The impeachment trial against CJ Corona is a contrast in strategy, (hair and legal) style, and substance, boys against men, students against professors.
In one corner are the young guns of the House led by Rep. Tupas. His opening declamation may not have reached the heights expected of the occasion (he should have done it in the vernacular) but what it lacked in loft (I had to google his reference to ”a mess of potage”) it made up in earnestness: They will be taking the high moral ground.
In the other corner are the wizened warriors of the Defense led by ex-Justice Serafin Cuevas and De Los Angeles. Their tone is scholarly and legalistic.The Defense is gearing for a ground war to be fought in the trenches, mano-a-mano.
The Offense will concentrate on the CJ’s ties to GMA and hidden wealth, the stuff the public can relate to; the Defense the collegial nature of the SC. The Offense will argue the moral case, the Defense the legal one. The Offense will address the nation, the Defense the law books.
As presiding officer, Sen. Enrile is tasked with clearing the legal deck, setting the pace, maintaining the decorum, ruling on proceedings, and managing his fellow jurors while remaining impartial. Viewers are latching onto his every word for his inclinations.
He just loves it.
JPE owns the show and could be its star. This is his swan song. His opening statement displayed his keen awareness of the legal issues and, more important, the historical context of the proceedings. So far he has been fair, firm and final. His rulings are not appealable except when the house is divided by a contrary opinion. Even then he is in charge. Most of the Senators are non-lawyers so they will abide by his technical pronouncements. He is also the Senate President so his colleagues will avoid putting him in a bad light. Sen. Alan Cayetano questioned his decision on the matter of putting the CJ’s family on the stand. He was outvoted 14-6. Alan will be more circumspect the next time around.
The danger is that, uncontested, JPE may overreach in his rulings. He may already have done so when he proclaimed private prosecutors will not be allowed to argue the prosecution’s case, only to examine witnesses. This seems unfair. The Defense is composed of legal gladiators who do this for a living, eat litigation for breakfast. The prosecutors are not practicing professionals. They (and by extension the public) are deprived of due process if they cannot engage private lawyers to put their best foot forward.
Sen. Enrile’s ruling could affect the outcome of the trial over time. The Prosecution is legally outgunned by the Defense. The Day 2 disarray of the Congressmen showed this. With the Prosecution having to distribute its manpower among the 8 counts, we will see a dilution in the quality of its arguments. The Defense, in contrast, has the same star-studded team for all the charges.
If overreaching is a danger to the Presiding Officer, it is also so to the Prosecution and the Defense.
In their youthful exuberance, the prosecutors must be mindful of presenting evidence that is fully formed, of not overselling and of not winging the legal arguments. This case will not be won on moral testosterone alone.
On the other hand, the Defense must not overplay its obstructionism nor gloat over the travails of its young opponents, not on national TV. The people see right through it.
Which brings us to the crux of the matter.
The question before this tribunal is whether it is a legal exercise or a search for the truth. The Defense sees it as the former, the public as the latter. Enrile is halfway, asking the jurors to weigh the law but also “their moral conviction”.
The dichotomy is already evident. On charge #2, the non-disclosure of the SALN, the Defense claims the filing of the CJ’s SALNs with the SC clerk of court complies with the Constitution. It also believes the charge of ill-gotten wealth is not specified in the Articles and therefore inadmissible.
Surely the purpose of the Constitutional provision is for public officials to correctly disclose their financial worth and not to simply file a piece of paper. In this sense, Article 2, even as worded, is actionable if the SALN is defined not as a document but as a measure of one’s financial standing. To improperly disclose one’s means –and this is the gist of the accusation- is a presumption of ill-gotten wealth. The charges and sub-charges in Art. 2 are therefore not separate (as suggested by Sen. Escudero) but elements of one narrative.
The rule of law often leads to the truth but not always. So in setting the table, if the purpose is indeed to honor the public interest, the court should be guided not by cleverness or technicalities however legal; but how the proceedings can best unearth the veracity of the allegations.
The nation is tired of the obfuscation. We just want, simply, to know the truth.