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Defense to block further evidence of Corona's illegal wealth

MANILA, Philippines (Jan 24, 2012) - Defense lawyers of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona are expected to block any further presentation of evidence related to allegations that the chief magistrate acquired illegal wealth as the impeachment trial resumes today.

The defense is expected to amplify its continuing objection to presentation of evidence, claiming that the allegation of illegal acquisition of wealth is not part of the second of the eight Articles of Impeachment.

The defense also bewailed that the process of removing the Chief Justice from office has become a “political theater” rather than an impeachment trial.

Taking cue from the arguments of lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas, lawyer Tranquil Salvador III said that the defense will emphasize their stand once they submit before the impeachment body today a memorandum in a bid to “amplify” before the senator-judges the defense’s stand on the grounds in Article 2.

The defense panel was still fine-tuning as of press time yesterday the arguments that they will present before the impeachment court today.

Aside from the registrars of deeds from Makati and two other cities in Metro Manila that will attest to the condominium and land titles of properties reportedly owned by Corona and his family, Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares is also being asked to testify and bring with her Corona’s income tax records.

Earlier, the defense had voiced its opposition to the presentation of Henares as a witness for the prosecution.

On the other hand, the prosecution vowed to show the impeachment body that Corona’s non-disclosure of his statement of assets and liabilities and net worth (SALN) is correlated with his attempts to hide his illegally amassed wealth, which were not disclosed in his SALNs from 2002 to 2010.

But as far as the defense is concerned, Salvador said the prosecution cannot “in effect amend” Article 2 or “cure” the complaint with the inclusion of the issue on illegal wealth.

He maintained that the inclusion of charges that Corona enriched himself in office would need an amendment of the impeachment complaint and will entail tossing back the entire impeachment complaint to the House of Representatives.

Salvador said that the defense believes they have “satisfied” the requirements under Article 2 on Corona’s filing and the disclosure of his SALN, considering that certified true copies of the SALNs are now in possession of the Senate trial court.

The defense had asked the body that the SALNs submitted by Supreme Court (SC) clerk of court Enriquetta Vidal also be numbered as exhibits for the defense.

Asked whether Corona’s filing of his SALNs with the SC clerk of court was deemed also as “disclosure” on their client’s part, Salvador cited the Constitution, which dealt with the filing of SALN of government officials.

As to actual disclosure, Salvador pointed to the 1989 SC resolution, which said that the chief justice and other justices cannot be compelled to reveal their SALNs.

He added that the prosecution used wrong wordings such as “suspected” and “reported” in their arguments in Article 2, thus making the complaint weak because the charges leveled against any respondent should be based not on speculations but on “ultimate facts.”

The defense panel is questioning the usage of words such as “suspected” and “reported” in the issue of illegally acquired wealth, which are far different from the narration of ultimate facts that is mandated under rules.

Salvador even cited the statement of former Sen. Francisco Tatad, who noted in a recent forum that the use of “suspected,” “alleged” and “reported” are words used by journalists to evade libel charges.

Tatad had a run in with Sen. Franklin Drilon during Day 4 of the impeachment trial when the former senator cautioned the latter that he is being biased for the prosecution.

In the defense’s answer to the impeachment complaint filed before the impeachment body last Dec. 26, the Corona camp had disputed Article 2, stressing that the “allegations are conjectural and speculative.”

Sen. Francis Escudero urged the prosecution camp during the trial to clarify the charges it pointed out under Article 2 of the impeachment complaint.

Escudero told the court last week that the second article also referred to two more charges.

“You have stated that (the) Chief Justice failed to disclose to the public his SALN but inside the article, you also stated that he (Corona) did not include his properties and there is a third allegation that he amassed ill-gotten wealth. Are these three separate acts?” Escudero asked Rep. Elpidio Barganza Jr., who was tasked to tackle Article 2.

Escudero said the senator-judges will vote for only one complaint.

As a strategy to stop the prosecution from further delving on Corona’s alleged illegal wealth, Salvador said that the defense panel will also question the presentation of Henares as witness in the impeachment court.

Salvador argued that the release of the income tax return of any individual needs the approval of President Aquino who has been advocating the removal of Corona from office.

Aquino also heads the ruling Liberal Party, whose camp has been vocal about the impeachment of Corona.

Salvador also bewailed that Corona’s impeachment trial has become a “political theater” more than an impeachment.

However, the defense panel is not moving towards calling for the formal inhibition of Senator Drilon, who had single-handedly saved the day twice for the prosecution last week when he was able to solicit information from Vidal that she had with her Corona’s SALNs from 2002 to 2010.

Salvador said the defense would not want to create any enemy out of the 23 senator-judges, especially Drilon, who, like the President, is also a Liberal Party stalwart.

“I think the question was if inhibition is an option. There is nothing clear about that because we need to look at it seriously,” he explained. “Do you think they (senator-judges) will be happy if we will do something like this (inhibition)?”

Salvador admitted being “a bit concerned” that senator-judges will be polarized on the issue and take it against the defense, echoing the statements of Cuevas, who is wary about antagonizing the impeachment judges.

Defense camp spokesperson Karen Jimeno, on the other hand, said the defense still sees the motion to inhibit as an option but the issue remains under study by the defense lawyers.

“If there will be a move to call for inhibition of Sen. Drilon, it will be done in a motion. It is an option but as of now, they are still studying if it will avail of this option,” Jimeno said in a radio interview.

She said the issue on illegal wealth is part of the prosecution’s propaganda to destroy the image of the Chief Justice.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile had reiterated over the weekend that the Senate impeachment body will maintain political neutrality on the case.

Jimeno also emphasized that Corona’s rights under the rules on pleadings and under the constitutional guarantee to substantial due process had been violated.

She said that the House prosecution panel committed such violation when they filed the supposedly verified complaint without specifying the charges on the alleged ill-gotten wealth of the Chief Justice and then presented evidence during trial.

“If prosecutors really had strong evidence against the Chief Justice, they should have been able to make clear allegations with specific details,” she said.

Jimeno reiterated their claim that the prosecutors were engaging in a “fishing expedition.”

The allegation by the House prosecution panel that Corona owns at least 45 properties is now subject of the trial, but was not specified in the complaint, she said.

Jimeno said the defense team was already considering several options on this issue, but opted not to reveal them. (From Philstar.com)