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Cuevas: Corona won’t testify

Defense impaired by rules of trial
/ 12:27 AM March 02, 2012

Lead counsel Serafin Cuevas

Lead counsel Serafin Cuevas on Thursday ruled out the possibility the defense would put Chief Justice Renato Corona on the witness stand, pointing out that the panel could not intervene in the questioning by senator-judges.

“I believe this is not good because the members of the impeachment court can examine him on all angles and Justice Cuevas cannot object,” Cuevas said in an ANC TV talk show. “The moment I start (raising questions), the judges will say ‘out of order.’”

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A day after the prosecution rested its case, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said on Wednesday that the Chief Justice’s best defense was to take the witness stand and personally rebut charges he fudged his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), and showed partiality toward former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Cuevas has repeatedly complained that the Senate rules prevented both the prosecution and the defense from interfering in the senators’ examination of witnesses, unlike in the impeachment trial of then President Joseph Estrada in 2000.

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In the TV interview, the former Supreme Court associate justice also expressed concern about protocol and sitting arrangements in the Senate tribunal.

“We are not adoring him or we’re not idolizing him, but it is not for Chief Justice Corona only but for everybody similarly situated in the future. I hope there will be none in the future,” Cuevas said.

However, he conceded Corona could be called to testify if necessary to explain his bank accounts.

Tranquil Salvador III, another defense counsel, worried over “wider implications” in Corona appearing in the Senate and that these issues were being discussed.

Difficult situation

“He might be placed in a difficult situation,” Salvador said. “Some people may take advantage of this just to taunt him, to ridicule him, to make fun of his office, even his person and family.”

Salvador, a remedial law professor in various law schools, explained that the prosecution enjoyed “wide latitude in terms of cross-examination.”

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Asked about this, Salvador replied that Cuevas as head counsel has a “strong say” on the issue which would have to be made before the defense presentation begins on March 12 after a nearly two-week break in the trial.

“Personally, if you ask me, it might be possible. But being part of a team, if the team reached a decision, I will have to abide by it,” Salvador said.

“The way I view it, it might not look good because the members of the Senate impeachment court can examine him on all angles, but Justice Cuevas cannot object. The moment I start (to object to the line of questioning of senator-judges), the judges will say, ‘out of order’ because   I cannot object (under Senate rules).”

Salvador, however, refused to elaborate on Corona’s testimony, including matters that the impeached Chief Justice would be testifying on.

Difficult decision

Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo Angara, a prosecution spokesperson, said Corona faced a difficult decision.

“Whether to testify or not is the difficult decision the Chief Justice faces: on the one hand, he is the best person to testify since he would know about all the bank accounts, properties, condominiums and he could talk about the discrepancies in his SALN, which we have brought out,” Angara said.

“He could also testify that he did not extend special treatment to any litigant or any person. On the other hand, this has its attendant risks as his credibility and the consistency of his testimony could be tested severely once he is subjected to rigorous cross-examination by the prosecution, and the searching questions by senator-judges,” he added.

“If they are confident of his ability to withstand the rigors of questioning then they will likely present him as a witness. If they feel it is too risky, most likely he will not be presented as witness.”

Enrile on Thursday said Corona’s lawyers could begin arguing his case despite the unresolved issue of whether his purported dollar account should be scrutinized in the impeachment court.

But the tribunal’s presiding officer urged Corona to appear in the trial, saying doing so “will be good for the nation.”

“It will settle a lot of issues,” the Senate President told reporters. “He is the best witness to clarify the issues… I’m not the lawyer of the Chief Justice, but to me, the best person to controvert, to rebut everything that has been said against him is himself.”

Dollar account

Enrile downplayed apprehensions by the defense lawyers that Corona would only expose himself to enemy fire, saying “I’m sure that he can handle the questions.”

He said Corona would be in the best position to clarify the matter of his bank deposits, including the “internal problem” in the Supreme Court.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima earlier testified and used a dissenting opinion of Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, as part of the prosecution’s effort to nail Corona for allegedly favoring Arroyo.

Enrile said Corona’s lawyers could start presenting evidence upon the trial’s resumption on March 12.

But for that to happen, both the defense and the prosecution should agree, considering that the Supreme Court is yet to resolve a Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) petition against disclosing Corona’s purported dollar account.

Enrile said the Senate would eventually have to decide on the prosecution’s desire to look into the alleged dollar deposits “at a certain point.”

No amendment needed

He pointed out that the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, was designated in the Constitution as the body with “the sole power to try and decide” impeachment cases.

“No one else can make the decision but the Senate alone,” Enrile said in Filipino. “It means that we are not under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in terms of having the ‘sole power to try and decide’ all impeachment cases.”

Enrile said the high tribunal would have jurisdiction only if “private rights are involved in the course of the trial.”

Enrile was not keen on asking prosecutors to amend the articles of impeachment in the wake of their decision to focus only on three charges against Corona.

An amendment would require them to send the complaint back to the House of Representatives for another round of voting.

“At this point, I will not require an amendment,” he said, noting that an amendment would be tantamount to dismissing the case and as such, would leave a “bad impression” among the people. “We have to proceed up to completion. We will make a judgment.”

But Enrile said criticisms on the quality of the articles of impeachment should serve as a lesson for House prosecutors.

“I hope the House will take this as a friendly advice that before they bring the articles of impeachment here, they should be well-crafted leaving no doubt as to what they really want to say.” With reports from Michael Lim Ubac and TJ Burgonio

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, Corona Impeachment, impeachment trial, Juan Ponce Enrile, Judiciary, Politics, Renato Corona, Senate, Serafin Cuevas, Supreme Court
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