Cuevas: Don’t bulldoze us into presenting witnesses, CJ
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - The Senate impeachment court fast-tracked day 35 of the proceedings on Monday, with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile saying some of the witnesses’ testimonies are already irrelevant and immaterial to the case against Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Senator-judge Jinggoy Estrada followed up on this statement of the presiding judge on the relevance of witnesses and sought anew the appearance of Corona before the court.
Estrada said: “Instead of cluttering this court, to borrow Sen. Enrile’s words, with witnesses who are immaterial, I suggest you already bring the respondent himself. If the Chief Justice will appear before the judges, we will already be very happy.”
In response, however, lead defense lawyer Serafin Cuevas said: “Notwithstanding the character of the proceedings, due process should still be observed. What are the charges against him? That he had amassed properties which he did not declare in the SALN? Is that impeachable? That he has accounts which were not reflected therein?”
Cuevas said the defense has witnesses “to testify that there is no such violation. Even if there is, it may not be considered violation, because they are not impeachable in character. We may not agree with him, but let us give him the opportunity to present witnesses to support that. He is still the chief justice of this country.”
‘Give us due process’
Cuevas said the defense can’t be “bulldozed” when it comes to the presentation of its witnesses nor be pressured into bringing Corona to court.
“That is not the order of trial. That is not the demand of justice. We have been practitioners, we have been members of the bench, we have been a member of the SC, there is no authority nor any jurisprudence that gives a reason to compel a party accused to appear in court even if he does not appear to be in the position to do so," he said.
In response to Cuevas' statement, Enrile said: “Don’t lecture us on due process.”
He said the Senate appreciates the skills of the Corona defense team, “but you should also respect our ability to appreciate the evidence presented before us.”
Enrile said he was “disappointed” with the witnesses that the defense presented on the first day of trial after a six-week break.
He noted the Senate also has other matters to tackle before Congress ends its session on June 8.
The defense tried to present Bureau of Internal Revenue’s law division officer-in-charge VC Cadangen to testify that the transaction between the city of Manila and Basa Guidote Enterprises Inc. was exempted from payment of the capital gains tax.
Senator-judge Franklin Drilon earlier noted the “non-payment” of the tax, which would mean that the lot purchased from BGEI, used for the Sampaloc market, was still in the name of Cristina Corona’s relatives.
The defense earlier said the proceeds from the sale were held in trust in the bank accounts of the chief magistrate.
The defense had explained how Corona was able to purchase several real estate properties.
The defense was also not able to present Manila City records keeper Annalyn Moises and Manila market administrator Efleda Castro because Enrile said their testimonies were not relevant anymore.
Enrile said the only purpose in presenting these 2 witnesses was only to prove that there were no irregularities in the purchase of the BGEI lot.
He said it is not the concern of the Senate to determine the alleged irregularities in the property transaction.
“There is a transaction that happened and that money had been passed [from one hand to another],” he said.
The testimony of former Fort Bonifacio Development Corp. commercial operations head Noel Kintanar was also cut short by Enrile.
Kintanar testified that the unit bought by Corona’s wife in the Bonifacio Ridge was not delivered on time because of defects in the unit.
A deed of absolute sale was signed in 2006. The prosecution earlier said the Coronas bought the Bonifacio Ridge unit at the Spanish Bay Tower for P9.15 million.
Kintanar said Cristina asked the firm several times to dispense with the assessed condo dues because the unit itself had not been transferred to her formally.
As a result, the defense said Corona only disclosed the property in his 2010 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.
Enrile later intervened, asking the defense: “But did [Corona’s accountant] not consider the value [in 2006] already as a receivable?”
Defense lawyer Dennis Manalo answered, “It is possible that [Corona] was not guided by an accounting expert.”