Corona lawyers accuse House majority leader of threatening witnesses
MANILA, Philippines—The defense panel scored House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II for threatening with expulsion and other disciplinary actions Navotas City Rep. Toby Tiangco, who testified for the defense on Monday, and other lawmakers who might be considering testifying in support of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
“We condemn the warning very strongly. That is an attempt to interfere in the administration of justice,” Jose Roy III, one of the defense counsels, told reporters Monday before the start of the impeachment proceedings.
Roy said it was “shocking” to hear that an elected official and a lawyer like Gonzales was “trying to deprive a defendant of evidence by threatening witnesses.”
“This is a pattern of pressure that we condemn in the strongest terms possible,” he said.
Serafin Cuevas, Corona’s lead counsel, also questioned Gonzales’ act, saying it would prohibit the defense from presenting their own witnesses and evidence.
“Is it right? You tell me, is it right? If that’s the case, then we will never be able to get witnesses. Everybody will be subjected to the same threat. That’s not good,” Cuevas said in a separate interview.
Asked if the defense would bring the matter to the attention of the Senate impeachment court, he said: “I don’t think the Senate can do anything about it. That’s the internal matter within the House of Representatives.”
As to how the defense would address the issue, Cuevas replied: “Bahala na lang (Come what may). We’ll meet the problems as soon as they arise in the course of the proceedings.”
Cuevas, a retired Supreme Court associate justice, reiterated that the House could not invoke interparliamentary courtesy in blocking the defense panel’s request for the issuance of subpoena for certain congressmen since the House members would be presented as “adverse witnesses.”
“We requested for the issuance of the subpoena for them as adverse party, not as members of the Congress,” he explained.
Roy said Gonzales’ claims that he merely reminded Tiangco about the “rules and the Constitution” was just an “afterthought” after his statement triggered negative reactions.
Roy said Tiangco and other congressmen “know what to do and they certainly don’t need to be reminded by other members of the House.”
“We take exception to (Gonzales’) statement that this was merely cautionary in nature. If it was just a friendly reminder, then why didn’t he just call up Tiangco? Why blab it all over the newspapers addressed to all who may be inclined to testify?” he said.
“We are not impressed by the afterthought of saying that he (Gonzales) was trying to remind them to behave.”
Roy said Gonzales’ action was an “overt act” intended to interfere with the defense lawyers’ “efforts to participate freely and with the desire of witnesses to testify freely.”
“To attempt to thwart that is a serious act of obstruction,” he lamented.
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