MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/26 January) – In Wednesday’s (January 25) continuation of the trial of the impeachment case against Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, not a few observers said it was a bad day for the prosecution. They gave the day to the defense probably because defense lead counsel Serafin Cuevas succeeded in preventing the prosecution from linking the testimony of their witness, Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares, to Corona’s alleged ill-gotten wealth. In fact, whether or not the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, should allow testimonies and evidences in relation to the allegations of ill-gotten wealth has remained a contentious issue in the trial.
After much wrangling on technicalities sparked by Cuevas, the impeachment court allowed Henares to present the income tax returns – or lack of it – of the chief justice and his wife Cristina. But it did not allow the prosecution from fielding questions that would have officially established the fact that the couple’s income was disproportionate to the properties they have accumulated based on the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth earlier presented. All that Henares was able to do was confirm the authenticity of the income tax returns, which the defense predictably did not object to.
Apparently, many law students and even lawyers had listened intently to Cuevas’ expert argumentations on the rules of evidence and admissibility of evidence. He had meant to embarrass, if not demolish, the opponent by giving unsolicited lectures as a former law professor and retired associate justice.
Unfortunately for his client, Cuevas has not appreciated until now the true nature of an impeachment trial as a political proceeding. Or if he does, he has ignored it and opted instead to draw sympathy for his client by making it appear that due process has been grossly violated. By dwelling too much on technicalities he wishes to convince the public and the Senate that the case should not depart from the standards required in ordinary judicial proceedings.
It was therefore expected that when the prosecution failed to make Henares’ testimony lay the basis for the allegations of ill-gotten wealth, the defense sort of rejoiced.
The celebration was misplaced. If they would care to look closer, the defense would realize that their victory on that day was confined to the Senate chamber. Non-lawyers like me would rather look at Wednesday’s episode from another angle, particularly from the question of whether the prosecution succeeded in creating the impression that Corona really has ill-gotten wealth.
I’d say that the presentation of the income tax returns, which appeared not to match the SALNs that were disclosed earlier, achieved this purpose. Despite having failed to conduct the direct examination of Henares in the way they had wanted, the prosecution still managed to show that Corona has a lot of explaining to do.
On the other hand, Cuevas, with his pesky insistence on technicalities, only reinforced the accusations hurled against his client.
Perhaps the chief justice cannot be obliged to explain the apparent mismatch between his income tax returns and SALNs in as far as the impeachment court is concerned. But the real arena is not there. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)