Much has and will be said about what went wrong for the Defense. For the little it is worth, here is my take.
There is an adage in the profession that lawyers should never defend themselves. The ex-CJ broke this rule.
Corona had two defense teams who talked to each other, but not all the time. Team A, run by Lead Counsel Cuevas, was the front office. Its mandate was to go technical, to hunker down to a ground war, to get the Senators, the media and the public to tune out in a morass of detail.
Team B was run by Corona himself with Atty. Roy as his point man. Its plan was to fly below the radar unconstrained by the Impeachment rules, a free agent that could widen the attack. Malacanang’s alleged bribery of Senators, the Luisita inferences, the attacks on Drilon, Angara, the Ombudsman and the President, the Basa Beso display; these were Team B ideas. Also from them was the notion to get the Ombudsman and Corona to take the stand.
Team A’s plan was simple: Stay legal, Corona was innocent until proven guilty, let the Prosecution prove its case. It was working. Team B’s strategy: Go political, play to the public, drag the Palace into the fray. Team B was what brought the man down.
What prompted Corona to oversee his own defense? The man could not help it, that is his nature. Whether running the Supreme Court, his finances or his personal life, Corona is a control person, detailed almost to a fault. He wanted to micromanage his defense. In the process, however, his persona got involved, blurring his objectivity and perspective. Like most persons in authority, he lost touch with the national mood. His decision to testify ”against his better judgment”, his walk out, his reference to himself in the Caesarian third person, are all instances of him getting the better of himself.
Corona’s best defense would have been no defense. When the Prosecution closed its case, Cuevas should have immediately done likewise. Not only would he have saved 2 months of trial, he would have saved his client. At that point the Prosecution had nothing: It was stymied by the TRO on the dollars, it was relying on unsubstantiated allegations (of 45 properties) and little ladies to produce its evidence, it was building its case on the fly. It had cut its Articles from 8 to 3, with only Article 2 having a prayer. BGEI was a sideshow. Borrowing from Sen. Cayetano, the Prosecution could not pound on the facts nor pound on the law, so it pounded on the table of public opinion. JPE has since said they did not then have the votes to convict.
The Prosecution needed a miracle and it came, courtesy of the Defense.
In a now questionable strategy, the Defense revisited BGEI and trotted out the Ombudsman and the respondent, to argue its case; all of which proved their client’s undoing.
The Defense reopened BGEI to justify the P 34.7 MM in Corona’s account. Unfortunately, it also revealed his daughter’s controversial purchase of the family company for a measly P 28,000; and the illegal writ of execution against a dead man. Sen. Enrile has since acknowledged BGEI is what first got him thinking about the moral character of Corona.
Why ask the Ombudsman and the CJ to testify? The Ombudsman recounted a tale of 82 accounts and $10-12 MM which Corona knew to be absurd. He wanted to take the stand to humiliate the lady in open court, he wanted to speak. The man’s little self overruled his better instinct.
In the process, however, he also admitted to P 80.7 MM in unsupported “co-mingled funds” and $2.4 MM in “hard earned” foreign currency. He offered his waiver but that, at that point, was irrelevant. Compared to the P 3.5 MM declared in his SALN, it was unnecessary.
The turning points of the trial were BGEI and what it said of the CJ’s character, the Ombudsman’s testimony, Corona’s admission of his cash and his walk out. Ironically the Prosecution had nothing to do with any of these. It was a spectator just like the rest of us.
In fact, we could have saved ourselves the time and the trouble if the Senate had simply reversed the proceedings. If the trial had started with the Defense and the Prosecution had gone on holiday, we could have arrived at where we are 3 months ago.
Again, if Corona had stepped down as some of us urged, we would never even have had to start, sparing himself and his family the calvary of the trial.
Ultimately it was the man who brought himself down.