Prosecutors drop 5 articles vs Corona

by Ira Pedrasa,

Posted at Feb 28 2012 05:03 PM | Updated as of Feb 29 2012 08:52 AM

Tupas: We've presented an 'overwhelming' case

Defense: Prosecution has not presented substantial case

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - House prosecutors, on day 25 of the impeachment trial, substantially rested their case, saying they have presented enough evidence to convict Chief Justice Renato Corona.   

Lead House prosecutor Niel Tupas Jr. said they are limiting their presentation of evidence to articles 2, 3 and 7 of the impeachment complaint also to hasten the proceedings.

“It is in our humble opinion that we have presented a strong case and evidence that would suffice for the removal of Corona,” he said. A two-thirds vote is needed to convict the chief justice.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile asked the prosecution if it was going to “withdraw” the five other articles from the impeachment complaint. Tupas said yes.

“So it is my understanding that this will, in effect, cancel the other individual articles,” Enrile said. This will also mean that the senator-judges will only vote on articles 2, 3 and 7.

The other articles include allegations regarding Corona's “dubious” appointment as chief magistrate, the blatant disregard of separation of powers in the case of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, the “gerrymandering” in the cityhood bills, the plagiarism case of another justice, and the supposed anomalous accounting of the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) and Special Allowance for the Judiciary (SAJ) collections.

Tupas said they have presented a total of 17 witnesses and 166 documentary evidence for Article 2, 1 witness and 16 documentary evidence for article 3, and 7 witnesses and 7 documentary evidence for article 7.

The prosecution faced several obstacles during the presentation of their case in the three articles, including a Supreme Court Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the alleged dollar accounts of Corona in Philippine Savings Bank. They have also been criticized several times by the senator-judges for being unprepared in presenting their case.

They have also been assailed for fishing for evidence via the subpoenas they asked from the impeachment court.

Betrayal of public trust

Tupas said they are maintaining that Corona committed culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust in Article 2, “when he failed to disclose to the public his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth as required under Sec. 17, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution.”

Only betrayal of public trust is being alleged in the 2 other articles of impeachment--Article 3 and Article 7.

Article 3 says Corona failed “to meet and observe the stringent standards under Article VIII, section 7 (3) of the Constitution that provides that “[a] member of the judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence.”

Article 7, on the other hand, says Corona “supposedly betrayed the public trust through his partiality in granting a temporary restraining order in favor of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo in order to give them an opportunity to escape prosecution and to frustrate the ends of justice, and in distorting the Supreme Court decision on the effectivity of the TRO in view of a clear failure to comply with the conditions of the Supreme Court’s own TRO.”

The senator-judges earlier asked the prosecution if their allegations against Corona can be considered a “high crime” and whether these are “impeachable” offenses.

Enrile ordered the prosecution to submit a formal memorandum on the prosecution’s decision to drop 5 other articles in the impeachment complaint.

It will now be the turn of the defense to present evidence.

Defense to take 3 weeks

In an interview with ANC, defense spokesperson Tranquil Salvador III said the defense may take more or less three weeks to present their case.

“I hope we could finish as soon as possible so that this political exercise will be finished and the country could move forward,” he said.

He said that the prosecution’s decision to terminate the presentation of evidence would mean that the entire process will be “shortened.” This does not mean, however, that the prosecutors have a strong case, he said. “Wala pa silang [prosecution] sustansyang nailalatag na matibay.” (They have not presented strong and substantial evidence).

The dropping of the five articles means that “they have no evidence. [Enrile] clarified [if they will be dropping all five]…it would appear they’re no longer interested,” he said.

Salvador asked the public to give the defense the patience it gave the prosecution in  presenting its case.

He said: “Allow us to convince [the public] and see a completed trial.”

Overwhelming case

Tupas, in the same ANC program, said the prosecution thought long and hard about their decision to terminate their presentation of evidence. He said even House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte supported the move.

He said that even after article 2, their first case, “we already thought of terminating the case. The majority felt we had to. We already have an overwhelming case.”

The same thought followed them throughout the presentation of evidence on articles 3 and 7. On article 3, the Senate disallowed the testimony of one of their witnesses, a Philippine Airlines executive, since this would have proven bribery, which is not alleged in the impeachment complaint.

Tupas said they also sensed that the Senate would not subpoena the SC justices and employees. “Still, we continued. But we already felt Article 2 can stand on its own…We made the decision last night.”

They made the decision even if they still have a pending invitation for Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to testify. Sereno would be asked about  the circumstances behind the SC ruling to issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the travel restraint against Arroyo.

“That’s not yet deemed withdrawn. We’re still hoping against hope [she will appear],” he said.

The prosecution is also hoping the SC would lift its TRO stopping the opening of the dollar accounts of Corona in PSBank.

“[But] we can’t wait for that,” Tupas said. He clarified they are not yet technically “resting” their case.

After the termination of the presentation of evidence, the prosecution has yet to make a formal offer of those pieces of evidence.