Young lawyer stands ground in Corona trial
Private prosecutor Joseph Joemer Perez stood his ground before defense counsel Serafin Cuevas and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile for an hour or so at the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Observers noted it was the first time in the first eight days of the trial that a prosecutor was not “eaten alive” by the defense.
Perez, 31, was assigned to directly examine prosecution witness Giovanni Ng, finance director of Megaworld Corp. on the supposed properties of Corona and his wife Cristina that the Chief Justice had allegedly failed to declare in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.
Despite the objections raised by Cuevas, a former Supreme Court Justice and justice secretary, Perez spoke firmly and without hesitation as he asserted the relevance of the questions he posed to the witness.
Perez, a valedictorian and cum laude of the University of the Philippines College of Law in 2004, was querying Ng about the P14.5-million penthouse at The Bellagio in Taguig City allegedly owned by Corona when Cuevas launched a barrage of objections.
At one point, Ng told the impeachment court that a Bellagio penthouse unit would be considered prime property as it had a sweeping view of the Manila Golf Course and is only affordable to individuals belonging to the A-B class.
“That unit bought by the spouses Renato and Cristina Corona, is it a penthouse or an ordinary unit?” asked Perez, who placed eighth in the bar examinations.
“No basis, your honor,” Cuevas interjected, addressing Senate President Enrile. “There were no previous questions relative to the character of the property to be testified,” he said.
“Let the witness just answer,” Enrile replied. “Let’s see how it is relevant or material.”
When Perez asked Ng about the number of bedrooms, Cuevas again intervened, saying Ng was “incompetent” to comment.
“Lay the basis (for the question),” Enrile challenged Perez, prompting the prosecutor to rephrase his question.
“Are you familiar with basic characteristics of this penthouse,” he asked Ng.
“Very leading, your honor,” Cuevas protested.
“Your honor,” Perez replied. “Precisely I am asking…”
Enrile ordered him to continue.
“Are you familiar with the basic characteristics or layout of this property,” he asked again.
“This is precisely the same question, your honor,” Cuevas barked, “that, we have been objecting to and we were sustained by the court. There is no basis here, not even any showing.”
“Actually, your honor, the objection was overruled,” Perez noted confidently.
The exchange exasperated Enrile who turned to Ng. “Witness,” the Senate President asked. “Are you familiar with the penthouse? Have you been there?”
“No, Sir,” Ng said hesitantly.
“Objection sustained,” Enrile said, siding with Cuevas.
Rephrasing his question, Perez asked Ng: “Do you know how many floors there are?”
“Immaterial, your honor,” Cuevas butted in. “And unless you can show the materiality…”
“Let the witness answer,” Enrile cut him.
The Bellagio has 38 floors and that Corona’s penthouse is on 38th floor, Ng said.
“Is The Bellagio I still under construction or already completed,” Perez asked.
“Your honor, the witness now being made to testify on personal knowledge and there is no basis…” Cuevas protested anew.
“If he knows, let the witness go ahead,” Enrile said, banging his gavel.
Ng replied that Bellagio I, the building where Corona’s penthouse is located, was completed sometime between 2008 and 2009.
“Can we ask the witness to speak louder,” Cuevas asked. “I’m having a hard time…”
“Yes, please,” Enrile agreed. “I’m also having a hard time (listening).”
“Kindly articulate your vowels and your consonants,” he asked Ng.
At this point, Perez asked Ng whether the P14.5 million that Corona allegedly paid for the penthouse was a regular or discounted price.
“No basis, your honor,” Cuevas butted in.
“Your honor, precisely I’m asking the witness…” Perez was about to explain.
“With the kind indulgence of the honorable court,” Cuevas began. “I thought the witness was being made to testify solely on basis of the documents he had produced…”
“No,” Enrile said. “But (Perez) is asking whether there is a discount…”
“But this is now a question which elicits an answer based on the personal knowledge of the witness,” Cuevas explained. “There is no predicate…”
“Wait a minute,” Enrile butted in. “My understanding is that this witness as presented as finance officer of the corporation and is in charge of sale (and) contracts dealing with sale. Therefore he must know the prices of units being sold.”
Enrile banged his gavel again.
Before Ng gave an answer, he said that his information about discounts given to clients came from the marketing department that he consulted upon receiving the impeachment court’s subpoena.
“Based on what I was told, for long payment terms that reach an average of four years…” the witness said.
“Wait a minute,” Enrile cut in. “What you’re saying is based on knowledge or info of another. Sustain objection! He is giving hearsay and I sustain the objection!”
Perez asked Enrile to reconsider. “Yes, but he will testify giving hearsay evidence and that is prohibited here,” Enrile asserted.
“Your honor, we will invoke the independently relevant tool. So, at the very least, your honor,” Perez pleaded. “Explain,” the Senate President told the young lawyer.
“It is independently relevant to know what is the information given to this witness with respect to the regular selling price of this particular…” Perez said.
“Qualify the witness so he would be competent,” the Senate President ordered.
Cuevas raised his hand again. “There is no question as to the conversation (that took) place between this witness and (the marketing department). But as to the accuracy of what was stated or transmitted, we do not object. But what we are objecting (to) is the nature of the testimony,” he said.
“I will allow the answer,” Enrile said firmly.
Perez was about to ask Ng again about the information from marketing when Cuevas interjected anew.
“Again, your honor, it’s very clear,” the former Supreme Court justice said objecting.
“There has already been a ruling, your honor,” Perez said, defending his question.
“Counsel for defense,” an amused Enrile addressed Cuevas, “let us allow the counsel for prosecution to proceed.”
“Submitted, your honor,” Cuevas replied chuckling.
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