MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/04 January) – House prosecutors in the impeachment case against Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona have sort of fired the first salvo even before the start of the trial. At a news conference Tuesday, Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., the chief prosecutor, alleged that the Corona couple bought a penthouse at the plush The Bellagio Towers in Taguig City to the tune of P14.51 million. He further vowed to show more documents on the Coronas’ properties, including those that are reportedly located abroad.
The prosecutors’ exposé and the public statements made by Corona’s camp have drawn reactions from Senator Panfilo Lacson, who said these are “blatant violations of our Rules of Procedure on Impeachment Trials that unambiguously prohibits senator judges as well as prosecutors, the person impeached, their counsels, and witnesses from making any comments and disclosures in public pertaining to the merits of a pending impeachment trial.”
Tupas, however, was unfazed. Brushing off Lacson’s admonition, he argued that in an impeachment case the right of the people to know is more paramount than the technicalities involved. If the Iloilo congressman won’t allow himself and the prosecution team from making more disclosures, expect the defense to unwrap their own bundle of surprise. Maybe the evidence that the prosecutors will present to the public before the trial won’t be as damning as they would try to portray, but the exchange of words between them and the defense will certainly become nastier as D-Day approaches.
As if to taunt the defense, Tupas said they were still undecided on whether to present the documents concerning Corona’s alleged purchase of the penthouse during the trial, adding they already have enough evidence. Bluff or not, the prosecution simply wanted to send across the message that they mean to embarrass Corona when the day of reckoning comes. It could also be that they want to test how strong his arsenal is through pitched media battles.
Tupas must have read Julius Caesar’s “The Gallic War.” In his military campaign in Gaul, the ancient name of what is now mostly France, Rome’s celebrated general would send out small units to engage enemy troops in short, inconsequential skirmishes, a tactic akin to holding tune-up games before an actual sport tournament. In addition to giving a “warm-up” to his soldiers, the ploy provided Caesar the opportunity to evaluate the enemy’s weaknesses and strengths as well as his own, and to adjust his battle plan accordingly.
There’s another scenario, though. The prosecution is possibly entertaining the idea of forcing Corona to throw in the towel before January 16, the scheduled start of the impeachment trial. Observers may have noticed that the Chief Justice has so far issued no categorical response to the penthouse issue, although in his reply to the impeachment complaint, Corona admitted to having purchased a 300-sq m “apartment” in Taguig.
Perhaps Corona realized that confronting this particular issue head-on would lead him to a well-laid trap from which not even his topnotch lawyers could rescue him. For now, he and his lawyers are likely assessing the implications of the penthouse exposé. If Tupas and his colleagues make good of their promise to present more documents, and if those documents tend to show that the Chief Justice and his wife had acquired properties beyond their means, the case is as good as lost. Corona’s fate will be decided by the single question “Where did you get the money?”
Has Tupas’ shot hit a fatal chink in Corona’s armor? We shall know the answer soon. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at email@example.com)