SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Quicksand for the defense

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/24 January) – The harder the defense panel in the impeachment  case of Supreme Court Chief Justic Renato Corona tries to inject the rigid rules of a criminal proceeding into the trial in the Senate, the harder things have become for the impeached official.

Five days into the impeachment trial, former associate justice Serafin Cuevas, Corona’s lead counsel, still refused to acknowledge its political nature, and maintained that strict judicial standards should apply in evaluating which evidences are admissible. Moreover, he insisted that the impeachment court should judge based on proof beyond reasonable doubt.

The prosecution on the other hand opined that judgment should be based on substantial evidence.

Senator-Judge Miriam Defensor-Santiago offered another tack: the case should be decided based on “convincing preponderance of evidence.”

Santiago argued that an impeachment case is neither a criminal case nor a civil case but a “class of its own.” She described impeachment as “quasi-political” and “quasi-judicial.”

Now, while Santiago, Enrile and the other senator-judges who have already expressed their views on the nature of impeachment may have used different terms, they are one in saying that it is anything but a criminal or civil proceeding.

Of course, since Cuevas has to protect his client’s interests, he has to convince the impeachment court – and the public – that it should observe the rules of court and rules of evidence to the letter. His obsession with technicalities showed in last week’s hearings where he made several manifestations and objections to the questions asked by the prosecution.

It would appear though that the real purpose is not to ensure due process [for Corona] but to prevent the release of evidence that will eventually pin down the chief justice – if not before the senator-judges, then before the bar of public opinion.

Consider: After the Senate adjourned today (January 24) the spokespersons for the defense asked media to desist from further divulging Corona’s statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) containing his real estate properties. They said the documents would not look good to readers who don’t understand the difference between assessed value and fair market value, aside from the fact that the impeachment court has ordered the parties not to release evidence to the public.

Corona’s spokespersons got it wrong. The documents shown in the websites of news organizations were the same ones already presented during the trial. Can the media be barred from tackling such evidence? Further, was the media included in the Senate’s admonition?

This is precisely the dilemma of the defense. If they won’t block the prosecution at every turn, they will lose by default. On the other hand, if Corona’s lawyers continue to insist on hair-splitting technicalities, the people might think that they are really trying to hide something from public scrutiny.

That’s beside the point however. The issue here is the refusal of the defense to acknowledge that the primary purpose of an impeachment trial is to know the truth behind the allegations against the impeached official. Why deny the people the right – and i mean right – to know if the chief justice has indeed acquired ill-gotten wealth?

The impeachment court should allow the prosecution to present evidence on Corona’s alleged ill-gotten wealth. They can start by looking into his income tax returns. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])