Tatad: Public sympathy shifting to Corona

By Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at Feb 03 2012 07:11 PM | Updated as of Feb 04 2012 03:11 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Former senator Francisco "Kit" Tatad has been following the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona since day one. He said public interest in the Corona impeachment trial is slowly waning.

"The way it's going, nahahapo na. Nangangawit na yung nanoonood," Tatad told ANC's "Headstart."

He said that unlike the impeachment trial of former president Joseph Estrada, the prosecutors and defense lawyers in the Corona trial are "not evenly matched."

"The two panels are not evenly matched... yun ang naririnig mo. Sabi ng iba si former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez dapat di nagresign para kung ganito lang pala kagaling yung prosecution baka nandiyan pa siya," he said.

He also said that during the Estrada trial, "the question of competence never arose" with Joker Arroyo heading the prosecution team and Raul Daza, and Atty. Estelito Mendoza leading the defense.

The former senator said the prosecution team may be losing public sympathy to a seemingly more experienced and convincing defense team.

"On the whole, nagbabago. Nakikita na mukhang ang perception ng bayan yung sympathy sa prosecution mukhang nalilipat kay Corona."

Given that, he said the prosecution panel may be better off reconfiguring their composition.

"If they could re-examine their position who is doing good, who is doing not so good pwede ba i-amend yung composition prosecution panel...There has to be some self-criticism, how are we doing," he said.

Ill-gotten wealth

Tatad said the Senate's decision not to accept evidence related to paragraph 2.4 of Article 2 of the Corona impeachment complaint is similar to the 2001 decision of the Senate majority not to open the second envelope in the Estrada trial.

He said that unlike the earlier impeachment court, the current Senate is doing a better job in the impeachment proceedings.

"Ang problema namin noon kung payagan namin ito na pumasok under the same circumstance as the first envelope, the ruling would be received but not formally admitted.  Pero pag dating ng punto na maghuhusga na kami guilty or not guilty and we will say yung two envelopes hindi kasali dyan. Sino ang bibitayin ng tao? Kami. That's why we decided wag nating payagan," he said.

"Mas magaling ang performance ng court na ito...This court under Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile decided na walang direct accusation of graft and corruption, therefore you cannot bring out evidence to support the charge."

Tatad said senator-judges should stick to asking clarificatory questions to remove claims they may be playing politics or indulging in early campaigning ahead of the 2013 elections.

He said that in the Estrada trial, senator-judges could ask questions but in written form, which were then read by the presiding officer to the party concerned. No commentaries were allowed.

The rules were later changed to accommodate the request of the senators.

"Dapat sana in revising the rules in this impeachment trial tinanggal na yun, binago na. Magtatanong kung kailangan because it's in the rules pero only to clarify something na sinabi ng testigo o ng husgado na hindi malinaw sa iyo... At yung ikaw magsasaliksik sa testigo na hindi napalabas ng defense or prpsecution, hindi dapat yun," he said.

Zero sum game

Tatad said he approached Sen. Franklin Drilon during a break in the proceedings and gave him his vote of confidence on the conduct of the hearings but voiced reservations that Drilon was starting to sound like a member of the prosecution. When Drilon fumed, the story was lapped up by the media.

Tatad said although the judiciary has taken a hit from the intervention of Malacañang, he said President Aquino may take an even harder hit if he does not distance himself from the trial and turn to the more important task of running the country.

"The judiciary has been shaken not because of the impeachment but the open presidential intervention. This chills the judiciary," he said.

He also warned that an acquittal for Corona would have a major impact on Aquino.

"(An acquittal for Corona) It will affect him greatly.  He has made this a zero sum game.  Hinayaan niya lahat ng maaring itaya niya dito," he said.

Asked if he believes this would make Aquino a "lame duck" president, he said: "Unfortunately, but there is time for him to distance himself from this trial.  Hindi pa naman tapos. Certain errors were made, certain statements na hindi kailangan. Yung public posture could be improved. He's got to be more statesman-like.  He should focus on other problems and leave the process to itself."   

Tatad is writing a book on the Corona trial. He previously wrote the book "The Impeachment of President Joseph Ejercito Estrada" after Estrada's ouster in 2001.