Monday, January 30, 2012

Behind the impeachment process

An administrative case is similar to an impeachment case wherein the accused, if found guilty, does not lose his life, liberty or property. He only loses his job and will be barred from future employment in the government. But he can still get a job in the private sector. If Corona is convicted, he only ceases to be the Chief Justice, but he can still work as a consultant in a private firm or practice law.

That is why many Filipinos do not understand why the defense tried to bar Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares from testifying and furnishing the court with copies of his tax returns when the declarations in his ITR will determine his honesty and his fitness to be Chief Justice.

The reason given was that it is not clear that ill-gotten wealth is among the charges filed against him, although that is included in Article 2 of the impeachment charges. The defense and, surprisingly, the presiding officer made it very difficult for the prosecution to present its witness and evidence through legal technicalities. The defense took advantage of the relative inexperience of the congressmen-prosecutors to block them every inch of the way from presenting evidence. For almost every question, former Justice Cuevas would make an objection that left not only the prosecution but also the people frustrated. The people only want to know the truth, not how smart the lawyers are.

But the Senate impeachment court has its own rules. Presiding officer Juan Ponce Enrile made that clear at the beginning of the trial. The Rules of Court are only “suppletory” to the Senate rules, meaning, they only “supplement” the Senate rules. Therefore, if the impeachment court thinks the Rules of Court are a bar to the truth, it should discard them. But the senators seem to have forgotten this.

Let us not forget that the purpose of the trial is to find out the truth. Is Corona still fit to be Chief Justice? If he is not, then he should go. If he is, then he should stay.

It is not whether he is guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the charges against him. It has been said time and again that the impeachment trial is not a criminal trial where guilt beyond reasonable doubt has to be proven. It is nearer to an administrative case where only preponderance of evidence is necessary.

The reason for the difference is that if an accused is found guilty in a criminal trial, he loses his life, liberty and property. In an administrative case, he loses only his job, or is censured or suspended. He is not barred from finding a new job or, if he is merely censured or suspended, he can go back to his old job. That is why only a preponderance of evidence is needed to convict him.

Right now, it would appear—by the way legal technicalities not understandable to the ordinary citizen are flying back and forth—that the trial is the exclusive domain of lawyers. Even some of the senator-judges who are not lawyers have a difficult time trying to understand what’s going on.

The same is true with perhaps 70 percent of the Filipinos watching the trial on their television sets. They can’t make heads or tails of what is going on. In fact, many of them have lost interest in the trial and have turned to other channels. Too bad, because many of the lawyers, especially lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas and some of the senators, are playing up to the gallery.

There is a saying among lawyers: If your client is guilty, prevent evidence and witnesses from being presented. No evidence, no guilt. The defense seems to be succeeding in this.

The impeachment court, and the presiding officer, should be wary of this ploy. Let the senator-judges and the Filipino people know the truth. Is Renato Corona still fit to be Chief Justice?
I understand what is happening. The lawyers are so steeped in the law. Having been immersed in it during their student days in law school and during most of their adult life as lawyers, they breathe and think and live the law. The way the lawyers, especially the defense counsels, are governed by the Rules of Court and the Rules of Evidence, you would think that these rules are The Ten Commandments themselves. The lawyers do not see outside the rules. So the rules are made to appear like blinders on horses.

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