Senate cites prosecutor for contempt

by Ira Pedrasa,

Posted at Feb 29 2012 04:24 PM | Updated as of Mar 01 2012 09:07 AM

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago snapped at private prosecutor Vitaliano Aguirre on Wednesday and asked that the impeachment court cite him for contempt for covering his ears while she was admonishing the prosecution.

The Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, later cited him for contempt. In a ruling, Presiding Judge and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said: “[Aguirre] is hereby cited for contempt. The penalty will be taken in the caucus next week.”

It was Senator-judge Jinggoy Estrada who took the floor and informed the court that Aguirre, a private prosecutor, was covering his ears while Santiago was making a speech. Senator-judge Alan Cayetano was also able to take a picture of Aguirre covering his ears.

Aguirre, who refused to be cowed by the feisty senator, said he could not take her “shrill” voice anymore. “It’s the first time in my 40 years as lawyer na isang judge ay nag-lecture sa abogado."

Aguirre said that if Santiago wants respect, she too should respect the prosecution. Santiago has berated the prosecution several times for being unprepared in their case.

Aguirre said: “Aalis sana ako, kaya lang…”

Santiago immediately said: “Granted!”  She said Aguirre covered his ears because her speech was against the prosecution.

Future lawyers

Senator-judge Pia Cayetano supported Santiago’s manifestation against Aguirre, saying it’s unfortunate that such behavior came at a time when the Supreme Court just issued the results of the 2011 Bar exams.

She said young law students are taught early on that “utmost respect is due a judge as soon as a lawyer enters the court.”

Enrile said some may call him a traditionalist but this behavior is the norm that he learned during his student days at the University of the Philippines College of Law.

He said he knew already that some drama will later unfold in the hearing considering the “passion, heat and intensity of emotions.”

On the 26th day of trial, before the court suspended the trial until March 12, “we witnessed a disrespect by a member of the Bar to this court…We were taught to practice professional behavior and utmost control and respect to the court before whom we appear,” Enrile said.

House prosecutor Rodolfo Fariñas apologized on behalf of the whole team. “We express our regrets for what happened especially to the lady [Miriam] from Iloilo.”

Enrile said: “Apology accepted but we will enforce respect for this court.”

Bad faith

Early in the hearing, Santiago said the prosecution came to the court in bad faith when it listed eight articles against Chief Justice Renato Corona, only to withdraw five in the end. She said it was as if the court was struck by “thunderbolt.”

“This is a very serious concern for me as a lawyer and as a former judge. Una, nagbibiro ba kayo? In writing na ang inyong compliance…Sabi niya we’ll present so many witnesses, so many documentary pieces of evidence tapos ngayon sasabihin niyo, without explanation, our case is very strong we no longer want to present evidence on these causes of action,” she said.

Santiago said the prosecution went around to inform the public that they already have a strong case in the remaining three articles.

“You are prejudging the case. What are you doing? Conducting trial by publicity? Let me remind you, an impeachment trial is both quasi-judicial and quasi-political but that we place that in context,” she said.

She said: “This is not a direct democracy and we are not in Athens. The people are not going to decide this case. It is the high court of impeachment, this Senate. It is the Senate alone that will decide this case. We are going to hold our results immaculate of all the propaganda that you are distributing abroad, meaning to say, outside of this courtroom.”

She said the prosecution should respect their right to vote. She said the prosecutors were “anyayabang, anggagago (conceited, stupid)."

Fariñas later asked that the word "gago (stupid)" be stricken off the record. Santiago agreed.

After being lashed at verbally by Santiago, Aguirre finally left the session hall.

Santiago, who has been suffering from hypertension, was calmed down by her colleagues.