Closing remarks day today for both camps! The court session today in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona brought a few things to light: (1) how utterly outclassed the prosecution lawyers are by those in the defense team, (2) how thin on substance the speech made by no less than the leader of the prosecution team, Niel Tupas Jr, was, and (3) how much gall Representative Rodolfo Fariñas exhibited on national television defending the prosecution case considering he declined to sign the very impeachment complaint (which he described as “badly written”) upon which this trial is premised.
So good was the defense presentation of their submitted position that Dean Tony La Viña was moved to tweet “After listening to closing arguments, I have to admit that the defense was overall more convincing, consistent and disciplined.” We will recall that La Viña who is mentor to caught-lying-under-oath star witness Harvey Keh had earlier been critical of how Corona, in his personal appearance in court last week, failed to “live up to the demands of that rigor and responsibility”.
But most notable of all was the participation of House of Representatives Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte in the closing presentations of the prosecution camp. Unfortunately for him, however, it was quite obvious throughout his speech that he did not have much to work with. At no other time in the course of this trial did the lack of substance of the prosecution case make itself more evident and it is quite unfortunate for the Speaker of the House that he’d be the face of this lack of substance today.
Belmonte, of course, was in the unfortunate position of not having any choice but to stand up for his House. No less than 188 of his colleagues in his chamber signed the impeachment complaint that Fariñas, a key member of the prosecution team, denounced as worth less than the paper it was printed on. Lest we forget, this constituted an unprecedented low in the annals of what is quite aptly called the Lower House recalling the manner with which no less than President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III himself reportedly lent a direct hand in the fast tracking of the House representatives’ signing of the articles of impeachment. Belmonte himself revealed then how “a ‘furious’ President Aquino wanted a ‘fast’ impeachment against Corona after he and seven other Arroyo appointees had issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) to block the travel ban against Arroyo.”
Suffice to say, the House of Representatives was severely diminished by Corona’s impeachment trial and is, as such, one of its biggest victims. Now, after all that, Belmonte needs to be seen to be the leader of the House of Representatives that his position description says he is. Too late the hero. Seems like it was really BS Aquino who acted as House Speaker that time — wait, no, perhaps it was Uncle Peping…
That said with regard to Belmonte’s notable appearance, what in turn was really notable to the media and, most likely, to the viewing public was defense counsel Dennis Manalo’s brilliant extemporaneous presentation focusing on the prosecution camp’s decision to waive their right to cross-examine Corona when he showed up in person last Friday. As such the prosecution Manalo asserts failed to establish the soundness of their case against Corona and instead rests on the hearsay evidence presented by all the witnesses presented by both sides prior to Corona’s appearance. Manalo’s presentation together with the steely logical rigour applied by his fellow counsel Eduardo de los Angeles who enumerated each count in the shameful and disrespectful way the prosecution team presented their case to the court over the last 40-odd days followed by lead counsel Serafin Cuevas’s closing remarks reiterating the absolute clarity of the law on the handful of matters relevant to Corona’s case were all succinct and had direction. The contrast with Tupas’s sad waffling in the opening minutes of today’s session and Belmonte’s head-scratcher of a presentation owing to a limited foundation to stand his message upon was stark.
But the prosecution has been on a fishing expedition all this time and Corona was ultimately their biggest catch, providing in his own testimony the evidence that the prosecution could not provide throughout the days prior to his appearance. Now the decision to acquit or convict is now squarely in the hands of the Senator-Judges. Court presiding officer Juan Ponce Enrile gave a hint of what weighs heavily on his vote, highlighting that the law does not in any way penalise depositors who opt to disclose assets covered by current bank secrecy laws. Enrile seems to have been implying that Corona is culpable for opting to misrepresent his Statement of Assets Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) under the principle of what sets apart mere fault or culpa and intent to defraud or deceive or dolus. Whereas the defense asserts that Corona’s opting to refrain from declaring his dollar accounts in his SALN was an intellectual interpretation — which can be construed as a fault in understanding — of the law, Enrile hints that he sees fault in such an action in terms of Corona’s possible intent — just short of him asserting intent to be deceitful on Corona’s part.
Either way, as de los Angeles had pointed out in his presentation, there is hardly any record of a government official voluntarily opting to declare in their SALN what the law stipulates is covered by current bank secrecy laws. It comes down to personal principle — whether judges who themselves are likely to be hiding something of their own will convict a person who interpreted the law and applied intent to doing so in the same way they did.