Corona won't wage publicity war vs prosecutors

By Edu Punay, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 06 2012 08:43 AM | Updated as of Jan 06 2012 09:19 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Chief Justice Renato Corona yesterday vowed to answer allegations of corruption in his impeachment trial at the Senate, refusing to take part in “publicity warfare.”

Corona said he will let his lawyers address the insinuation of Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Ronald Llamas that he had amassed ill-gotten wealth.

“I will refer it to my lawyers,” he told The STAR in a text message.

Corona said his lawyers led by retired Supreme Court justice Serafin Cuevas would disprove before the impeachment court allegations in all eight articles in the complaint, including graft charges arising from his refusal to make public his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).

“I have left those to my lawyers to do what has to be done,” he said.

Cuevas said the new allegations against Corona made by the House prosecution panel last Tuesday would not stand in the impeachment trial.

The rules of procedures provide that the prosecution cannot present evidence or new allegations that are not in the complaint, he added.

Cuevas cited the allegation that the Bellagio property was a gift for a favorable decision.

“That’s not embodied in their complaint,” he said. “You cannot raise piecemeal charges. That’s not allowed precisely because it (non-inclusion in the complaint) prevented us from controverting that in our answer.”

Cuevas said the graft charges remain as “conjectural and speculative allegations” since they do not have supporting evidence.

The questioned apartment is a conjugal property of Corona and his wife, Ma. Cristina, he added.

In its complaint filed last Dec. 12, the House prosecutors had alleged that the property could have come from ill-gotten wealth. However, they have yet to present proof.

Cuevas said the complainants speculate that Corona has not reported this in his SALN, and that its price is beyond his income as a public official.

“CJ Corona admits that he and his wife purchased on installment a 300-sq. m. apartment in Taguig, declared in his SALN when they acquired it,” he said.

However, Cuevas refused to discuss details of Corona’s answer in deference to a rule prohibiting parties in the impeachment trial from discussing merits of the case in public.

Cuevas vowed to question before the Senate impeachment the public presentation of evidence by the House prosecution panel.

“We will definitely invite the attention of the impeachment court that there should be some remedy of some sort to stop this kind of trial (by publicity),” he said. “It’s a violation of the very rules of the impeachment court.”

Revolutionary gov’t

Marcos loyalist lawyer Oliver Lozano said yesterday the Senate impeachment court has preempted a “creeping reign of terror” as a prelude to a revolutionary government when it openly declared that the rule of law and supremacy of the Constitution will be strictly observed during the trial.

He said the Senate, which is the last bulwark of democracy, will put an end to any attempt of the administration to replicate the Cory Aquino revolutionary government, which abolished the Supreme Court and removed all duly elected officials.

Lozano is among the petitioners for certiorari and prohibition to declare void the impeachment complaint against Corona and prohibit the Senate from trying the complaint because of grave abuse of discretion.

He said once the SC issues an order “legal eagles” in the Senate will comply and uphold the rule of law instead of mob rule.

Lozano said Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Vicente Sotto III warned that they will not allow any attempt to discredit the impeachment process.

He said the way Aquino and some of his advisers are defying the SC’s orders indicates that a “de facto revolutionary government” was already in place.

“The Senate can now flex its muscle as a court and discipline any party who want to derail the impeachment process,” he said.

‘Don’t pass judgment immediately’

Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani Jr. yesterday asked the public to discern the issue and not to immediately pass judgment on Corona.

Speaking over Catholic Church-run Radio Veritas, Bacani said nothing was wrong when the prosecution team presented their evidence, like the P14.5-million penthouse unit at the Bellagio condominium in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig, against Corona.

“That is legitimate,” he said. “If they have a case against him (Corona), they just have to prove it. In order to prove that, they need to have this investigated.”

However, Bacani said the public should not immediately believe these stories.

“For the people, (it does not mean) that just because the person is being investigated, he is already at fault,” he said.

“It is the responsibility of the people to be critical (thinkers) on the issue and not pass judgment unless it has already been proven (in court),” he added.

Meanwhile, Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes believes that these revelations about Corona would be part of the impeachment case.

Bastes said with the developments, it appears that what Corona is facing is a political trial, not a court trial.

“That is why it is difficult if it is a political trial because all your enemies would be after you. That is how impeachment goes,” he said. – With Perseus Echeminada, Evelyn Macairan