Impeachment trial for PH's top judge to end

by Jason Gutierrez, Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 28 2012 09:30 AM | Updated as of May 28 2012 08:18 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The landmark impeachment trial of the Philippines' top judge was expected to wrap up Monday, bringing down the curtain on more than four months of divisive political drama that has gripped the nation.

Members of the 23-member Senate will rule on the fate of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona after hearing final arguments from prosecutors and the defense. A verdict will be handed down on Tuesday.

President Benigno Aquino III has said removing the chief justice is a crucial step to cleaning up the government.

Corona, 63, is accused of protecting graft-tainted former president Gloria Arroyo from prosecution. He is also accused of lacking integrity and of amassing a personal fortune above the limits of his salary -- which he failed to declare as required by the constitution.

Prosecutors say his actions amounted to "culpable violation" of the constitution and betrayal of public trust.

A guilty verdict on any of the three charges would lead to his removal from office and could see him face criminal prosecution.

"We feel we have presented a very solid case against the chief justice," lead prosecutor Niel Tupas told reporters Sunday.

"We have covered everything and I think the senators have already made up their minds."

Corona's removal was sought by Aquino, who was elected to the presidency in 2010 on a platform to end corruption he claimed reached pervasive levels during Arroyo's term.

Aquino has accused Arroyo of illegally appointing Corona as chief justice just before she stepped down, allegedly to protect her from prosecution. Arroyo is now in detention while separately being tried for vote rigging.

Corona was impeached by Aquino's allies in the House of Representatives in December, which then sent the complaint to the Senate for resolution.

Millions of Filipinos have closely followed the trial, which began in January, and various opinion surveys have indicated that Aquino enjoyed widespread public support for going after a judge perceived to be corrupt.

Corona however was backed by his peers in the judiciary amid warnings the president may have violated constitutional provisions in his zeal to remove the chief justice.

Rico Quicho, a spokesman for Corona's defense panel, said Sunday that the chief justice's dramatic appearance in court last week had been their best move.

Corona appeared as the final witness in his defense and delivered a three-hour testimony accusing Aquino of a conspiracy to oust him.

He claimed his impeachment was the result of a personal vendetta by Aquino following a landmark Supreme Court ruling to break up Hacienda Luisita, a giant sugar estate owned by the president's clan.

That court decision came shortly before Aquino's allies voted to impeach Corona.

Aquino spokeswoman Abigail Valte said Sunday the trial was conducted "with fairness, with due liberality to both sides".