MANILA, Philippines - Serafin Cuevas tried to leave as lead defense counsel, but Chief Justice Renato Corona asked him to stay, the retired Supreme Court Justice said yesterday.
Speaking to reporters after the impeachment proceedings, Cuevas said “conflict of opinion” had prodded him to resign.
“Of course, sometimes, because of ill feelings, sometimes there is conflict of opinion,” he admitted.
“Kung wala na akong katuturan, pinakamagaling na hayaan niyo na akong mag-resign (If I’m of no use anymore, it would be best to allow me to resign).”
Cuevas said he could not recall when exactly he tried to resign and what prompted him to do it.
“I’m already old,” he said.
Cuevas refused to say how Corona persuaded him to change his mind.
“That is confidential,” he said. “That is between a lawyer and his client.”
Cuevas said defense lawyers had differences with regard to the summoning of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales before the impeachment court.
“We had arguments regarding that (summoning Morales as witness),” he said. “Our main target was about the $10 million deposits.”
Some defense lawyers wanted Morales to take the witness stand before the complainants, he added.
Meanwhile, Cuevas said Corona’s decision to leave the trial last Tuesday without the impeachment court’s approval could be misconstrued as an effort to evade cross-examination.
“What I did not like was that he just left (without proper discharge),” he said. “I was just in the middle of my manifestation and I was surprised (he was gone).”
Cuevas said it would have been simpler had Corona just told him he was having difficulty breathing.
“The night before (his appearance before the impeachment court) he did not have dinner,” he said.
“He also did not sleep well and he did not have his lunch the following day, so it all piled up.”
Cuevas said he has not talked to Corona about his action.
“We did not talk because he was rushed to the hospital,” he said.
“He (Corona) is now under sedation.”
Cuevas said he could have informed Corona about the possible negative impact of his sudden departure from the proceedings.
“Of course I would tell him that if he would consider a walkout, it would not be good for us,” he said. “They might think he does not want to be cross-examined. But they are mere conjectures.”
However, Cuevas said Corona had no intention to disrespect the impeachment court.
“I told that in my manifestation,” he said. “It was merely misconstrued.”
On the other hand, the prosecution believes Corona walked out to avoid cross-examination.
“Definitely, I think it’s the all-time low for the Chief Justice,” said prosecution spokesman Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara.
“We did not think he would be this low, in fact, he’s even lower.”
“He really made sure that he would not be questioned by anyone, including senator-judges and the prosecution,” said prosecution spokesman Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada.
Meanwhile, the defense denied reports that they are in disarray and some of them tried to resign last Wednesday.
“Rumors of resignation have been circulating for a long time,” said defense spokesman Tranquil Salvador III. “There is no such thing.”
Salvador branded as “unfair” the claim that Corona’s lawyers are in disarray.
"This is an unfair statement,” he said. “Why would we be in disarray when we were able to present the Chief Justice and made his statement very very clear?”
Salvador belied rumors that the defense panel would soon resign.
“That has not reached our thoughts,” he said.
“I can’t blame you (media). You are always ahead in terms of your questions.”
Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, impeachment court presiding officer, lashed out at Cuevas and lawyer Jose Roy III for allowing their client to disrespect his court, according to sources.
Salvador said Cuevas had sought an audience with Enrile and the senator-judges inside the Senate lounge to ease the tension.
Enrile declined to discuss what went on inside the lounge but at least one senator confirmed the account of the source.
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said Enrile was clearly “not happy at all” about what Corona did and he let Cuevas and Roy know how he felt.
It was the senator-judges who called Cuevas to join them in the lounge to explain what just happened, he added.
Cuevas explained that Corona was not feeling well and had to seek medical attention, Marcos said.