Sunday, January 15, 2012

Senators who are not lawyers unfazed by role in Corona impeachment trial

Like many of his fellow senators, Lapid lacks legal background, which would come in handy in an impeachment trial. But Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III defended his low-profile colleague, saying Lapid would not be a liability in the proceedings.

Sotto, himself not a lawyer but a veteran lawmaker and an expert in parliamentary rules and procedures, said senator-judges were no different from members of the jury in the American legal system.

“There, waitresses and taxi drivers can serve as jurors in the trial of mayors and congressmen,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “So, why should people look down on senators who are not lawyers such as Lito? He is a senator elected by the people, so why would they belittle him?”

Sotto said one difference was that a jury votes as one while senator-judges decide individually in an impeachment court.

Half of the 24 senators are not lawyers, but these senators can always tap legal consultants to provide perspective on the impeachment trial, according to Sotto.

During the impeachment trial of then President Joseph Estrada, Sotto said he was regularly briefed by his own team of legal experts before and during the aborted trial. “But at the end of the day, it was I who still made the decisions,” he said.

Two of the lawyers in the chamber – Senators Franklin Drilon and Francis Pangilinan –are under fire for previously calling on Corona to inhibit himself from any cases involving former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

But Drilon and Pangilinan, who belong to President Aquino’s Liberal Party, turned down suggestions that they inhibit themselves from the impeachment trial owing to their previous position against Corona. Both senators used to be allies of Arroyo.

Drilon blasted Corona for being a former chief of staff of then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who later appointed Corona to the Supreme Court. He also questioned the chief justice’s impartiality, noting that he might have felt bad when Mr. Aquino refused to take his oath before Corona last year.

Drilon sought to justify his action, saying, “I only issued an appeal that he inhibit himself from participating in Supreme Court cases involving Arroyo due to public perception of partiality as he once served as her chief of staff and spokesperson.”

Pangilinan said the rules on inhibition did not apply in an impeachment trial, which he described as a “political proceeding.”

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