|Former Justice Undersecretary Ramon Esguerra
MANILA, Philippines - New members of the defense panel of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona are unfazed by recent changes in their composition following the resignation of Atty. Ernesto Francisco and retired Court Of Appeals Justice Hector Hofilena.
"It's a loss as far as the team is concerned and we regret that, but the show must go on and we can't be stymied by these withdrawals," said Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) general counsel and former Justice Undersecretary Ramon Esguerra on "ANC Presents: Chief Justice on Trial."
"There are more volunteers to help the Chief Justice and I've been getting text messages expressing through me their support for the CJ," he added.
Among Esguerra's previous cases is the plunder case against Efraim Genuino, former chairman of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).
Esguerra said he considers defending Corona and the integrity of the Supreme Court as a personal mission.
"This is a challenge of a lifetime as far as I'm concerned. I have two sons and I want to leave them a legacy that they can be proud of--that I stood my ground in defense of the Constitution and of the highest official of the judiciary."
Esguerra said he, former Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Pasay law school dean Tranquil Salvador, and his former student and Harvard-educated lawyer Karen Jimeno were invited to join the Corona team in December, well before any indication of withdrawals from the Corona camp.
He said they will be with the defense panel in the interim.
"It will still be Justice Serafin Cuevas who will be our lead, primary spokesperson for the defense team. Atty. Tranquil Salvador and myself, and even my former student Karen Jimeno will only be there momentarily... Karen will remain a spokesperson because she is not part of the defense team at the moment."
Esguerra brushed off supposed claims of pressure coming from Malacañang, adding members of the defense panel are committed to defend not just Corona but the Constitution and the independence of the judiciary.
"I still believe in the sincerity of the President. I will give him that, that they will preserve the Constitution."
In defense of justice
"Let me just assure everyone that we will do everything legal, valid and, of course, Constitutional that will protect the rights of the Chief Justice and in so doing, we are not protecting the Chief Justice per se alone, but we are protecting the Constitution and the institution," he said.
Legal observers, meanwhile, said that when Congress resumes sessions on January 16, the Senate will be compelled to tackle the motion filed by Chief Justice Corona to dismiss the impeachment complaint.
They added that the defense team will face the challenge of proving the impeachment complaint was not properly filed.
"The only way to disprove it is to call in at least 95 of the signatories to ask them personally if they have read it. Even if they have read it, I don't expect them to admit it," said Lyceum of the Philippines College of Law Dean Pacifico Agabin.
"We heard some lawmakers said they signed the pleading without having read the Articles of Impeachment. How they plan to convince the impeachment court about the validity of their claim is up to the defense team," said Atty. Annel Diaz, associate dean of the Far Eastern University-Juris Doctor Program.
Agabin and Diaz believe Corona will get a fair trial.
They admitted, however, that senator-judges will also have to factor in public opinion in making their decisions.
"They will have to think of what the public will say. If they decide arbitrarily or capriciously, they will have to weigh the consequences," Agabin said.
"Ultimately, the issue will not be whether Chief Justice Corona is guilty or not guilty, but does he deserve to remain chief justice or not."
"This happened 10 years ago but moving forward 10 years after, social media has multiplied so the senators can't base their decision on pure whim and politcial affiliations. They will be watched... the mid-term elections...can also be a factor on how they decide on this issue," Diaz added.
Agabin and Diaz said the impeachment process should be completed. They added that all Filipinos should find a way to get involved in the landmark trial.
"It should be completed, otherwise we will be cultivating a form of 'mobocracy' -- a government of the mob like what happened last time," Agabin pointed out, citing the aborted impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada.
Estrada was subsequently removed after EDSA Dos, a military-backed civilian revolt.
"This is a good exercise in democracy. I hope people will participate in the discussion of issues and ultimately realize the importance of the democratic process of justice."
"All of us have a stake in this impeachment process, all of us should find a way to be involved," Diaz said.