MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - Navotas Rep. Tobias Tiangco said he weighed heavily on whether or not to sign the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Renato Corona because he did not want to earn the ire of President Benigno Aquino III.
Despite a ruling from the Senate denying the defense’s request for a determination of probable cause on the impeachment complaint, the defense was able to present Tiangco as a witness on “all articles” of the complaint.
Defense lawyer Dennis Manalo said Tiangco can prove the administration’s modus operandi in pushing to impeach Corona. “That the motivation is political,” he said, when asked by Presiding Judge Juan Ponce Enrile on the purpose of his questions for Tiangco.
Tiangco said he was "ready to vote" to impeach Corona since he had a “bad experience” during the impeachment case in early 2011 of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez when he voted not to impeach her.
“Ayoko ng gulo, I tried to psyche myself up, pikit mata akong boboto ng ‘yes’ sa impeachment [of Corona],” he said. “I don’t want to earn the ire of the most powerful man in the country.”
He said he received a text message purportedly from House Appropriations Chairman Rep. Jun Abaya that they will have “zero” pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) if they vote against Gutierrez's impeachment.
By May 30 of 2011, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) had yet to release his pork barrel even if some of his projects had already been approved.
He said he later wrote two letters to Budget Secretary Butch Abad, on May 30 and June 27, 2010, asking for the government to finally release the budget. He got no answers.
It was only after he wrote a press release that Abad contacted him, he said. Tiangco said the text message reads that he communicate with House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, who can help him with Aquino on the release of his PDAF.
In response to Tiangcos's statement, Abad said via a text message: "Check the House records: many who voted against Merci [Gutirrez] impeachment got their PDAF. So there is no such policy by the [Aquino] administration. So his testimony is irrelevant to the impeachment trial as it doesn't establish a policy."
Asked during his cross-examination by Prosecutor Rodolfo Fariñas, Tiangco admitted he got all of his pork barrel for 2011. He said, however, that the delays had a big impact on his projects on social services, such as medical and scholarship assistance.
Not part of 188
Tiangco said there was an all-majority caucus called for December 12, 2011 at 2:30 in the afternoon.
Tiangco recalled that it was House Speaker Belmonte who explained it would be Justice Committee chief Niel Tupas Jr. who would be presenting the case against Corona.
Belmonte also supposedly said “this is non-debatable, and no questions will be entertained.” Tiangco said this made him question the lawmakers’ motives.
“We are a deliberative body. Lahat ng ginagawa sa House ay pinagdedebatehan,” he said. He also recalled Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon standing up and questioning the purpose of the caucus.
Tupas then explained the eight articles of impeachment sans any document or any other certification, Tiangco said. He said the articles were presented via a Powerpoint presentation.
Some asked for a copy of the complaint, but he recalled that it was not yet ready at that time.
‘Control the SC’
Later, Tiangco decided not to sign the complaint “because I had not even read it.”
“It was not a simple impeachment but it was also an attempt to control and scare the Supreme Court,” he said. He noted there were several measures that were tackled days before and after Corona’s impeachment that revolved around the judiciary, including transferring personnel funds to the control of the executive branch.
Subsequently, Tiangco resigned from the majority and gave up several committees under him.
Asked for his purpose in coming to the Senate, Tiangco explained he gave a privilege speech on the matter and he wanted to show the public he is not hiding behind the cloth of inter-parliamentary immunity. He said he is standing by what he felt during the day that Corona was impeached.
Senator-judge Francis Pangilinan questioned the line of questioning of the defense, saying that the impeachment court has already accepted the veracity of the complaint.
Early in the hearing, the Senate stood pat on its jurisdiction over the trial of Corona.
In a ruling, Enrile said: “Under the constitution, the sole power to try and decide all impeachment cases belongs to this court. Only this court has the jurisdiction. The SC has no jurisdiction to try and decide impeachment cases....Once the articles of impeachment reach this House, the command of the constitution is that trial shall forthwith proceed.”
The defense tried to insist that there was no due process when the House of Representatives filed the complaint before the Senate. The defense wanted to prove that the complaint, in its full, was defective.
Enrile said, “this court assumes jurisdiction under the full faith and credit given to the processes of the House of Representatives and knowing that it has jurisdiction, it proceeded with the trial. And so, therefore, as much as we want to accommodate the desire of the defense, this presiding officer, with the permission of the impeachment court, regrets to deny the desire of the defense.”
Enrile allowed Tiangco’s testimony, however, to show there was a different opinion contrary to those of the 188 who signed the complaint. “We will just hear them, anyway, the court is intelligent to evaluate [the testimony].”