MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - Contrary to the proposal of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, defense counsel Serafin Cuevas does not want Chief Justice Renato Corona to testify in his own impeachment trial.
Cuevas said putting Corona on the stand is not a good idea because it will open him to questioning by senator-judges, which the defense cannot object to.
"Ang tingin ko po parang hindi maganda kasi the members of the Senate impeachment court can examine him on all angles e hindi naman makaka-object si Justice Cuevas e. The moment I start, sasabihin ng mga judges out of order kasi I cannot object which I was all the while questioning," he told ANC's Headstart.
The lead defense counsel said he is averse to making his client wait for his turn to testify in the trial.
"Saan namin siya pauupuin? So on and so on pagkatapos maghihintay, nakaupo dito, mag re-recess. Chief Justice naman yan. Parang hindi ayos sa kanyang katayuan sa buhay not because we are adoring him or we're idolizing him but it is not for Chief Justice Corona only but to everybody similarly situated in the future. I hope there will be none in the future," he said.
On the other hand, he said Corona could still be called to the stand if they deem it necessary for the Chief Justice to explain his bank accounts.
Cuevas said the defense team will object to the admission of Corona's bank records in the impeachment trial. He said Corona's bank records were obtained illegally after the prosecution produced a supposedly leaked document to gain access to Corona's bank records.
He said that if the Senate impeachment court decides to accept the bank records as evidence, the defense could go to the Supreme Court to question the decision.
"Our remedy probably will be to challenge the order of admission by way of a petition of certiorari before the Supreme Court but considering the exigencies of the time and the manner by which the trial is being conducted, it maybe in vain because even if we challenge it before the Supreme Court, the trial continues. Prior to the resolution, the case may be terminated and it will give us no use whatsoever," he said.
Asked if the defense will present Corona's dollar accounts in the trial, he said: "What are we going to contradict by presenting it?"
No malice in Corona's SALN omissions
In the interview, Cuevas said the impeachment case against Corona should not be compared to the cases of government officials and employees who were dismissed because of omissions in their Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALNs).
Cuevas said Corona's impeachment case is different from that of a court interpreter (Rabe v Flores) who was sacked because she failed to declare ownership of a market stall, or that of a BIR director (Flores v Montemayor) who was sacked because of failing to declare ownership of 2 expensive cars.
In both cases, the Supreme Court upheld decisions to dismiss the respondents for misdeclarations in their SALNs.
"No analogy because in impeachment, the grounds are definite and particular. Not like in administrative cases. Dishonesty, a little misdemeanor may be ground for administrative cases but in impeachment, it is very clear. Culpable violation of the Constitution. Treason. Bribery. Violation of the Ant-Graft Law. The last one is betrayal of public trust. Whatever acts may be imputed to an impeachable officer, it must be grounded on any of these things unlike in administrative cases where the law requires lesser requirements," Cuevas said.
Corona is accused of failing to truthfully declare some of his assets in his SALNs. His bank records have showed he had P31.7 million in 2 local banks in December 2010 while declaring only P3.5 million in his SALN for that year.
Impeachment prosecutors also point out Corona failed to declare ownership of a P3.5 million condo unit at The Columns, Ayala Avenue for 5 consecutive years in his SALNs.
In the interview, Cuevas said omissions of properties or bank accounts in the SALNs of public officials do not necessarily mean betrayal of public trust unless there is malice.
"The answer is no unless it is malicious. The law grants the filer to correct and the period within which it might be corrected is not stated definitely and categorically by any law. Good faith is presumed at every act," he said.
Asked to define malice, he said: "There must be acts that will show that it was intention and the party making it knowing it to be wrong continues to do so."
He insisted if there is no malice, a government official can still remedy his SALN under Section 10 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
Cuevas, meanwhile, denied that the religious group Iglesia ni Cristo is allegedly backing Corona because of him. He said the misconception started because he is a member of the INC, not Corona.
"There is no truth to that...Corona is not a member of INC," he said.
He said he was the one who advised Corona not to attend the prayer rally on Tuesday.
Cuevas, a former Supreme Court Associate Justice, was kicked out of the High Court after the 1986 EDSA Revolution. This was after President Corazon Aquino removed all but one of the SC magistrates when she established a revolutionary government in 1986.
Cuevas said he told a Palace emissary that he did not want to resign from the Supreme Court since he had yet to reach the optional retirement age of 65.
After he was removed, he said he applied for his retirement benefits and got P2.8 million, which was big money at the time.