POSTSCRIPT / December 14, 2000 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

Share This

Suddenly, Erap needs Abu Sayyaf to clear him

SEN. Miriam Defensor Santiago again surprised many yesterday when she offered legal opinion in the impeachment trial in the Senate that the House prosecution team may be allowed the discretion of retaining private lawyers to assist it.

Her stand was in stark contrast to the stiff objections of lawyers of President Estrada and of some senator-judges, including Juan Ponce Enrile, who had wanted to confine to the congressmen of the House’s team of prosecutors the chore of pursuing the impeachment case.

Santiago was the last to speak before Chief Justice Hilario Davide handed a ruling that allowed the prosecution to engage the services of private lawyers.

That paved the way for Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson to testify under direct examination of a private lawyer.

* * *

DAYS ago, Santiago also surprised many when she disagreed with Enrile, considered her senior, who was pursing a line parallel to that of the defense on whether a presidential assistant, Anton Prieto, then testifying as witness was an adverse or a hostile witness.

So far, among the senators generally perceived as pro-Estrada, only Santiago has openly spoken or given important legal opinion adverse to the defense of President Estrada.

* * *

IN defending himself against bribery and payola charges, President Estrada will have to insist that he never received the millions allegedly given or delivered to him by Singson.

The President can very well say that, and has in fact been saying it when pressed by media, since conceivably he is not so stupid as to sign a receipt. While big money may have been going around in some Malacañang circles, the defense can be expected to say that no amount went as high up as the President.

Granting that P5 million in one-million-peso bundles were indeed delivered by witness Emma Lim to a Malou (said to be a secretary of the President )in Malacañang, the defense could very well say that that Malou is not President Estrada.

* * *

IN other words, the defense can show that there is no direct link such as maybe a receipt signed by the President or a videotape recording showing that Mr. Estrada actually received any amount.

But why would P5 million be given to a “mere” secretary by Governor Singson? That is illogical, unless we allow the likelihood that the money was intended for the President himself, and that his secretary merely received it for him.

* * *

THIS is the same scenario in the case of a P200-million check allegedly having been given to the President’s private lawyer, Edward Serapio, and deposited in the President’s foundation for Muslim scholars.

It can be argued again by the defense that there is no receipt signed by the President or some hard evidence that the money was actually received by the President himself or that he eventually got it.

(While confirming that his lawyer accepted the check and that the money was deposited in the account of the foundation, President Estrada has told the media that the money was still in the bank waiting to be used as evidence. Against whom, he did not say.)

* * *

THE lawyer of Commander Robot, a colorful leader of the Abu Sayyaf kidnap gang in Sulu, said that his client was about to surrender, probably before the end of the year.

If he does yield, it would mean that the Abu Sayyaf and the Estrada administration, which had vowed to crush the kidnap-for-ransom band, have arrived at a settlement of sorts.

It so happened that President Estrada suddenly needs Commander Robot to tell the world that Erap Estrada did not get a single cent from the ransom that the kidnap gang had collected for releasing their victims.

After the lives and the property lost and the hundreds of millions spent pursuing the kidnappers, after the military announced that it had the gang encircled, et cetera, here comes Commander Robot with a smirk virtually dictating the terms of settlement.

* * *

ANOTHER controversial settlement covers the proposed freeing from sequestration of a substantial portion of disputed coconut levy funds and transferring it allegedly to the effective control of presidential crony Danding Cojuangco.

The coco funds, representing 30 million shares or 27 percent of San Miguel Corp., are still under litigation before the Sandiganbayan.

Executive Orders 312 and 313, signed by President Estrada last month, took the disputed coco funds from the graft court for use of a proposed trust fund for coconut farmers. Small farmers are reportedly not represented in the body formed to oversee the use of the multibillion-peso trust fund.

The Sandiganbayan, in an order issued by Justice Francis Garchitorena, has blocked the implementation of the executive orders. Garchitorena told Malacañang to lay off since, he said, the money was still under the care of the court.

* * *

IT might seem like a minor item, but many TV viewers have expressed concern that undue coaching of the senator-judges could be done from outside the Senate premises via cellular phones. Some senators have been seen using their phones while sitting as judges.

Some interested parties monitoring the proceedings on a TV screen outside the Senate conceivably could be sending via cellphones instructions to selected senators to stand and register some legal point.

Were the senators only jurors, and not also judges, they could be cut off from the outside world and would certainly not be allowed cellphones and other modes of communication that could open them to tampering or undue influence.

* * *

ALSO on cellphones, we were almost shouting “Don’t give it!” when witness Ma. Carmencita Itchon was asked yesterday by senator-judge Rene Cayetano to give out the phone number of officemate Yolanda Ricaforte that she had dialed while testifying.

As the trial was being televised to a watching world, one can imagine how Ricaforte’s number and answering machine must now be clogged with calls.

The same thing happened when the cellphone number of suspected jueteng lord Bong Pineda, who flew to the United States before the start of last Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing on alleged jueteng payola, was divulged by his wife Mayor Lilia Pineda who was then testifying in the public hearing.

* * *

IT was providential yesterday that defense counsel Raul Daza kept objecting to some questions and presentations of prosecution counsel Rep. Salacnib Baterina, who was then presenting witness Itchon.

That gave senator-judge Franklin Drilon the opportunity to remind everybody that the primary purpose of the process is to unearth the truth. He added that inconsequential objections only delay the proceedings and should be avoided.

He recalled that the Rules of Procedure governing the Senate trial provide that the rules of evidence would be liberally construed.

Elsewhere it has been said repeatedly that the impeachment trial is not a criminal proceeding, but is largely a political process. In this light, there is no requirement that conviction be beyond reasonable doubt.

* * *

IT’S probably a minor footnote to the impeachment trial, but so many people have asked us and so we are posing the question: How is “subpoena” pronounced?

The question arose because Chief Justice Hilario Davide pronounces the “oe” as two vowels (o-e), which is somewhat distracting to some listeners since almost everyone else in the chamber pronounces the “oe” either as a short “i” (i) or as a long “e” (ee).

We checked several dictionaries and confirmed that the generally acceptable pronunciation of “oe” in “subpoena” is as a long “e” represented in the phonetic alphabet as [i:] as in “beat” and “meet.” As for the accent or stress, it is on the “oe” vowel sound.

Some dictionaries mute the “b” in the first syllable. Try pronouncing “subpoena” with a silent “b” and see how smoothly it slides.

Subpoena, by the way, is derived from the Latin “sub” (under) and “poena” (penalty), or “under penalty…” which are the usual first two words of the writ or order for somebody being summoned.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 14, 2000)

Share your thoughts.

Your email address will not be published.