POSTSCRIPT / February 12, 2012 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Impeachment court can’t be left to itself

TALE OF 2 TROs: The Supreme Court handed down last Friday what can be called a split decision.

The tribunal issued a temporary restraining order on the Senate Impeachment Court’s subpoena on a dollar account of impeached Chief Justice Renato C. Corona while deferring action on the petition for another TRO on the trial itself.

Note also that the SC made the ruling with Senior Justice Antonio Carpio presiding (Corona, not participating, had stepped out of the chamber). Carpio is presumed to be aspiring for the seat of Corona.

The SC asserted jurisdiction over the impeachment trial when it ruled on a petition of the Philippine Savings Bank to stop the IC from looking into Corona’s dollar account that, it said, would violate the law on the secrecy of foreign deposits and open the bank to legal sanctions.

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TRICKY TEST FOR IC: The impeachment court, claiming to be beyond the reach and review of the Supreme Court, is thus put to a test.

If it honors the TRO on the dollar bank deposit, it would acknowledge that the SC – contrary to the claims of some of the Senate’s more vociferous members – could review and rule on the validity of its procedural actions, like when they tend to trample the rights of persons.

If the Senate court steps back and concedes the jurisdiction of the SC – and thus slightly opens the door — the latter can then proceed to tread on other uncharted areas that have been exposed by the impeachment case.

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SPLIT JURISDICTION: With due respect to everyone, this lay observer submits that what is beyond SC review is only the impeachment court’s final verdict of guilt or innocence of the accused.

The fact that the Senate sitting as a court has been mandated by the Constitution to try and decide on its own all impeachment cases is not at issue. That is conceded.

But in the interest of order and justice, all collateral issues raised before its final judgment is promulgated must be subject to review by the SC. More so when they smack of grave abuse of discretion or violate due process and the rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

If this theory is valid, that only the IC’s final judgment is beyond review by the SC, then even the initial step of the House filing an ill-prepared impeachment complaint may be challenged. A defective or abusive filing cannot be left to fester like an open wound.

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TWEETING ALONG: The above point was raised in the Twitter online forum yesterday. Readers are invited to join the unmoderated exchange. This columnist participates as @FDPascual.

Here is a sampling (amplified because Twitter limits postings to only 140 characters) of other points I posted yesterday:

* The Constitution says the SC is the final arbiter and interpreter of the law. Then comes this temporary court composed of politicians saying “No way!” How is that?

* By saying it’s beyond SC review, is the Impeachment Court claiming equal or even superior status? Are we being told there are now four co-equal branches of government?

* The prosecution that presented the photocopy of a supposed bank ledger should be the one told to produce the original. Don’t ask PSB, because the bank was not the source of the copy.

* If the dollar account was opened before 1989, it is outside the impeachment timeframe and is irrelevant if no more deposits were made when Corona was Chief Justice.

* Why is it that when senator-judge Franklin Drilon stands, the public knows already what he will do or say? I seem to hear the bugle call of the cavalry coming to the rescue.

* President Aquino has no qualms commenting on the Corona case. He has donned the yellow uniform of Playing Coach.

* How many millions in public funds are doled out each week for the PR & black propaganda war in media outside the Senate court?

* It’s the height of hypocrisy for porky congressmen who have amassed illegal wealth to impeach a fellow official for the same offense.

* A senator who cheats on his SALN and ITR cannot be an objective judge of an impeachable official accused of filing defective SALNs and ITRs.

* I thought the House may file only one impeachment charge within one year against the same person. How come they filed eight? Sorry, I’m not a lawyer.

* ‘Twas a pleasure listening to Senate President JPEnrile and Rep. Rudy Farinas, both FBIs (full-blooded Ilocanos), arguing in flawless Tagalog.

* Watch lady senators Pia Cayetano and Loren Legarda closely. Who speaks better English?

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MORE VIEWS: You can also catch on Twitter former Makati congressman Teddy Locsin Jr., who has a unique perspective having been spokesman and speechwriter (among other roles) of the late President Cory Aquino.

Teddy said the “SC can set them (the senators) right and simply rule against them, and leave it at that. They can ignore the SC…. then let the Army decide.”

When tweeter @Guardian_Rey reacted: “If army will decide then ‘it’s all coming-back scenario’ for this administration. But this time to the Son. God save us!”

To which Teddy said: “No, God save the administration, because this time I won’t be around to call in the US fighter jets.”

(This refers to the 1989 major-major coup against Cory Aquino whose reign would have ended had Teddy not called for US help. The US 13th Air Force based on Clark Field sent F-4 Phantom jets on “persuasion” flights to shoo away the PAF Tora-tora toy planes threatening to bomb Malacañang.)

On the impeach-Corona trial, Teddy says: “That’s my prediction, (that) the SC will take jurisdiction of the trial, and rule it is OKAY.”

(If that happens, I think the impeachment court is likely to accept the favorable ruling – but would then be estopped from rejecting later unfavorable rulings on side issues. Quite a neat SC takeover!)

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 12, 2012)

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