JPE eyes marathon CJ impeachment hearings

By Christina Mendez, The Philippine Star

Posted at May 07 2012 08:11 AM | Updated as of May 07 2012 06:27 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile wants the Senate to wrap up impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Renato Corona by month’s end.

Enrile said he would make the recommendation to the defense and prosecution panels as the trial resumes today at the Senate impeachment court after a six-week recess.

He said the Senate could start the hearings at 2 p.m. instead of 3 p.m. and extend further to 10 p.m. to ensure that the Chief Justice’s camp is given sufficient time to finish presentation of evidence by the end of May and ensure that a verdict can be reached before Congress adjourns on June 7.

The new schedule would also cover the time needed by members of the House of Representatives’ prosecution panel in case they want to rebut the arguments of the defense.

“They should be ready. I won’t be allowing any delays or drivel on this. I said that we will wrap up before the end of the month. That’s how many trial days? That’s 16 trial days. The defense said they are presenting about five to 10 witnesses. So I guess they can do that (within that timeframe),” Enrile said in a radio interview yesterday.

Defense spokesman Tranquil Salvador III said there is no need to extend trial hours beyond 7 p.m. because “it will be very taxing even to the senator-judges.”

Emerging from the full defense team meeting with the Chief Justice yesterday, Salvador said the defense would also want to wrap up presentation in the next two weeks.

“There is no need to worry because we are expediting the process,” he told The STAR.

The defense team will be presenting witnesses in relation to the Chief Justice’s properties, while former Manila mayor Lito Atienza will return to the witness stand to further shed light on the P34-million check issued in trust to Mrs. Cristina Corona by the Manila government for the expropriations of the property of Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc (BGEI).

Enrile said it is up to the prosecution panel if they want to submit rebuttal evidence but as far as he is concerned, “we will cover all within the month.”

Contrary to his earlier pronouncements that Corona should testify before the court, Enrile said he will leave it to the chief magistrate and his camp if he will still be allowed to personally testify in the coming weeks.

Subpoena compels De Lima to testify anew

Meanwhile, Enrile said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima will have to appear before the Senate impeachment court because there is a subpoena issued against her.

In her first appearance, De Lima was subjected to cross-examination by the defense. Today she will be presented as a hostile witness.

Defense lawyers want to squeeze details from De Lima on why her department failed to file any criminal charges against former President Arroyo two years after President Aquino assumed office.

Defense lawyer Rico Paolo Quicho said that had the government filed the necessary charges, Mrs. Arroyo would have not gone to the Supreme Court seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the DOJ’s order banning her and her husband Mike from leaving abroad.

Two-pronged probe

On Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales’ move to probe Corona’s alleged $10-million bank accounts, Enrile said he sees nothing wrong with this.

He noted that the impeachment court is focused on the removal of Corona from office, while the Ombudsman pursues the filing of charges against government officials, including impeachable officials who violated the law.

Another defense lawyer, Ramon Esguerra however argued that under Republic Act 6770 or the Ombudsman Code, the ombudsman has no disciplinary authority over impeachable officers.

“How can the Ombudsman then still conduct investigation when the Chief Justice is already being tried after being impeached?” Esguerra said.

He said Corona is still being tried and there is no conviction yet to warrant any action on forfeiture or graft.

“The Ombudsman is acting without or in excess of jurisdiction or at least by reason of grave abuse of discretion,” the lawyer added.