POSTSCRIPT / January 19, 2012 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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SC custodian of SALNs did right yielding them

DILEMMA: As in most cases where the giants battle, the ants get trampled.

The poor clerk of court of the Supreme Court, lawyer Enriqueta Vidal, is caught between her justices-bosses in the tribunal and the Senate impeachment court on the issue of her submitting subpoenaed SC documents to the latter.

Pressed to surrender to the impeachment court the Statements of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, she confessed being in a dilemma because she had not secured the required SC authority to yield the SALNs.

She had the SALNs with her when she testified at the trial and that added to the pressure for her to submit them.

After senators voiced their opinion on the question, some of them assuring the lady that she would be on the side of truth and justice if she obeyed the impeachment court, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile ruled that she surrender the documents. She did.

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DON’T WORRY: My guess is that fears that the Supreme Court would take severe disciplinary action against its clerk of court for submitting the SALNs are unfounded.

The worst that could happen is for Vidal to be told by her supervisor to explain in writing why she did that without prior authorization. Her explanation, which could mention her dilemma, should be enough to free her of administrative case sanctions.

After all, Chief Justice Corona has said time and again that his SALNs are of public record and open to scrutiny at the proper time in the proper forum. The trial, where his financial capacity to buy expensive condominium units is under question, appears to be the right venue.

The sound and fury over the SALNs may turn out to have been overblown. We can expect Corona to eventually open them in time anyway, but he was just not making it easy for those merely fishing for evidence.

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NOT READY: Long before the start of the impeachment trial last Monday, the prosecutors of the House of Representatives were shouting from the rooftops that they were ready to prove the guilt of the Chief Justice.

Media reports on the prosecutors’ claimed readiness to present evidence have created the public impression that they have an air-tight case. In fact, President Noynoy Aquino himself said they have a solid case.

But when it was time the other day to produce the evidence to prove the charge that the Chief Justice has kept secret his SALNs and amassed illegal wealth, it turned out that the prosecution was not ready.

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COLLEGIAL RULINGS: The prosecutors’ fumble came after altering their submitted sequence of presentation to enable them to ride on what they said was the hottest issue against Corona — his alleged closeness to former President Gloria Arroyo.

With the way the prosecutors keeps harping on this point, it would seem that the Chief Justice’s greatest impeachable crime is his identification with the former president who had appointed him.

The prosecution has used their alleged closeness to explain why the Chief Justice has consistently favored her in deciding cases involving her or her interests. That the SC decisions are collegial decisions has been glossed over.

The prosecutors’ shuffling of their sequence appears based on what they perceive to be the prevailing public mood.

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PUBLIC OPINION?: Even granting that the impeachment trial is not solely a judicial or legal process but also political, the purity of its intention is stained by the invoking of a nebulous thing called public opinion.

It is significant that Senate President Enrile said their decision would be based on the Constitution, the applicable laws, the evidence and the senator-jurors’ conscience. He did not mention public opinion.

What is public opinion? Is it the preponderant opinion expressed in editorials, columns, blogs and such opinion pieces in media? Is it the claimed results of surveys of commercial polling firms?

Is public opinion the summation of the placards, streamers and speeches of a group of people massed in the streets?

How is public opinion evolved? And how is it measured so it could be a reliable basis for making judgments and decisions?

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HEARING RESET: The trial was cut short Tuesday, when everybody expected a full-blown hearing, after the prosecution panel confessed it was not ready to present evidence.

Rep. Lorenzo Tañada, a prosecution spokesman, admitted being “a bit disappointed” with the turn of events.

Another prosecutor, Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, was heard muttering as he hastily left the Senate, “Saling-pusa lang naman ako rito.” He has been assigned to handle the charge that Corona improperly formed a committee that investigated an associate justice accused of plagiarism.

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AGENDA SHUFFLED: The hearing’s postponement came after Rep. Elpidio Barzaga asked for permission to rearrange the order of their presentation of evidence — to start with Article II because, he said, the prosecution was not prepared to present Article I.

He said it would be best if the questions on Corona’s wealth were threshed out first since that was now a national issue. He did not explain why they have to take advantage of the supposed public mood.

But he admitted that the prosecution was unprepared to present evidence on Corona’s association with Arroyo.

Instead, he announced his being ready to submit “computer-generated” documents from the Land Registration Authority. However, he had no competent witness to authenticate them.

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CUEVAS REMARK: From his perch, Enrile expressed wonder why the prosecution did not prioritize Article II if it was the most important of the eight Articles of Impeachment.

Lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas, a former Supreme Court justice, rued: “We were served a copy of the impeachment complaint. There are eight grounds stated. We wanted to believe that any and all grounds will be the subject of the evidence of the prosecution in the manner they are stated or appearing in the Articles of Impeachment. Why the deviation?”

He added: “If we subscribe or allow the introduction of this kind of evidence, then this impeachment court will be at the mercy of the prosecution.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 19, 2012)

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