MANILA, Philippines – A political analyst believes Chief Justice Renato Corona missed an opportunity to turn his impeachment trial into a purely legal battle had he not offered a conditional waiver opening his assets to scrutiny and then walking out of the Senate session hall.
Dean Nilo Divina of the University of Sto. Tomas Faculty of Civil Law said Corona was doing well in his opening statement until he presented a waiver that would open his peso and dollar accounts to scrutiny.
However, instead of giving the document unconditionally, he said he would only submit it if Sen. Franklin Drilon and all 188 impeachment complaints sign a similar waiver.
“If he had signed an unconditional waiver, wow! It would have become a legal issue. It would show he had a different viewpoint. He didn’t have to declare his dollar deposits because he is following Republic Act 6426. The Senate could say he is wrong but Corona’s lawyers could then go to the Supreme Court to question it,” he told radio dzMM.
“Nung nag waive siya. Marami nagulat. That was a good move. It was a call for good governance. E nung naging conditional , nabawasan ng impact,” he added.
Similarly, Sen. Pia Cayetano said her fellow senators were very surprised by Corona’s move to sign a waiver opening his dollar accounts to scrutiny. She said, however, that making the waiver conditional made it all for show.
“It was purely drama,” she said.
She said Corona’s gesture “held the court hostage” since he would only release his evidence if his conditions were met.
Walkout compounds mistake
Divina said Corona compounded his mistake when he asked to be excused and left the Senate session hall without waiting to be discharged by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. His action irked the senator-judges who said Corona was disrespectful of the court.
The law dean said he does not know if Corona had planned to walk out after delivering his opening statement or if he was really unwell. He said if Corona felt ill, he could have asked the court if he could be excused and waited to be discharged.
“If he did not get sick and walked out, had he not said ‘The Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines wishes to be excused’, if he had said ‘Your honor, I am not feeling well’ -- sayang talaga,” he said.
Cayetano, however, said it was clear in Corona’s statement that he wanted to leave right after he delivered his statement.
“If you look at his statement, it’s clear that he wanted to excuse himself. He wanted to be the witness and the judge. He asked to excuse himself and then he stood up. He didn’t wait for the presiding officer,” she said.
“I personally believe that that is an act that would be considered contemptuous.”
The senator said Corona’s walkout had a huge effect on her fellow senators especially after he was given so much courtesy by the presiding officer.
“I think it had a big effect because first of all, you have to remember that we gave him the utmost leniency in narrating. You’ve never seen that. I do not even know if the Rules of Court allow a narration of facts, so we gave all of that to him,” she said.
“It doesn’t sit well with me because we extended so much courtesy,” she added.
Prosecution confident of victory
The senator said that despite yesterday’s events, she still wants Corona to return to the impeachment court and undergo cross-examination.
She said Corona must be allowed to answer the prosecution’s questions.
UP Professor Prospero de Vera said Corona’s entire defense would crumble if he fails to show up and undergo cross-examination.
“He has to appear. There are no ifs and buts about that. Because number 1, his testimony would really start to crumble if he does not appear. Psychologically, those who are against the Chief Justice will find fault in that and say I disregard his testimony because he did not even appear and honor the court,” he said.
He added: “It will be difficult for the defense to close if the superstar, the one in the hot seat suddenly just gives up. Could you imagine the defense facing the impeachment court? What will they say if the star witness did not come back to the Senate?”
Divina echoed the call for Corona’s return, saying that if he was Corona’s lawyer, he would advise the chief justice to make the waiver unconditional.
“I hope he recovers. Kung magaling na siya, sabihin ko ‘Chief, maybe make that waiver absolute and unqualified.’”
He noted, however, that the prosecution seems to believe they have secured Corona’s conviction after they waived the right to cross-examine the chief justice if there was no further direct.
“They would not have made that manifestation if they are not confident of getting a conviction based on the evidence presented,” he said.