SOUTHERN COMFORT: Week 6: The Corona Impeachment Trial

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/27 February) – The 6th week of the impeachment trial of Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona was by the far the most damaging and also the most promising for the House of Representatives prosecution panel.

Impeachment court presiding judge Senator Juan Ponce Enrile prevented the prosecution from presenting the vice president of Philippine Airlines to testify on the alleged perks and privileges received by Corona from the country’s flag carrier, to the disappointment of the protesting prosecutors.

The Enrile ruling eventually led to the prosecutors dropping any further offer of evidences and testimonies on the third article of impeachment which they deemed strong enough to prove that Corona lacked the integrity and independence required of the highest justice in the land.

It was also time for the House of Representative prosecution panel to receive its harshest dressing down so far from the impeachment court with Enrile challenging Corona’s accusers to amend their complaint before he will even entertain the presentation of witnesses in what he ruled as irrelevant to the charges.

That episode led to the abrupt suspension of the trial, the shortest since Day 1 of the Corona Impeachment Trial.

But as the week wore on, the prosecution was able to redeem itself when it presented Justice Secretary Leila de Lima as its primary witness on Article 7 of impeachment articles.

De Lima was on the witness stand for over six hours and she narrated what transpired behind the issuance of a temporary restraining order that would have allowed former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo the “opportunity to escape prosecution.”

She also was able to reveal before national television the purported role of the Chief Magistrate in ‘manipulating’ the en banc deliberation to favor Arroyo.

Chief Justice Renato Corona was appointed as an associate justice of the Supreme Court by Arroyo.  He later became the chief justice when the post was left vacant following the retirement of former Chief Justice Reynato Puno. His appointment was however questioned as it violated the Constitutional ban on appointment within an election period. But the Supreme Court, majority of which members were also Arroyo appointees, upheld his appointment.

Unlike previous witnesses, de Lima was accorded enough leeway to elucidate on the decisions of the Supreme Court relative to the issuance of the TRO which she claimed was the precipitator of the impeachment of Corona.

When it was the turn of the defense panel to cross-examine the justice secretary, her testimony even disclosed details not previously known to the public and reinforced what Corona’s accusers claimed of the latter’s “excessive entanglement” with the former president.

The defense moved to strike out her entire testimony on the basis of hearsay but Enrile ruled that the same will remain in the records of the impeachment trial.

Thereafter, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile ruled that the court will be governed only by a quantum of evidence enough to convince the senator-judges to convict Corona and not proof beyond reasonable doubt. He also declared that hearsay evidence may be accepted by the court.

As a rejoinder, he even enjoined defense lead counsel Serafin Cuevas to read the book on impeachment by an American author which the latter grudgingly admitted he has not come across with.

With de Lima forcefully offering her own opinion and revealing, by way of dissenting opinions from at least two Supreme Court justices, Corona’s alleged role in influencing the High Tribunal, the defense will be hard pressed to destroy her testimony without putting into the witness stand one of the justices of the Supreme Court or the chief justice himself.

As in the past weeks of the trial, momentum can easily shift both ways. The sixth week was no exception. (Edwin G. Espejo writes for