On the first day back from the six-week break, Senator Judges in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona couldn’t emphasize enough that they want to finish the trial as soon as possible. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile even said the trial should not go beyond May 31. Another Senator, Miriam Santiago also quoted the Rules of Court and current jurisprudence handbook to stress that the Senate has the power and authority to order the parties to finish the trial on or before June 7. That sounds like a plan. It’s all well and good for everybody else except of course for the defendant, Chief Justice Corona.
Still, another Senator, Jinggoy Estrada set the irritated tone at the end of the trial by insisting that the defense is just wasting the court’s time with what he thinks are irrelevant and immaterial presentations. What the Senator wanted was for the Chief Justice to come to court and answer the allegations himself. His rationale is that if he was not hiding anything, he should be able to stand and answer the allegations against him. He was just short of saying that he had already made up his mind about the whole thing and doesn’t need or want to hear the defense side anymore. All he seems to want is the circus-like excitement that can come with having Corona in the hot seat. Most of the viewing public would want that I’m sure.
The senators and some of the prosecutors are missing the point. It seems like the real meaning of due process is completely lost to them. The defense had lined up witnesses to respond to the allegations of impropriety in some of the transactions in the purchase of some of Corona’s properties. Yes, some of the details explaining how and why perceived irregularities occurred can be daunting and meticulous. In responding to accusations that the the Bonifacio Ridge condo unit was not included in Corona’s SALN in 2006 for example, the defense had to go through the tedious process of consulting the several witnesses and obtaining the documentation that could support the fact that there was a delay in the delivery of the unit as it had to undergo repairs. In the end, the defense finally managed to convince the senate court along with the prosecutors, albeit reluctantly, to agree that there was a valid reason why the said condo unit was only included in Corona’s 2010 SALN.
It was a good outcome to the long process but it also meant that some of the other witnesses lined up who were meant to further back up Corona’s defense were not needed anymore. The defense team could not have predicted this beforehand but they were otherwise prepared to call on the witnesses had the court not been satisfied or if neither side had come to an agreement. In other words, in dismissing some of the witnesses, the senators did not have to act so arrogantly. Their testimonies are relevant and material to the allegations if the court needed more proof. Unfortunately, because some of the senators are in a hurry to finish off the trial, they come across as very dismissive and very impatient. This is causing some people to think that the senate court is not applying the same liberality they applied to the presentation of the prosecution earlier.
What ever happened to the spirit of transparency? At the beginning of the impeachment trial, the senators were all adamant that they want evidence to be presented so as to avoid a repeat of the unopened “envelope” during the impeachment of former President and convicted plunderer, Joseph “Erap” Estrada. It almost got them to the point of violating the foreign currency secrecy law and almost made them defy the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court against the divulging of Corona’s alleged dollar accounts. But now the senators seems hell bent on dismissing witnesses and evidence that the defense wants to present. Some of the senators keep asking who and what else are the defense going to present because they want to know if they are still relevant. The problem is, Senator Enrile doesn’t even give the defense enough time to explain. He looked very annoyed at what he thought was a wasted day.
What looked too inconsistent was the fact that the court allowed the prosecution to waste the court’s time during their cross-examination of former Mayor Lito Atienza. The prosecution’s futile attempt to show any irregularity in the sale of the BGEI property to the City of Manila made the whole exercise utterly pointless and, as Senator Santiago said, “irrelevant” to the impeachment trial. They also wasted time trying to convince the court that Secretary Leila De Lima’s testimony for the defense is not needed anymore even after the court had already issued the subpoena.
Senators like Jinggoy Estrada were very cavalier about asking Corona to testify — as if Corona’s own words would be enough to satisfy them. Of course it won’t be. Corona’s words still need to be corroborated by other witnesses and evidence. It was very irresponsible of the Senators like Estrada to issue a challenge for Corona to appear in court to prove he wasn’t hiding anything. He should be conscious enough to realize that his statements can influence the public’s opinion. A little subtlety and tact can help this situation from getting out of hand. Senator Judges should keep their opinions to themselves until the presentation from both sides are done. If the Senators want to avoid clogging up the court with useless details, they need to sit down, shut-up and listen. They also need to tell the prosecutors to quit asking pointless and irrelevant questions too.
Indeed, in rushing the proceedings, the senators are just thinking about their own schedule and ignoring the fact that any trial should finish when all parties are satisfied, including the defendant. A man’s career and reputation hangs in the balance but the senators are more worried about their break in June. It’s too bad that Corona is becoming a victim of that all too familiar ningas kugon. In English, it simply means not finishing what they started. The reality is, it was the House of Representatives who approved this impeachment trial but they don’t seem to have the patience to see it through by the book until the end.