Prosecution wins closing round with 'palusot': analysts

by Jojo Malig,

Posted at May 28 2012 09:23 PM | Updated as of May 29 2012 05:25 PM

'JPE's questions on culpa, dolus not good for Corona'

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - Rep. Rudy Fariñas hammered home the prosecution's case against Chief Justice Renato Corona in his closing arguments in the Senate impeachment trial on Monday, legal experts said.

Atty. Adel Tamano, resident legal analyst of ANC, said Fariñas was better than anyone on the defense side. "[He was] More direct to the point," he said.

"He also put the factual errors that the chief justice committed," Tamano said. "He raised also a very good point... in closing arguments, you refer to factual matters that the judge or the jurors can refer to."

Fariñas, deputy lead prosecutor of the House team, used the Filipino language and a PowerPoint presentation to counter Chief Justice's statements on the witness stand.

He mentioned the word "palusot" several times as the alleged reason behind Corona's failure to declare all his assets in his annual statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALNs).

"It only wasn't just a twist of words. He also put some legal arguments there," he said.

Only 2% cash assets declared

Tamano said Fariñas highlighted one main point.

"The chief justice, from his own testimony, merely disclosed less than 2% of his cash assets, meaning that 98% of the Chief Justice's cash assets were not disclosed in the SALN. This is something that the senator-judges can latch on to," Tamano said.

He added that Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile praised Fariñas after his presentation.

Enrile told Fariñas, "Nalaing ka unay," which means "you're really good."

'No ooomph!'

Dean Nilo Divina of the University of Sto. Tomas Faculty of Civil Law agreed with Tamano.

"In any closing argument, there must be a jolting statement," Divina said. "Something that will catch the attention of the public, the court that actualizes the core of the argument."

"In the case of the prosecution, it was 'palusot.' It resonated to the public, and even Senate President Enrile, who couldn't help but say nalaing ka, which means you're very good," he added.

He said the defense's presentation was "very substantial, but lacked an 'ooomph!' statement."

"Something to counteract the palusot, something like pinagtulungan, pinagkaisahan, para naman magresonate sa public," Divina said.

'Culpa' and 'dolus'

The 2 legal analysts also expressed fear for the defense of Chief Justice Corona because of Enrile's last closing questions to lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas.

Enrile asked Cuevas several questions, particularly on whether the Foreign Currency Deposit Act allows a public official to voluntarily disclose his dollar assets without penalty to the depositor.

Enrile also asked Cuevas if the Constitutional provision on disclosure of government officials' assets is mandatory.

"If it is a sovereign command. Will disobedience of that command constitute culpable violation of the Constitution?" he asked.

"(I'm) not in a position to answer unless I know the circumstances," Cuevas replied.

"Let us recall elementary. What is 'culpa'?" Enrile asked again.

"Maybe I was absent when that was tackled," Cuevas said.

"I am afraid for the chief justice that the Senate president is basically leading the defense counsel to say that the failure to disclose dollar deposits in the SALN need not be intentional," Divina said.

"The moment you committed that fault, then it is a violation of the constitution, regardless of your intent. Good faith or bad faith is immaterial. What is important is that you failed to fulfill the mandate, that obligation and therefore is an impeachable offense," he added.

He explained that "dolus" means "intentional," while "culpa" means just "fault."

"A mere fault that means a failure to fulfill your duty under the Constitution is a violation of the Constitution and is therefore an impeachable offense," he said.

Tamano agreed with Dean Divina.

"What Senator Enrile was actually leading towards, is that what if it's a case of culpa, it doesn't have to have a case of good faith or bad faith," he explained.

"If it's a case of culpa, it doesn't matter if he did not include them in good faith," Tamano said.

"If that reveals a little bit about the state of mind of Senator Enrile, that's actually quite bad for the chief justice," he said.

IBP president: Prosecution better

Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Atty. Roan Libarios also said the prosecution was better than the defense in the oral arguments Monday.

"The prosecution was able to connect to the audience and to the senator-judges," he said. "I think the prosecution made a better presentation of the oral arguments."

"The defense, particularly Dean delos Angeles and Cuevas, appeared to be too technical, too legalistic in their presentation," Libarios told ANC's "Talkback with Tina Palma."

"Although well organized, they were too legalistic. They failed to connect to the audience and to the public, even to the senators," he said.

"The prosecution was able to connect to the audience and to the senator-judges, particularly Rudy Fariñas, with the image of 'palusot.' I think it resonated more with the audience," Libarios said.

"Ang naging problema sa depensa, masyadong naging abstract, technical, and there was nothing new that they presented," he explained.

Enrile, Belmonte make points

Atty. Ted Te, assistant professor at the University of the Philippines College of Law, said in a Facebook post on Monday that Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. made "significant interventions" in clarifying and focusing on issues during the oral arguments in the Senate impeach trial.

Te said that while former Ateneo Law School Dean Eduardo delos Angeles gave an effective summation of the defense's case and Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas made the prosecution's case understood by the common people, points raised by Enrile and Belmonte are important.

He said Belmonte's speech showed that "the Chief Justice's defense was that he was entitled to preferential treatment from the SALN law which was mandatory to all," he said.

"His pointed reference to the chief justice's concurrence in opinions of the court on lesser officials being dismissed for doing precisely the very act he now justifies ought to have been among the first questions that the House prosecutors asked on cross examination; the House speaker's intervention, through closing argument, effectively placed on record that frame and preserved it for what appears to be an attempt by the respondent to seek judicial review should a conviction be obtained," Te added.

A sovereign command Corona ignored

Enrile, meanwhile, showed to the senators-jurors and the public at large of what is truly at stake in the impeachment trial.

He said the Senate president's pointed questions to Cuevas about the sovereign command for public officials to disclose all their assets in relation to "culpable" violations of the Constitution showed  a "most serious chink in Atty. Cuevas's supposed armor of invincibility and erudition."

He said the definition of "culpa" and "culpable offenses" are among the first to be taken up in criminal law.

"(Enrile) deftly steered the focus of the senators-jurors away from the need for intent and the defense of good faith and back to the indispensable element under the Constitution, (which is) culpability," Te said

He added that Enrile also "neatly summed up the nature of the command that was the overarching issue in the proceedings, a sovereign one that could not simply be cavalierly ignored, least of all by a Chief Justice."