Prosecutors rest case

SIMPLY LAUGHABLE. Senators Manuel “Lito” Lapid and Loren Legarda supress a laugh during Day 25 of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona on Tuesday.

SIMPLY LAUGHABLE. Senators Manuel “Lito” Lapid and Loren Legarda supress a laugh during Day 25 of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona on Tuesday.

MANILA — With Supreme Court Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno’s appearance as prosecution witness an iffy affair, the House prosecution panel announced yesterday it is resting its case, saying the evidence it has presented for three of eight Articles of Impeachment against Chief Justice Renato Corona is already sufficient to secure his conviction.

The prosecutors are confident that Corona will be convicted on Articles II (alleged failure to make public his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth and not declaring all his assets therein), III (using his office to influence the High Court in issuing a temporary restraining order allowing former president Gloria Arroyo to leave the country), and VII, lead prosecutor Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. told Day 25 of the impeachment trial at the Senate.

“The prosecution will no longer present evidence or rather the prosecution is terminating the presentation of its evidence, of course, subject to the cross tomorrow by the defense,” Tupas said.

Tupas was referring to the defense panel’s cross-examination of its last witness for Article VII, ABS-CBN cameraman Danny Piedad who testified on former president Gloria Arroyo’s attempt to leave the country on Nov. 15, 2011 despite the watchlist order issued against her by the Department of Justice, which was the subject of the TRO.

Tupas said the prosecution has decided to drop the five remaining Articles of Impeachment: Article I (Corona’s midnight appointment and voting pattern in favor of former president Arroyo); IV (the Supreme Court’s issuance of a TRO on the House committee on justice’ hearing on the impeachment complaint against then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez); V (flip-flopping decision on cases involving 16 new cities and the Dinagat Island case); VI (the SC’s creation of an ethics committee which absolved Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo of plagiarism; and VIII (misuse of the Judicial Development Fund and Special Allowance of the Judiciary).

Tupas, however, said that while the prosecution is terminating its presentation of evidence, it is reserving its right to present evidence on Corona’s dollar accounts that is the subject of a pending case before the SC.

Prosecution spokesman Rep. Miro Quimbo of Marikina said they will also ask the court today to allow them to present Sereno in case she decides to take the witness stand for Article VII.

The prosecution is also reserving its right to request for time to submit a formal offer of documentary evidence after the cross-examination.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the presiding officer, repeatedly asked if the prosecution was already formally withdrawing all the five other articles.

“You’re now saying that you will stand or fall on Article II, Article III, and Article VII?” he asked Tupas.

Enrile wanted the prosecution to file a motion to withdraw but Sen. Joker Arroyo said a formal notice would be enough because there is no need for the court to rule on the withdrawal.

Lead defense counsel, retired SC associate justice Serafin Cuevas, said there was a need for court approval, saying he does not believe that “any party may do what they want without the approval from this court.”

Sen. Arroyo insisted that a notice is sufficient to drop the other charges, noting that the prosecution “is not interested anymore in the five articles.”

“So if they file a notice informing Senate that they will no longer prosecute the five articles so be it,” he said. “That’s it and it’s not subject to the approval of the Senate because they are the one who filed those articles.”

The prosecution, after being told by Enrile Monday, finally invited Sereno to testify.

In a one-page letter dated February 27 personally delivered by Cristina Yambot, one of the private prosecutors in the Corona impeachment trial, prosecutor Rep. Neri Colmenares asked Sereno to appear before the impeachment trial on Thursday to testify on her dissenting opinion, including the circumstances on the issuance of the TRO last November 15.

Colmenares is the lead prosecutor assigned for Article VII.

Sereno is also being asked to testify on the alleged suppression of the promulgation of her dissenting opinion.

Sereno is on medical leave. Her judicial staff officer, Zaldy Trespeses, said the justice did not attend yesterday’s en banc session because she was not feeling well.

Court administrator and spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said the high court will not waive its judicial privilege that would allow Sereno and two other court employees to appear at the trial.

Marquez said Sereno’s testimony, should she decide to heed the request of the House prosecutors, might be in violation of the February 14 resolution of the court which cites the Internal Rules of the SC prohibiting justices and other court officials and employees from disclosing court actions, among these the deliberations of members during court sessions on cases and matters pending before it.

This, he said, includes written interrogatories because it is also considered testimony.

“I don’t want to preempt that situation, or think of possible violations. If and when she (Sereno) attends, she will have her reasons. So we will leave it to her. (The resolution) clearly stated that judicial privilege belongs to the court and therefore it is the court which can waive that privilege. It does not belong to any individual justice or court official. The court can only waive if that particular issue is brought before the court,” he said.

Enrile said it would be better if Sereno would appear before the impeachment court.

If Sereno refuses to testify, or the court stops her from testifying, Enrile said he would not cite her in contempt.

Senate president pro tempore Jinggoy Estrada advised the prosecution to seek permission from the SC if they want to invite Sereno as prosecution witness.

He agreed with Enrile that it would be chaotic if the impeachment court would exercise its power to compel witnesses to appear.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan wants the Senate sitting as an impeachment court to assert its right to subpoena and invite witnesses from the Judiciary pursuant to its “sole” constitutional power of trying and deciding impeachment cases.

“I feel Mr. (Senate) President that unless we assert the primacy and supremacy of the impeachment court in impeachment proceedings, we might find ourselves in a joint venture or joint undertaking with the Supreme Court in terms of impeachment proceedings and therefore, the sole power to try and decide impeachment cases becomes fiction,” he told Enrile.

Pangilinan, a member of President Aquino’s Liberal Party, asked the Senate to discuss the matter in a caucus like what it did before it decided to respect the SC’s TRO on the prosecution’s plan to present documents on Corona’s dollar deposits.

But Enrile said the High Court’s internal resolution prohibiting justices and court personnel from testifying on cases which are subject of pending cases “is another matter” which he said “does not deprive us of jurisdiction to try and decide this case.”

The defense team asked the impeachment court to “suppress, exclude, and expunge” from the record all evidence pertaining to Corona’s accounts with the Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank), saying the prosecution’s request for subpoena was based on “falsified documents or unlawful searches.”

The defense specifically asked the court to disregard and remove from its records the evidence presented in relation to the subpoena issued on February 6 and 9, 2012 addressed to PSBank Katipunan branch manager Anabelle Tiongson.

The prosecution has asked Tiongson to testify on the alleged peso and dollar accounts of Corona, resulting in the disclosure of Corona’s peso account deposits amounting to more than P30 million. The Supreme Court has issued a TRO order on the disclosure of the dollar accounts.

Senators were irked upon learning that the request for subpoena of bank accounts was based on the spurious bank documents attached by the prosecution. Reps. Reynaldo Umali and Jorge Banal, who admitted receiving the documents, could not identify the source.

Bank officials, including PSBank president Pascual Garcia III, denied leaking the documents to the prosecution.

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