POSTSCRIPT / March 1, 2012 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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5 charges were dropped for being hard to prove?

SHOW OF FORCE: Despite efforts of the Iglesia ni Cristo to show that politics had nothing to do with its prayer rally at the Luneta, the gathering of close to a million followers delivered a message so loud and clear that any politician would be deaf and blind not to have caught it.

* First point is that the Iglesia, said to count more than three million members, is a cohesive political force to reckon with.

* Second, politicians at all levels are served notice not to treat INC members shabbily.

* Third, although impeached Chief Justice Renato C. Corona decided not to attend Tuesday’s evangelization mission rally, contrary to earlier plans, he appears to enjoy the sympathy of the Iglesia hierarchy without their having to say it.

* Fourth, President Noynoy Aquino has to do quick fence-mending to ensure that he still enjoys the Iglesia support given him in the last presidential elections.

* * *

VIPs PRESENT: Iglesia general evangelist and spokesperson Bienvenido Santiago made a calibrated statement when he clarified that the rally was not meant to show support for the beleaguered Chief Justice.

He also clarified that important personages who attended were not invited by the Iglesia but by individual members. Among those spotted at the rally were SC spokesman Midas Marquez, former NBI Director Magtanggol Gatdula, former Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, Laguna Gov. Emilio Ramon Ejercito, Pangasinan Rep. Gina de Venecia, Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista, and Pasay Mayor Antonio Calixto.

Dean Abraham Espejo of the INC’s New Era College of Law earlier said Corona would meet Gatdula at the Manila Hotel and walk together to the rally. Only Espejo showed up, joined by former Justice Secretary Artemio Tuquero and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, all INC members.

Espejo is legal counsel for Gatdula in his NBI dismissal case, while Topacio is the lawyer of former President Gloria Arroyo in her electoral sabotage case.

* * *

TUPAS HURTING: Also last Tuesday, Rep. Niel Tupas, lead House prosecutor, was smiling when he informed the Senate court that the prosecution was withdrawing five of the original eight articles of impeachment filed against the Chief Justice.

One wonders if that smile was meant to exude confidence of gaining conviction on the basis of the remaining three articles, or that the prosecution was able to pull a fast one on the court, the defense and the watching public. Or does it mean something else?

Boxing aficionados will tell you that when a boxer is hit badly and smiles, that means he is seriously hurting. Is that what was behind Tupas’ smile?

This observer thinks he is hurting. Reason: If the prosecution has hard evidence to prove Corona’s guilt onArticles 1, 4, 5, 6 and 8, it is inconceivable that it would withdraw one or some or all of them.

* * *

PITIFUL?: The prosecution gives me the impression that it has realized it cannot prove those five charges and so decided to beat a retreat before the rout becomes uncontrollable.

The Tupas team has had a beating, including insults, particularly in the hands of Sen. Miriam Santiago, a former trial judge and incoming member of the International Criminal Court, who often lectures the prosecution on the finer points of litigation.

The withdrawal of some charges may have been foreshadowed by the demeanor lately of another prosecutor, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, who cried about their difficulty in getting witnesses, particularly those working in the SC.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile admonished Colmenares: “You are making it appear that you are all kawawa (pitiful). You have all the means. You have all the power.”

Sen. Joker Arroyo also reminded the prosecution earlier that with no less than President Noynoy Aquino on their side, they should have no problem.

* * *

CONTEMPT: The tongue-lashing by Santiago raised questions and a side issue when a member of the prosecution panel, one attorney Aguirre, was caught on video covering his ears, as if refusing to hear or listen to the fire-breathing senator.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada rose to call attention to the lawyer’s behavior and asked him to explain. The lawyer stepped to the rostrum and confirmed that he, indeed, covered his ears because, he told the court, he did not want to hear more of the lecturing.

Santiago angrily moved to cite him for contempt and ordered to leave the hall. Enrile called a recess while cooler heads tried to smooth over hurt feelings. By that time, Aguirre has left the hall.

But attempts to mollify Santiago and the court were too late. Aguirre was cited for contempt, the appropriate punishment to be determined by the senator-judges later.

* * *

AMENDMENTS: On the prosecution’s withdrawing charges, Sen. Chiz Escudero asked if the House team was just foregoing the presentation of evidence on them or altogether abandoning all the five articles. The same point had been raised by Santiago.

Escudero said that abandoning five articles would substantially amend the impeachment resolution approved and verified by 188 congressmen. He asked if such an amendment has been approved by the House.

Tupas said the prosecution panel has been given full discretion to do what it thought best, adding that the dropping of five articles was cleared with Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and the majority leaders in the House.

The defense might pounce on this point to press their questioning of the validity of the impeachment charges emanating from the House.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 1, 2012)

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