'Enrile bloc crucial in CJ trial ruling'

by RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 28 2012 12:47 PM | Updated as of May 29 2012 03:50 PM

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - At least 2 political analysts believe the bloc of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile will spell the difference between conviction and acquittal for Chief Justice Renato Corona, with one analyst saying there could be some abstentions.

Political analyst Prospero de Vera told ABS-CBN News that the vote will be a close one. “Most senators have decided weeks back and are only looking for evidence or arguments to justify their vote," he said.

De Vera feels that beyond the evidence, 2 factors will decide the vote:

the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), which is reportedly lobbying for Corona’s acquittal; and,
the bloc of Enrile, supposedly comprised of Enrile, and Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Gregorio Honasan and Tito Sotto.

“Only two intangibles are still in play and will affect the vote - the INC card and the JPE [Juan Ponce Enrile] card. The JPE group (Enrile, Honasan, Estrada, Sotto), if it votes as a bloc, can sway it either way,” he said.

On the other hand, De Vera said Senators also cannot afford to alienate themselves from the INC, which is known to endorse candidates during elections—-especially with the 2013 mid-term elections months away.

"The INC support in 2013 will be crucial for reelectionists in the 8-15 rank,” he added.

De Vera also predicted that “some senators will abstain.”

Senators Loren Legarda. Francis Escudero, Antonio Trillanes, Alan Peter Cayetano, Gregorio Honasan and Koko Pimentel are eligble to run for a 2nd term at the senate next year.

Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago, Edgardo Angara, Joker Arroyo, Panfilo Lacson, Francis Pangilinan, and Manny Villar are retiring next year.

Tricky until last minute

Analyst Malou Tiquia said Enrile’s group—-composed Senate Pro-Tempore Estrada and Majority leader sotto, Enrile’s known ally Gonasan, will vote as a bloc.

Tiquia also concurs with De Vera’s belief that the final vote will be very tricky till the last minute.

“It is easier to get [8] votes to acquit than to convict by the sheer numbers required [16]. It will also be a game of brinkmanship in securing the last vote for an acquittal and conviction because it is easier to poach for the last votes,” she said.

Tiquia believes there are 3 hard votes for acquittal: Miriam Defensor Santiago, Joker Arroyo and Bongbong Marcos, while there are 5 hard votes for conviction, which represents the Liberal Party (LP) votes in the Senate: Franklin Drilon, Teofisto Guingona III, Ralph Recto, Sergio Osmeña III and Francis Panglinan.

A dash of local politics comes into play in the case of siblings Senators Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano.

Tiquia believes “the Cayetanos might just vote in tandem because of the importance of Taguig for the family since majority of the voters there are INC or apolitical, with Pia voting for conviction and Alan Peter Cayetano for acquittal.”

She said the senator-judges holding leadership positions will vote as a bloc together with Senator Bong Revilla and Lito Lapid because it is easier to follow a legal luminary like Enrile. This would increase the power of the Enrile bloc to 6 votes.

Under the Constitution, 16 senators must find Corona guilty for him to be removed from office.

Minus CJ testimony

Tiquia’s forecast, based on the 39 days of impeachment and without yet measuring the impact of the testimony of the chief justice:

CONVICT: Angara, Pia Cayetano, Drilon, Guingona, Lacson, Lapid, Osmeña, Pangilinan, Pimentel, Recto, Trillanes or 11 votes.

ACQUITTAL : Arroyo, Allan Peter Cayetano, Miriam Defensor Santiago, Estrada, Escudero, Honasan, Legarda, Marcos, Revilla, Sotto, Villar, Enrile or 12 votes.

Tiquia, however, clarified that the testimony and alleged walk out of Corona last week may have influenced some senators’ minds.

Closing arguments

As this developed, chief prosecutor Niel Tupas Jr. gave a brief teaser what his closing argument Monday afternoon will be.

Tupas is expected to focus on article 2, the alleged non-declaration of assets in Corona’s statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). “We will win the case on article 2 alone.”

Prosecution Spokesman Rep. Sonny Angara said the Senate will have a big political question to answer when it makes its final vote.

“A big emphasis is on betrayal of public trust, which only became a ground for impeachment in 1987. According to the record of the Constitutional Commission, what constitutes betrayal of public trust need not be a crime, and according to the Supreme Court in the Francisco case, the definition of what would constitute betrayal of public trust is a political question left to the Senate's discretion. We will emphasize the failure of the chief just to comply with the constitutional injunction on filing a truthful SALN is, at the very least, a betrayal of the public trust and thus, impeachable,” Angara said.

Prosecutor and Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said, “The focus of prosecution is on article 2. Of course, although article 7 can't be counted out, as long as we do well sa oral arguments. Kasi we have submitted evidence and had strong testimonies. The defense will focus on good faith in Article 2, [SC] collegiality in Article 7. There will be no interpellations so the best presention hinges on the articulateness of the presentor, his capacity to marshal facts and arguments that are logical and easiliy understood by the public. ”

Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño added, “The senator-judges should remember that aside from Article 2, there are also Articles 7 and 3. It is imperative that the senator-judges not only concentrate on the supposed undisclosed wealth of Corona but on the political aspect of how he used his position as the chief justice to protect Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.”