MANILA, Philippines - Prosecutors of the House of Representatives in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona asked the Senate yesterday to junk his motion to dismiss the case against him.
In a 38-page comment on Corona’s motion, the 11-member House panel asked the Senate acting as an impeachment court to “proceed to trial forthwith and convict the Chief Justice” for corruption, betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution for accepting his “midnight” appointment by then President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“This is a reply to the answer filed by the respondent Chief Justice. Basically, we just stressed four points. We refuted point by point the issues raised by the Chief Justice (CJ) in his affirmative defense,” lead prosecutor Neil Tupas, chairman of the House committee on justice, said in a press conference after the filing of their comment with the Senate.
“We challenge the CJ of SC not to resort to legal technicalities. It’s just a delaying tactic on the part of the Chief Justice to avoid technicality and accountability, to delay the process,” Tupas said.
“The respondent has said that he has engaged a powerhouse defense legal team. We presume that the legal team is ready for trial. The prosecution panel is also ready for trial. The people want the truth to come out so Mr. Chief Justice, let’s get it on for the sake of the nation,” he said.
Deputy Speaker and Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III, one of the spokespersons for the prosecution team, said the impeachment trial in the Senate must push through to send a message that all in government are accountable for their actions.
“The heart and soul of our reply is that all public officials in all three branches of government are accountable for their actions. Chief Justice Corona is not exempted from this provision of the Constitution,” Tañada said.
“We will prove that he is morally unfit to hold the position of Associate Justice, much more chief justice, of the SC,” Tañada said.
“Corona is not immune from accountability. For all his self-serving, grandiose and arrogant claims, his impeachment is not an attack on the independence of the judiciary, or the rule of law, or the system of checks and balances,” the prosecutors said. “Corona’s impeachment is purely a response to the people’s clamor to hold him accountable for his sins and offenses, and purge the highest court of a morally unfit officer who has betrayed their trust,” they added.
Members of the House prosecution panel are Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, Dasmariñas City Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, Marikina City Rep. Romero Quimbo, Mindoro Oriental Rep. Reynaldo Umali, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares, Akbayan party-list Rep. Arlene Bag-ao, Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao, Deputy Speaker and Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza, Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna, and Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya as manager. Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara was elected as alternate prosecutor and spokesman along with Quimbo and Tañada.
A total of 188 lawmakers impeached Corona last Dec. 12 based on several grounds, including alleged partiality and subservience to the Arroyo administration, flip-flopping on decisions, and failure or refusal to account for the Judicial Development Fund and special allowance for the judiciary.
“There is no factual basis for Corona’s claim that President Noynoy Aquino wants to appoint his own chief justice who will be at his beck and call. Firstly, this argument only betrays his deepest secret: that he is beholden to the person who appointed him: GMA (Arroyo’s initials),” Quimbo said.
“Secondly, if that were the objective of P-Noy, it should be noted that the three appointees of P-Noy voted against the Hacienda Luisita issue. This completely belies Corona’s contention,” Quimbo added.
The panel also said Corona is not being singled out and that “neither can he hide under the pretext that the decision assailed is collegial in nature.”
Colmenares said one of the strongest arguments for Corona’s impeachment was his issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the Department of Justice’s placing Arroyo on the immigration watch list. The TRO would have allowed Arroyo to seek medical treatment abroad for her troublesome cervical spine.
“Article VII (of the Articles of Impeachment) is the betrayal of public trust through his partiality in granting a TRO 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,” Colmenares said.
“His ‘impeach all justices or no one at all’ defense is absurd because this would render useless the constitutional requirement that each justice should be impartial and independent,” Colmenares said. “Just like any public official, justices are judged on their individual actions.”
“The Chief Justice and his defense team would really have a hard time with all the charges, especially this case because it is as airtight as a case can get,” he added.
Luisita not the issue
House prosecutors also debunked Corona’s claim that it was the SC’s order on the Hacienda Luisita case that prompted Aquino’s allies in Congress to move for the Chief Justice’s ouster.
“What Corona failed to mention, however, is that even President Aquino’s appointees in the Supreme Court (Justices Sereno, Reyes and Bernabe) voted in favor of the distribution, which belies Corona’s claim that President Aquino appoints justices who will protect his perceived interests,” the prosecution panel said.
“While President Aquino may be passionate in his campaign against graft and corruption and for accountability and reform, this impeachment is not a scheme of President Aquino,” they said. The prosecutors also rebuffed Corona’s likening his impeachment to “a thief in the night.”
“If he did not sense his impeachment coming, then he is truly deaf to the cry of the people. Any objective observer would have readily seen it in the public outrage that attended Corona’s acceptance of his midnight appointment from GMA in May 2010,” they added.
“The truth is, impeachment did not immediately come, as Corona was given a chance for over a year to prove himself and fulfill his promise to faithfully and impartially discharge his office,” the panel added.
The prosecutors said lawmakers had been vocal about their intention to have Corona impeached since December 2010 in the wake of the SC’s issuance of a status quo ante order against the impeachment of then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, and its nullification of the Truth Commission.
“Both cases involve the core issue of holding GMA accountable,” the prosecution panel said.
“Corona’s unfailing and unwarranted fealty to GMA shows that he is not independent-minded - he votes or resolves cases not on the merits, but on what would best serve GMA.
“At the moment, the evidence against Corona is stronger and more apparent than against the other justices. Moreover, it would be difficult to impeach and prosecute several justices at the same time. But this does not necessarily mean that other justices will not later on be similarly held accountable,” it added.
No SC-Senate face-off
The SC is unlikely to stop the Senate from proceeding with the impeachment trial of Corona despite some legal challenges to the constitutionality of the ongoing ouster move against the SC chief, lawyer Romulo Macalintal said.
“For sure, SC will not stop the Senate from performing its constitutionally mandated task to hear and decide impeachment cases,” Macalintal said. “As a matter of fact, SC may dismiss the said petitions for lack of jurisdiction since the Senate had already been convened as impeachment court and Corona himself submitted to its jurisdiction when he filed his answer with motion to dismiss,” he told The STAR.
Macalintal said Corona’s case was different from the earlier impeachment of retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., which was still in the House of Representatives when questioned before the SC.
“What is consoling is that Corona decided to fight it out in the Senate, thereby preventing any possible collision between Congress and the SC on issue which the Senate is constitutionally mandated to resolve,” he said.
“For sure, Corona’s motion to dismiss is not intended to delay but part of the rules which lawyers resort to protect the interest of their clients,” he said. - With Edu Punay
- By Paolo Romero and Christina Mendez