MANILA, Philippines (Feb 23, 2012) - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told the Senate impeachment court yesterday that Chief Justice (CJ) Renato Corona maneuvered the Supreme Court into rush issuance of an immediately executory TRO (temporary restraining order) that would have allowed former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo leave the country in November and escape prosecution for plunder and electoral sabotage.
“If the question is demanding a categorical answer on my part, there was conspiracy because they issued the questionable TRO,” De Lima said when asked on cross-examination by Corona’s lead counsel Serafin Cuevas if she believed that the chief magistrate had conspired with the seven other justices in coming out with a decision to issue a TRO on the travel ban on Arroyo. “The Chief Justice is only one vote of course when it comes to decisions, but there are other functions and duties and powers of the Chief Justice as primus inter pares (the first among equals),” De Lima said.
De Lima appeared as a witness of the prosecution for its allegation of partiality on the part of the Chief Justice in the issuance of the TRO, as contained in Article 7 of the Articles of Impeachment.
“If you talk only about the voting and the position with respect to the propriety of the TRO, with eight of them concurring that the TRO at the time was proper, that their position as a majority, then yes,” De Lima said in response to Cuevas’ query on whether the justices should also be held responsible for the issuance of the TRO.
Responding to a question from Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza said there was possibility that there was a conspiracy when the justices voted to issue the TRO.
De Lima said Arroyo’s excuse for wanting to travel abroad – to get treatment for her troublesome cervical spine – was doubtful. “She was a real flight risk because she was facing serious charges of plunder and electoral sabotage,” De Lima said.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the presiding officer of the impeachment court, asked De Lima if she would have respected the TRO had the conditions been complied with.
“Maybe and maybe not. In my view, the TRO is improper in the sense that a TRO… is supposed to preserve the status quo pending the resolution of the merits,” De Lima said.
Meanwhile, Corona’s lawyers said flaws in the impeachment complaint are already showing, with the prosecution’s decision to jump to the seventh Article of Impeachment.
“The process is getting faster and they don’t have evidence. We respect them for their decision not to continue… Let us see where this will lead us,” lawyer Tranquil Salvador III said.
He said De Lima’s testimony yesterday was a “mere narration of the facts of the case, and with heavy reliance on dissenting opinion.”
Salvador said “the Supreme Court (SC) acts as a body, and not individually” in its decisions.
The defense welcomed the move of the prosecution to drop the other allegations in Article 3, regarding the alleged flip-flopping of the SC under Corona on big cases like the one between Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines.
“Now the question is why single out the CJ for the act of the Supreme Court?” lawyer Rico Paolo Quicho asked.
Defense spokesperson Karen Jimeno also said De Lima was “not a competent witness” because she only quoted the dissenting opinions of two justices in the issuance of a TRO on the travel ban on Arroyo.
At the same time, the defense expressed concern over the revelations that the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) may have been used to gather evidence against Corona.
Salvador said if it is true that government resources were used against Corona, then it would send a chilling effect on every bank client.
The defense lawyers doused insinuations that they were setting the stage for a mistrial.
“We are here. We are alive and kicking and trying to do what we need to do to help see through the process and that it ends well, and you know fair judgment is rendered. We are still here, we still believe in the process otherwise we will not be here,” another defense lawyer Ramon Esguerra said.
Meanwhile, the prosecution camp remains optimistic that De Lima was able to establish that Corona “committed acts of partiality” when he led the other justices in issuing the TRO.
Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada also parried insinuations that the prosecution’s decision to drop other allegations pertaining to Corona’s excessive entanglement with Mrs. Arroyo was a sign of weakness of Article 3.
“I think, our allegations will not become weak. As far as we are concerned, we want to show that the issue of Corona’s close ties with former President Arroyo is strong. And because of the position of Corona, he was able to set the hearing on the TRO to address that situation,” Tañada said in a press conference after the trial.
Tañada also pointed out part of the presentation of evidence for Article 7 would be the administrative power of the chief justice over the other justices of the Supreme Court.
“This led to the swift decision on the issuance of the TRO,” Tañada said in Filipino.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said De Lima’s testimony would also bolster allegations that Arroyo wanted to flee the country to evade the charges to be filed against her.
“She wanted to leave that day, on Nov. 15 because she thought the filing of a non-bailable offense against her was then apparent. Secondly, she needed the TRO badly to be able to leave because Justice De Lima has not lifted the watchlist order,” Colmenares said.
Colmenares said the TRO was issued by the Supreme Court even without the prerequisites required by law.
“Why did the Supreme Court rush the TRO when they did not even wait for the arguments? There was even no life and death situation wherein Mrs. Arroyo needed immediate treatment,” Colmenares said.
Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo said the prosecutors were being ill-treated by the senators when it was actually the defense that was engaging in an underhanded strategy by seeking relief from the SC.
Quimbo said the lecturing by presiding officer Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile last Tuesday was uncalled for.
He said that the Senate should regard prosecutors with respect, being their counterparts at the House of Representatives. (From Philstar.com)