The prosecution ended the presentation of their witnesses and other evidence on the 25th session of the impeachment trial. Relying on the meat of articles 2,3 and 7, the prosecution decided to terminate their presentation. The Presiding Judge repeatedly asked if they are willing to stand or fall based on the articles that they presented and the prosecution answered in the affirmative.
The prosecution made it known that they will no longer be capable of proving the allegations contained in articles 1, 4, 5, 6 and 8 because the Supreme Court has built a wall around itself that prevented all its members and employees even the security guards and process servers to submit to or be summoned by the impeachment body to testify.
Now it is the time of the Defense panel to take the floor and present the case according to their point of view. The expertise of the defense panel will now take center stage and if the prosecution side was able to create an impression in the minds of the general public, the defense will now have the chance to re-create an entire picture that they will try to inculcate in the minds mot only of the Senator-Judges but the public as well. Let us wait what kind of landscape they will try to design.
Finally, the Presiding Officer of the impeachment court declared in open court that the trial they hold is not akin to a criminal proceeding. Finally, after the supreme Court made a demeaning gesture to the impeachment body by issuing a TRO against its order to open the dollar accounts, they decided to get even and narrowed the escape route of the Chief Justice. Finally, the impeachment court showed the entire nation that they have the power to decide on what procedure to adapt and not be prompted by anybody to adapt a particular rule of procedure. Finally, the defense is silenced with regards to the technicalities that they have been espousing from day one.
It is now clear that proof beyond reasonable doubt will not be used as the basis for the determination of the guilt of the Chief Justice. With this ruling of the Presiding Officer, the strict rules of evidence in criminal proceedings will no longer be applied. This is welcome news to the prosecution and a serious blow to the defense. In his decision, the chair made reference to a Harvard Law expert whose book on the impeachment trials in the United States included the statement that impeachment proceedings are not guided by the rules on criminal proceedings because the end result if the accused is determined to be guilty is not imprisonment but only removal from office. This matter has been the stand since the beginning of the prosecution but was somehow lost in the middle of confusion brought about by the persistent objections of the defense and their constant harping to the use of legal technicalities.
The Secretary Of Justice showed grace under fire while on the witness stand. Her testimony regarding particular deliberations in the Supreme Court shed light on the inner workings of the Supreme Court particularly the alleged clout of the Chief Justice towards the Associate Justices. Though the testimony did not specifically identify specific wrong-doings and mostly just implications, the picture has been painted and the people based on that picture will form their own conclusion. The impeachment is a political process and as such, the people must be at the front seat and be made to understand the issues surrounding the proceedings so that they can form their own opinion early on or later.
Yesterday, the esteemed but hot-headed Senator-Judge Santiago took the floor and in her usual combative mood declared that legal technicalities are essentially the essence of the rule of law and that without such technicalities, the rights of the defendant or anybody for that matter, will be jeopardized in a court proceeding. She further rued that is the reason why lawyers have to go to law school first to learn the legal technicalities before they can become lawyers. It is unfortunate however that the such technicalities are essentially why very few wealthy crooks go to jail in the Philippines. Legal technicalities have always been the refuge of rich criminals and syndicates. The ordinary petty criminals languish in jail because they didn’t have the money to buy technicalities during their trial. Who needs legal technicalities in an impeachment proceeding?
The past few days of the impeachment trial was more like a roller coaster ride minus the excitement with the members of the body taking turns in questioning the officers of PS Bank. A lot of questions have been profounded but none that would be really incriminating so far. The defense panel kept on insisting that the questioning of the Senators-Judges are out of line because they are bordering on directly examining and cross-examining the witness and not just asking clarificatory questions. With the Senators asking questions themselves, the defense could not object because they might be called out of order as they claim. This is actually beneficial on the part of the prosecution because if they were the ones to ask questions, then they will surely be bombarded with a lot of objections by the defense team of the Chief Justice. They were just too complacent and very willing at that to allow the Senators, the Presiding Officer in particular, to do the job for them.
In a strange twist of events, when it was time for the officer of PAL to take the witness stand and testify on article 3 of the impeachment complaint, the presiding officer suddenly became strict and did not allow the said witness to take the stand. He belabored the issue that the witness is not proper to be presented by the prosecution because said witness is not directly testifying regarding matters stated in article 3. A lot of eyebrows raised because of this because the witness was summoned by means of a subpoena issued by the impeachment court to begin with and the matters that will be discussed in the trial concerning said witness were presented beforehand. If the Pal officer’s testimony is not needed because it has no bearing on article 3, then a subpoena for him to take the witness stand should not have been issued in the first place.
Though the PAL officer was not able to take the witness stand, the prosecution was able to manifest the issues that were supposed to be testified on by the said witness and it referred among others to the impropriety of the Chief Justice particularly in receiving a PAL Platinum Card while there was a case pending in the Supreme Court involving the said company and it’s employees.
From the developments in this particular hearing involving the denial of the impeachment court to allow the testimony of the Pal officer, it would seem that there is a sudden twist of events and the impeachment court is starting to limit the prosecution’s avenue for presenting their evidence. The court is now starting to be swayed by technicalities being insisted on by the defense and slowly limiting it’s avowed liberality which was the order of the day since the impeachment trial started.
In a vote of 13-10, the Senate impeachment body decided to “respect” the TRO issued by the Supreme court. The start of the trial saw several senator-judges taking turns in lambasting the defense panel for the pronouncements the group made a day before about the P100M bribe allegations. The defense panel was apologetic and denied having identified any of the senator-judges as having been bribed or even offered bribe money by the Palace. From the looks of it, the whole fiasco was just a veiled attempt to pre-empt the decision of the impeachment court on whether to honor the TRO imposed by the Supreme Court or not. It was more of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of propaganda that if majority of the senators will vote against the TRO, that means that they accepted the P100M bribe and if they dont, they are in effect surrendering to the supremacy of the highest tribunal of the land which is favorable to the cause of the defense because it is a limitation of the power of the impeachment body.
With the Senate impeachment court following the order of the Supreme Court and in effect recognizing the supremacy of the latter, the flood gates are now open for an avalanche of petitions that are expected to be filed by the defense to derail the proceedings further. This early, chief defense counsel former Justice Cuevas kept on insisting about the rules of evidence and other procedural rules to prevent the testimony of one of the witnesses. With the impeachment body bowing to the Supreme Court, there is a big chance that their expanded jurisdiction will also be invoked to cover even matters that are no longer justiciable but political in nature. This is because the difference between the two are not clear-cut and actually merges somewhere in the muddled center.
Senator-Judge Guingona made a dramatic manifestation about the possible consequences of the impeachment body’s adherence to the TRO of the Supreme Court. More than the eloquence he displayed on the floor of the senate, it was the message he imparted that rang true in the four corners of the Senate halls. With the TRO recognized and the wings of truth clipped to a certain extent, it will now be hard to legally pin the Chief Justice.
As for the prosecution, they must now learn to prosecute vigorously according to the rules of court. The days of vague evidence presentation must now end and they have to work doubly hard in presenting real and legally admissible evidence lest they be shackled further with so many technicalities. It could already be too late in the day but they need the services of high caliber lawyers to prosecute the case for them. The Philippine jurisprudence is rich with decisions of the highest tribunal taking cognizance of a case because of the phrase ” grave abuse of jurisdiction amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of the officer, body or tribunal..” The impeachment court now falls under this expanded jurisdiction and it is just a matter of time when the defense will invoke this constitutional provision to prevent the court from proceeding with a particular issue.
Senator-Judge Defensor-Santiago in her usual fighting mood rose and lectured the Chief prosecutor and even went on to give the latter a poor passing grade in the process. She mentioned quite a number of observations particularly the errors and omissions of the prosecution in presenting their case. The good thing is that she ended her manifestation on a happy note.
The impeachment trial has turned into an ugly tussle with the defense panel accusing the Executive branch of meddling in the case. They allege that the president through the executive secretary has been talking to senator-judges over the weekend and offering each of them P100M to defy the TRO issued by the Supreme Court in favor of the PS Bank.
With this development, it is now obvious that the embattled chief Justice has decided to shift from a defensive to an offensive stance and it seems he will utilize all possible avenues, even imaginary ones, just to get a breather in an increasingly sinking credibility. Attacking the President by way of implicating the integrity of the Senate Impeachment Court in the process my not be the wisest move available given his tarnished reputation but it is still an offensive move nonetheless. His spin doctors may have decided to take this kind of fighting stance because they are preparing for something or it could just be a hopeless attempt to drive the public attention away from the Chief Justice.
Whatever my be the reason for this sudden mud slinging escapade taken by the camp of the Chief Justice, it is obviously not giving his cause any good. The best way for him to take the offensive is to show that all his money in the bank were obtained through hard work and legal means and not through political favors and other graft and corruption means. The offensive can also be seen as a poor attempt to pre-empt the impeachment court from making a stand against the TRO issued by the Supreme Court. To lump both the Executive and the Legislative as having colluded to gang up on the Chief justice is a very poor propaganda campaign that in no way will merit public sympathy.
A few hours before this writing, singer superstar Whitney Houston was found dead at the bath tub of a hotel room in Los Angeles. No immediate reason as of this writing was identified for the reason of her death. The singer, who soared to popularity and became the best-selling female artist of her time whose songs sold an estimated 170 million records worldwide and won six grammy awards during her prime, reportedly became a drug dependent in recent years that led to her frail physical appearance and also took a toll on her voice.
More than the alleged drug abuse, the singer will be remembered for her impeccable singing prowess that drew fans cross continents and all over the world. Her hit songs One moment in Time, I will always Love You, I Wanna Dance with Somebody among a host of many other hit songs, will continue to awe people around the world generations from now. The singer’s death came the night before the scheduled Grammy Awards Night and unlike other Grammy, this year’s awards night is expected to be sober. This early, tributes to the singer are pouring around the world especially with regards to how she contributed to the music profession.
In a vote of 8-5, the Supreme Court of the Philippines voted in favor of the TRO and prevented the Senate impeachment court from hearing on the dollar accounts of the respondent Chief Justice. This interference of the Supreme Court to the proceedings of a specially constituted body that performs a fundamentally political exercise using as a guide the provisions of the rules of court is one for the books and because of this, the legal arena will be awash with differing legal opinions in the days to come. There is no solid jurisprudential basis for the decision to grant the TRO to begin with and the Supreme court most likely decided on the basis of their expanded jurisdiction as enunciated in the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Threading on dangerous grounds, the Supreme Court sent a chilling signal to the entire republic that they are above all branches of the government and that even a supposedly independent Senate impeachment court should bow down to its interpretation of what the law is and what the procedures should be. This despite the fact that the impeachment proceeding is sui generis and therefore cannot be likened to any other court or judicial exercise and much less be subjected to control by another body. This is the beginning of a constitutional crisis feared by some and expected by others.
The next few days will be full of varying interpretations coming from legal luminaries but since the Philippines is devoid of jurisprudence on this issue, many in the legal profession are expected to follow the pronouncements of the supreme court. The Senate impeachment court is now faced with a clear threat to its independence. Whether to kowtow to the TRO issued or not will be the subject of intense debate among the 23 senators in the coming days. The Senate in a way was expecting that the Supreme court will not interfere with their duties as an impeachment body but this is now water under the bridge and if the senate will follow the TRO, then we can expect more petitions to be filed later on assailing the authority of the impeachment court with regards certain issues like adhering to the technical rules of procedure. If this will be the case and the Senate will surrender its independence, then they just might as well stop the entire proceedings instead of being mocked by the public as an inutile court. This option is definitely out of the question and the Senate is expected to meet the issue head-on. With the institution’s independence at stake and knowing the pronouncements as well as the personality of most of the senators, it is unlikely that they will take this issue sitting down and in a subservient manner.
Congressman-Prosecutor Farinas said it all when he argued that the defense has no respect for the impeachment body because they are trying the case in two courts, the Senate as an impeachment court and the supreme court as their last resort thus making it appear that the latter is superior than the former. It is not unexpected if later on the defense will appeal even the ruling of the impeachment court should it be against the interests of their client. This makes the impeachment court appear as an ordinary judicial body like the court of appeals or a quasi-judicial body where their decisions are subject to review by the highest court of the land. Quite strange and disturbing indeed.
1. Anti-impeachment groups rallied in front of the Supreme Court gates just when the tribunal was hearing the TRO against the impeachment court. An opposing group also rallied in front of the senate building calling for the truth about the dollar accounts to come out.
2. PEP- this is short for “Politically Exposed Person” and is the code used by PS Bank to classify their clients like the chief Justice. A judicial position is supposed to be free from political considerations but since in the Philippines a high government position is normally acquired by some through strong political connections, the bank then is justified in making that classification.