They also serve those who speak of the ‘naked truth’
They are far from being cut from the same cloth, but lawyers Romero Quimbo, Tranquil Salvador III and Ma. Valentina Santana-Cruz are in their individual ways providing a gripping sideshow to the dreary-paced impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Quimbo, 42, is a neophyte lawmaker but an outspoken one who imagines his role as a spokesperson for the House prosecution team as akin to that of the boy in the nursery tale who told the emperor that he had no clothes.
Salvador, 44, has built a legal career in the past 19 years that has seamlessly combined courtroom and academic feats. He said he joined Corona’s legal team to ensure that the country’s No. 1 jurist is given “his day in court.”
The camera-shy Cruz, 49, is the Senate’s legal counsel and the impeachment court’s spokesperson. According to her, an impeachment process points to a vibrant and functioning democracy.
The three understandably view various matters related to the trial differently.
But they, especially Quimbo and Salvador, are geared up for the long haul, utilizing tri-media and the mushrooming social media to advance their respective positions in the arena of public opinion.
Quimbo uses Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” to highlight what the prosecution has claimed to be the “naked truth” about Corona’s alleged moral unfitness to continue discharging the duties of his exalted office.
“I mean no disrespect to the older people in society. Certainly, they are more knowledgeable. But [there are] practices which by nature are unacceptable to others but by constant practice become already acceptable as a norm.
“It takes young people uninitiated to these practices to correct them. Let us not forget that it took a young boy to point out to the old emperor that he had no clothes,” he said.
Quimbo had a behind-the-scenes contribution to the impeachment trial of deposed President and convicted plunderer Joseph Estrada in 2000.
He believes it was his unheralded role in that first-ever impeachment trial that made House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, himself a prosecutor in the Estrada trial, choose him to be one of the three spokespersons in Corona’s trial.
Star witness handler
Quimbo was a fresh graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Law when he became a junior partner at Poblador, Bautista and Reyes law firm.
It is public knowledge that lawyer Mario Bautista (who is also a private prosecutor in the Corona trial) and then Makati Rep. (now senator) Joker Arroyo had arranged the pivotal testimony of bank executive Clarissa Ocampo at the Estrada trial.
Ocampo, a senior vice president at the Equitable-PCI Bank, testified that she was one foot away from Estrada when the latter signed the fictitious name “Jose Velarde” on documents containing secret accounts.
“I was their errand boy,” said Quimbo, who was at the Poblador, Bautista and Reyes Makati office when Ocampo was briefed the night before her appearance at the Senate by Bautista, Arroyo and Belmonte. He was the one who notarized her affidavit.
History of public service
Quimbo, a native of Samar and the son of former Sandiganbayan Justice Romulo Quimbo, was a member of the UP Student Council for several years, and captain of the UP Law debating team, which explains his confidence in front of the TV cameras.
In 2002, he joined the state-owned Pag-Ibig Fund. He became a recipient of The Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines for public service in 2007 for overseeing the growth and profitability of the provident fund.
The call of public service came in 2010, when he ran for, and unexpectedly won, the second-district congressional seat of Marikina.
“My other staunch opponent was younger and very good-looking, so it’s a puzzle that I got the vote,” said Quimbo, who professes to be “happily married” to Stella Alabastro. The couple has four children.
There are no other politicians in the family, “I’m the only one who got lost in the woods,” he said.
According to Quimbo, joining in the prosecution of Corona was a major risk for him and the team.
“They (Corona sympathizers) will never forget our faces. There are justices who will never understand and comprehend this process. But there are big problems in the higher court. (This is a) fight to the highest heavens.”
He said it was high time the country had a Supreme Court “that is trustworthy,” with justices who are “intelligent giants,” not hounded by “questions on immorality or fiduciary” matters and rarely agreeing to stand “as godfathers to weddings” to keep influence-peddlers at bay.
He claims not to be seeking higher office, while believing that “if you work hard, you fight the right causes, things will happen to you. I became a congressman although I barely spent anything. I spent time. I just told them (voters) the truth.”
Reality vs perception
As a teacher of the law, Salvador felt that he should be the first one to uphold the constitutional guarantee of due process to every person, “even if people perceive him (Corona) to be guilty because reality is different from perception.”
“I have to participate,” he said, rejecting the notion of being a “fence-sitter” in the upheaval besetting the country.
Salvador, a partner at the Romulo, Mabanta, Buenaventura, Sayoc and De los Angeles law firm, teaches remedial law at the University of the Philippines, the Ateneo de Manila University and the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.
Besides being a spokesperson, Salvador is also a member of Corona’s defense team.
Salvador said he knew he was heading straight into the center of a political storm by accepting the job.
An aunt asked him to reconsider his decision. “You are in an unpopular position,” his aunt said.
Meeting Corona for a briefing on his role as defense counsel, Salvador saw a man “who knew what he was getting into.” He said the Chief Justice was “a person with a strong heart.”
Salvador, who comes from a family of lawyers, finished his law degree at the Ateneo before going for master of laws degree at the Suffolk University School of Law in Boston, Massachusetts.
This former dean of the Law School of Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Pasay (PLP) is an expert in remedial law.
As a law professor and practitioner, he said he spends most of his free time studying the law and checking examination booklets.
The impeachment trial, which runs from Monday through Thursday, has further complicated his life. He is married with four children.
According to Salvador, Philippine democracy is relatively young but vibrant and its government institutions are maturing, though “in a very slow pace.”
Democracy at work
Cruz, who serves as some kind of referee to the running battle between the spokespersons for either side, said the impeachment process was democracy at work.
“I think it (the process) is working. Each side is heard, we are going through the process in an orderly fashion and we’re giving the Chief Justice his day in court and we’re allowing the prosecution to try to present evidence of the articles of impeachment to prove the charges against him. I think the process is working. Slow, but that’s how the process [is],” she said.
“It’s nice to say that I participated in a historic event like this. Later I can tell my grandchildren this was what I did when I was little younger,” said Cruz.
An alumna of the UP Law School, Cruz joined the government in January 2011, after a lengthy corporate law practice.
“I don’t have much criminal law experience. So this is new for me,” she said.
Cruz, who admits to not being used to being in front of the cameras, said she finds herself agonizing over what to tell the public.
“I have to be careful. There are 23 senators and 23 ideas about things. Some believe that the rules should be interpreted liberally, others are more strict (in their interpretation). I can’t verbalize my own opinion because it might not be in accordance with what the senators feel. I always take it from the point of view of the court as a whole,” she said.
“This [trial] is televised. It’s so public everything that you do is magnified too much,” she said.
With Quimbo, Salvador and Cruz now a fixture in talk shows and news programs, expect them to leave an indelible mark, for better or for worse, on the fabric of the nation’s history.
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