Impeach court cites private prosecutor for contempt

Private prosecutor Vitaliano Aguirre covers his ears as a disgusted Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago scolds the prosecution team at the impeachment trial Wednesday.

Private prosecutor Vitaliano Aguirre covers his ears as a disgusted Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago scolds the prosecution team at the impeachment trial Wednesday.

MANILA — For covering his ears while Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago was giving House prosecutors another dressing down for dropping five out of eight articles in their complaint against Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, a private lawyer was cited for contempt by the impeachment court.

Lawyer Vitaliano Aguirre, one the private prosecutors, was cited for direct contempt upon a request of Santiago, who sits as a judge in the impeachment trial, for the lawyer’s deliberate display of disrespect toward a member of the court.

It was Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, who took notice of the gesture made by Aguirre and asked Chief Prosecutor and Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. of Iloilo province to identify him before the court and explain why he made such action.

Estrada asked Aguirre why he was covering his ears while a senator-judge—Santiago—was talking and what would he feel if the members of the impeachment court would do it to him.

Aguirre admitted that he deliberately covered his ears because his ears were aching from listening to what he said was a lecture being given by Santiago to members of the prosecution panel.

He described Santiago’s voice as “shrill.”

“I did it purposely. Shrill [as her] voice, nasasaktan ang tenga ko [my ears ached],” the lawyer said.

Aguirre insisted that he was fed up with Santiago’s lecture and that it was the first time that he witnessed a judge lecturing a lawyer during a trial, an action that he also described as improper.

Santiago stood up and told Aguirre that he should have also stood up and left instead of making discourteous gestures toward a member of the court.

But instead of apologizing to Santiago, the lawyer said that he really wanted to leave the courtroom.

Senate President Juan Ponce, also the presiding officer of the Senate impeachment court, moved to temporarily suspend the hearing for several minutes upon the resumption of which Sen. Pia Cayetano took the floor and declared support for Santiago’s motion to cite Aguirre in contempt.

Cayetano said that a lawyer may disagree with any judge but he is not allowed to display arrogance before the court. No member of the impeachment court objected to Santiago’s motion.

Enrile in his ruling granted the motion to cite the lawyer in contempt saying that there were enough grounds to do so.

“Today we have witnessed a direct indication of disrespect by a member of the Bar to this court… I must say I cannot tolerate any disrespect of this court and to any member of this court as a presiding officer,” he said.

Enrile added that in all his years in professional practice, he had encountered many stern judges but he always observed utmost respect to the dignity of the court before which he was appearing.

“From hereon, all concerned must take note of this, we will not longer tolerate misbehavior like this, if you want to participate you are welcome but if you do not believe in the dignity of this court and its jurisdiction over you and if you think you are better than us, you are entitled on your opinion but we will enforce the rules of procedures,” he said after handing down the court’s ruling.

Public prosecutor Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, speaking on behalf of the prosecution team, expressed no objection over the motion for contempt.

“We like to express our regret from what happened… the private prosecutor [Aguirre] is under our control,” Fariñas told the court.

Prior to the tussle between Santiago and the private prosecutor, the lawmaker was scolding the prosecution team for its decision to abandon five of the eight articles cited in its impeachment compliant, saying that the move was a disrespect to the impeachment court.

Worse, she said that after dropping more than half of their allegations against the Chief Justice, the prosecutors even had the guts to claim “victory” even if the defense panel was yet to make its presentation.

“You [prosecutors] have been misleading the court. I’m very concerned that the prosecution has been [acting] in very bad faith all along. You’ve been saying to the media, ‘Panalo na kami’ [We won]. Kami ang magdedesisyon niyan, hindi kayo [We will be the ones to decide, not you],” Santiago said.

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