Ties that bind don’t bind court principals

/ 12:30 AM January 29, 2012

The high-profile personalities involved in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona are all linked in a chain of interlocking relationships and overlapping loyalties.

In this clash of the titans, alumni of rival law schools and fraternities find themselves on both sides of the court.


Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Franklin Drilon, who are both from Iloilo, and private prosecutor Arthur Lim belong to the University of the Philippines College of Law Class of 1969.

3 Sigma Rhoans


Lim is linked to the impeachment court’s presiding officer, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, and the lead opposing counsel, former Supreme Court associate justice Serafin Cuevas through their membership in the Sigma Rho fraternity.

All three Sigma Rhoans from UP Law faced off in last Wednesday’s hearing when Lim, working under the supervision of lead House prosecutor Niel Tupas Jr. (also a UP Law graduate), presented his witness, Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Jacinto-Henares.

But Lim, a former president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, took a beating before he could squeeze any information out of Henares. His UP Law batchmate, Santiago, all but screamed at him for his “orations.”

He also had to contend with Cuevas, who raised objections at every turn, and engaged in a verbal tussle with Enrile himself. Lim found himself apologizing to Enrile several times.

The senator-judges appeared amused at the back-and-forth among the three Sigma Rhoans.

Rival Ateneo frats

The courtroom battle may appear to be dominated by UP Law alumni, but graduates of the Ateneo de Manila Law School are not far behind.


Ateneo is the alma mater of Corona, who belongs to the Fraternal Order of Utopia, which also counts as members defense lawyers Jose Roy III and Eduardo de los Angeles.

Across the aisle from them sit members of the rival Aquila Legis fraternity—prosecutors Giorgidi Aggabao, Joseph Emilio Abaya and Sherwin Tugna, a neophyte lawmaker representing the Cibac anticorruption party-list group.

House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, who is actively helping the 11-man prosecution team, is also an Aquilan.

An Aquilan, party-list House member Florencio Noel (An Waray), provides logistical support to the prosecution panel since he is the chair of the House committee on accounts.

German Lichauco II, although a member of the defense team which is dominated by Utopians, is an Aquilan.

Prosecution spokesperson Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo is a member of the Alpha Sigma fraternity.

Senators Franklin Drilon and Edgardo Angara are also Sigma Rhoans. Angara’s son, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, a spokesperson for the prosecution panel, is also a Sigma Rhoan.

Senator-judges belonging to other law fraternities are Senators Joker Arroyo and Francis Pangilinan, Upsilon Sigma Phi; Francis Escudero, Alpha Phi Beta; and Pia Cayetano, Delta Lambda Sigma.

More complicated ties

The picture gets muddier in this clash between the judiciary and executive, aided by the legislative, as you go down the line of protagonists.

Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares (an accountant and lawyer), Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad are from the Ateneo Law Class of 1985.

Mario Bautista, the lead private prosecutor, is a classmate of Ramon Esguerra, a member of Corona’s defense team, from the UP Law Class of 1979.

Prosecutor Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga is a former student of Cuevas at the Far Eastern University Law School. It fell to Barzaga to inform the court that the prosecution had rearranged the presentation of the articles of impeachment, which was to give the prosecution team endless grief in the days that followed.

Media fixtures

De los Angeles is a former president of the Philippine Stock Exchange and former dean of the Ateneo College of Law, while defense spokesperson Tranquil Salvador III, a 1991 graduate of the Ateneo College of Law, is a former dean of the Lungsod ng Pasay Law School and former president of the IBP-Quezon City chapter.

Outside the courtroom, prosecution spokespersons Quimbo and the younger Angara, who were contemporaries at UP Law, hold court, their faces now a fixture in newspapers, television screens and online news outlets.

Their defense counterparts are Salvador and Karen Jimeno, a near-contemporary of Angara at UP Law and the Harvard Law School.

Harvard Law is also the alma mater of Enrile and Corona, who both took their master of laws degrees in the prestigious US institution.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan went to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government for his master’s degree in public administration.

Top law firms

Corona was for a brief time a colleague of Henares at the Sycip, Gorres and Velayo accounting firm. He was a professor of Henares’ husband at the Ateneo Law School.

The country’s top law firms are well-represented in the composition of the defense, prosecution and Senate impeachment court:

Private prosecutor Jose Justiniano (Sycip, Salazar, Hernandez and Gatmaitan); defense counsels De los Angeles and Salvador III (Romulo, Mabanta, Buenaventura, Sayoc and De los Angeles); private prosecutor Mario Bautista (Poblador, Bautista and Reyes); defense lawyers German Lichauco and Dennis Manalo (Siguion Reyna); Senators Drilon and Edgardo Angara (formerly partners at Accra Law); Enrile (formerly with Ponce, Enrile, Cayetano, Bautista); Sen. Pia Cayetano and defense lawyer Esguerra (formerly with Castillo Laman and Tan).

The so-called “The Firm,” identified with Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, has been ominously silent, cautiously distancing itself from the Malacañang-initiated impeachment drive to avoid accusations that it is favoring the impeachment of Corona. However, “The Firm” is believed to be working behind the scenes against Corona.

Carpio, a presidential legal counsel of former President Fidel Ramos, was appointed by Arroyo to the high court before the latter and “The Firm” reportedly had a falling-out.

There are rumors that Carpio is being lined up as Corona’s replacement if the latter is convicted and removed from office.

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TAGS: Ateneo de Manila Law School, Chief Justice Renato Corona, Corona impeachment trial, former justice Serafin Cuevas, House prosecutor Niel Tupas Jr., Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, Sigma Rho fraternity, University of the Philippines College of Law Class of 1969
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