that. They are not used to trials. Because if they are, there should be no problem…. That’s my impression,” Enrile said in an interview.
Enrile noted that lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas is not hampered by the same problem. This, the Senate President said, is because Cuevas, a former Supreme Court justice and a former justice secretary, is well versed with the rules of court and of evidence.
House lead prosecutor Niel Tupas inadvertently showed on Tuesday how unprepared the prosecution was in presenting evidence against impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona.
After Cuevas reiterated his arguments against the inclusion of evidence regarding Corona’s alleged ill-gotten wealth and other questionable assets under Article 2 of the impeachment complaint, Tupas complained that the Senate was acting “more like a criminal court” and asked Enrile as presiding officer to be more “liberal” and “flexible.”
Tupas, however, could not say exactly how liberal or how flexible he wanted the Senate to be in the matter of presenting evidence or questioning witnesses.
“He (Tupas) did not tell me. He could not answer that question. How flexible can a presiding judge be? Would the presiding officer just give in to (all their motions)? Would that not make things more disorderly,” Enrile said.
The Senate President added that a lawyer used to court proceedings could easily “reform questions in many ways.”
Last Tuesday, Tupas also received a tongue lashing from Senator Miriam Santiago when he could not immediately give the number of witnesses the prosecution intended to present throughout the trial.
Santiago became more upset when Tupas suddenly left the podium to confer with other prosecutors about the answer to her question.
But when Cuevas was asked the same for the defense, he immediately replied that Corona’s lawyers would present 15 witnesses.
Enrile said a lawyer who does his homework would be confident “because my trial brief would just be in front of me. Any argument that my opponent would present, all the answers are there in my trial brief. Note that when I asked Justice Cuevas about the rules, he would answer immediately. That is the result of constant study.”
In last Tuesday’s hearing, Enrile took the prosecution to task for apparently letting the Christmas furlough go by without consolidating their evidence and witnesses after transmitting the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate, hence Santiago’s outburst.
Enrile also insisted that as presiding officer, he had been fair in deciding all motions filed by both prosecution and defense panels.
“To my knowledge, I did not do anything wrong. Everything that I decided on was based on the rules, the provisions of the Rules of Court and of the Rules of Evidence,” he said.
Still, Enrile said, he understands why the prosecutors are asking for more flexibility.
“This is not the first time this happened and it won’t be the last. Every time lawyers begin to have problems with their presentation, they would want a situation where evidence can be presented without being blocked,” said Enrile, who was a trial lawyer before joining the government.
“If you are a trial lawyer, you are on your own. You must be ready to think on your feet. You cannot go to the library. You cannot consult anybody. You have to use your knowledge of the laws and the rules and your preparation,” he said.
Enrile also told Tupas et al not to be disheartened by orders to rephrase their questions.
“If there is a problem with the question, reform the question. That is the proper ruling. That’s an easy thing to do. Remember, if you are used to court proceedings, you are supposed to tell a story not directly but through a witness. That is a trial. Cross-examination is a different story,” he said.
That comment was apparently spurred by Enrile’s recollection of private prosecutor Mario Bautista’s handling of the direct examination of Enriqueta Esguerra-Vidal.
Several times Enrile warned Bautista about impeaching the witness because the private lawyer sounded like he was cross-examining Vidal.
The Senate president even suggested that Bautista classify Vidal as a hostile witness so he can cross-examine her.
“In cross examination, you can ask any question except a misleading question. You can even ask a leading question. But when you are presenting your evidence, if you are for the prosecution or the plaintiff, you have to follow the rules because all these rules of evidence are safeguards of liberty,” he said. “We destroy these rules and innocent people would go to jail.”
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