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Fariñas comes out swinging at Corona lawyers in impeach trial

A House prosecutor, Representative Rodolfo Fariñas, stood up for the first time Monday night to warn the top-caliber lawyers representing Chief Justice Renato Corona for free in his impeachment trial that they could be liable for graft and possibly conflict of interest.

“This is prohibited under Republic Act No. 6713 and the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act,” said Fariñas, who placed eighth in the bar exams in 1978.

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Fariñas said it was highly possible that prominent lawyers on the defense panel have pending cases in the Supreme Court, thus their presence in his legal team may be construed a certain way.

Apart from former Associate Justice Serafin Cuevas who serves as Corona’s lead counsel, the Chief Justice’s defense panel includes Eduardo de los Angeles and Jacinto Jimenez.

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“Because they are giving their gift, their services, for free to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines and they come from big law firms and have pending cases before the Supreme Court,” Fariñas said in Filipino.

Fariñas, who is tasked with pinning Corona in Article 6 of the impeachment complaint, said top lawyers giving their services to Corona for free further aggravated the Chief Justice’s allegation that the impeachment proceedings were actually “an attack against the judiciary.”

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile reminded Fariñas that the Chief Justice was “allowed to a counsel of his choice. You cannot deny that from him.”

“What we are saying is that it is illegal for a public official to accept gifts of great material value,” Fariñas said.

“That his lawyers are known to be very competent and charge high rates (de campanilla), yet they give their services for free, this situation could be detrimental to the independence of the Chief Justice,” he added.

Fariñas’ unscheduled turn at the podium was a surprise to many observers of the impeachment trial.

For one, he is the sole prosecutor among the 11-man panel appointed by the House of Representatives who did not sign the impeachment complaint against Corona.

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Second, he nearly resigned from the prosecution panel two weeks ago had fellow prosecutor Elpidio Barzaga Jr. not talked him.

Fariñas, who finished his law studies at Ateneo de Manila University, was reportedly dismayed at how the prosecution panel had been handling the job of proving Corona’s guilt in Article 2.

Fariñas’ warning to the defense came after Cuevas complained that the entry of more private prosecutors to aid Fariñas and company would further deplete the government coffers.

“Your honors, please, with this avalanche of private prosecutors, there may be a necessity of an additional P10 million appropriation to take care of them,” he said.

The Senate earlier announced it released P5 million for expenditures in the impeachment trial.

“That’s our money, your honor,” Cuevas said, addressing Enrile. “That’s the money of the taxpayer!”

“The defense would be flattered. A phalanx of prosecutors is arrayed against (you),” Enrile butted in.

“But we are concerned also of depleting the resources of the Republic of the Philippines! That’s your money. That’s my money and the money of everybody here, your honor,” Cuevas insisted.

“If they are not spent in accordance with law, then this could be technical malversation,” he warned.

This prompted Fariñas to point out that all of private lawyers aiding the defense were appearing for free in the impeachment trial.

To defuse the tension, Enrile assured Fariñas that the government’s prosecution service would “take proper action… if there is evidence of any illegal gift or bribery or whatever.

“You (prosecutors) are saying your private lawyers are pro bono. The defense says likewise. Who knows?” the Senate President said.

“Under my oath as an elected official, I assure the court that our lawyers are pro bono,” Fariñas said.

He said he was irked by Cuevas’ statement questioning the use of public funds in prosecuting Corona and in paying for the services of the prosecution’s private lawyers.

“Fariñas further sayeth,” he said with a laugh at a press conference in describing his exchange with Cuevas. “That’s not actually correct. Except for operational expenses, we don’t spend anything. These are bar topnotchers and they provide their legal services to us for free,” he said.

He earlier told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that he had “long litigation experience” with himself as his own lawyer in many criminal cases filed against him.

“He who lives in a glass house should be the last to throw stones,” Farinas said of the defense. With Tetch Torres, INQUIRER.net

Originally posted: 8:38 pm | Monday, February 6th, 2012

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TAGS: Code of Conduct, Corona Impeachment, defense lawyers, Judiciary, News, Politics, public officials, Renato Corona, Rodolfo Fariñas, Senate, Supreme Court
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