20-3 decision surprised defense, Cuevas says

By Jojo Malig, ABS-CBNNews.com

Posted at May 29 2012 07:35 PM | Updated as of May 30 2012 08:26 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Chief Justice Renato Corona's lawyers were suprised by senators' overwhelming votes finding him guilty and removing him from public office, lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas said.

Cuevas told ANC that they expected a close fight to have Corona acquitted.

"Labanan yan eh, one must win. But we didn't expect the margin would be as big as that (20-3)," he said.

He added that they expected many senators to acquit Corona. "Half of those who voted for conviction, we were of the impression that they were with us in the acquittal."

Several of the senators who voted to find Corona guilty cited the now-ousted Chief Justice's own declarations in the witness stand as basis for his impeachment.

These include Corona's admission that he had $2.4 million and P80 million in bank accounts in his name that were not declared in his annual statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth.

Cuevas himself surprised

Cuevas said he had no idea that Corona would disclose the amounts in his bank deposits in the Senate hearing last Friday.

"Ako man nagulat. That was not part of what we discussed before he took the witness stand," he said.

 Cuevas did not directly contradict views that Corona's statements in court led to the guilty verdict. "Maaring meron silang katwiran sa pananaw na yan."

However, he said the defense does not regret presenting Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales as a hostile witness.

"Prinisinta po namin si Ombudsman Morales dahil sa kanyang sinabi kay Chief Justice na mayroon siyang $10 million deposit," he said.

Will CJ ask SC's help?

He said he has yet to talk to Corona, who is still confined at the Medical City, regarding their next move.

"Tinatanong nila kung pupunta kami sa SC. That is too rash an opinion. Hindi pa kami nagkakausap ni Chief Justice Corona."

"While we're under the impression that it could be a conviction or an acquittal, hindi po namin napag-uspaan ang mga parte na iyan," he said.

Cuevas said he is not leaving Corona's side. "I'm not quitting. There is a man who has been close to you. He is now in trouble, bakit mo iiwanan?"

No timetable for executing decision

He said he has no idea if the Senate's decision to remove Corona from office is final and executory because it is not explained in the Constitution.

In a separate interview with radio dzMM, Cuevas cited criminal procedure on the effectivity of the Senate's ruling.

"If we follow the rules on criminal procedure, after 15 days," he said, adding that Corona may stay as chief justice within that time.

Guilty verdict atmosphere

A spokesman of the defense team, Atty. Tranquil Salvador III, said they don't question the senator's individual decisions to convict Corona.

"Nakita naman ng ating mga kababayan kung papaano diniliver iyung kanilang verdict. Binigyan ng pagkakataon ang lahat ng senator-judges na makapagpaliwanag.  I think we cannot question iyung naging decision nila. Personal na gusto nila iyon," he said.

Salvador said atmosphere at the Senate before the decision was handed down felt like the impeachment court was indeed going to convict Corona. "Ngayong araw po, nalaman ko na, at iba't ibang mga tao po dito, naramdaman na iyon po ang direksiyon na pinupuntahan." 

"Iyung proseso naman po ay naging maayos naman po," he said.

He added that all lawyers expect that not all decisions will be favorable to them and their clients.