Day 3 of Corona Impeachment Trial – SALN Drama

January 19, 2012

The legal fireworks in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona reached a crescendo yesterday with the testimony of Supreme Court Clerk of Court, Enriqueta Esguerra-Vidal. Called yesterday to the witness stand by virtue of a subpoena requested by the prosecution, Ms. Vidal was at first a very hesitant witness. Questions propounded by Atty. Mario Bautista elicited very few information and were  expectedly confronted by objections from the defense, led by Atty. Serafin Cuevas. Ms. Vidal eluded questions concerning the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) of Chief Justice Renato Corona and hid behind the 2 May 1989 En Banc Resolution of the Supreme Court that required authorization before the Clerk of Court can release the SALN of any justice.

At the end, it took the queries of Senator Franklin Drilon andseveral senators-jurors and a firm order from Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to convince Ms. Vidal to turn over the SALN of Chief Justice Renato Corona to the impeachment court.

So what were the important legal lessons in day 3 of the trial? First, is the importance of obeying a subpoena. As defined under the Section 1, Rule 21 of the Rules of Court, a subpoena is a process directed to a person requiring him to attend and to testify at the hearing or the trial of an action, or at any investigation conducted by competent authority, or for the taking of his deposition. It may also require him to bring with him any books, documents, or other things under his control, in which case it is called a subpoena duces tecum. 

As seen yesterday, even if Ms. Vidal tried to convince the senators-jurors that she needed the authorization of the Supreme Court before submitting the SALN to the impeachment court, she had no choice but to comply since the said documents were requested through a validly issued subpoena. Had she continued to be non-cooperative, she could have been cited for contempt.

Impeachment Court vs. Supreme Court

As the impeachment trial progresses, it seems that the impeachment court and the Supreme Court are on a collision course due to the complex and conflicting issues being tackled. At no time has this been more evident than in yesterday’s hearing when the senators-jurors asserted its independence from the Supreme Court on the issue of Corona’s SALN. It seems that the impeachment court is of the opinion that they are a constitutionally created body and that the Supreme Court is co-equal to the Senate only when it is performing its legislative duties. It would be interesting to see if the Supreme Court can review the decision of the impeachment court later on.

Lawyer vs. Senator-Juror

Another interesting highlight of the impeachment trial yesterday was the objection posed by Atty. Cuevas to a question propounded by senator-juror Franklin Drilon to Ms. Vidal. A sheepish Atty. Cuevas had to backtrack when reminded by Senate President Enrile that this was not allowed under the Rules on Impeachment promulgated by the Senate.

Even during proceedings in regular courts, a judge is allowed to question witnesses and any lawyer worth his salt would not object to this. As held by the Supreme Court in several cases, a judge is called upon to ascertain the truth of the controversy before him.  He may properly intervene in the presentation of evidence to expedite and prevent unnecessary waste of time (Domanico v. Court of appeals, 122 SCRA 218, 225 [1983]) and clarify obscure and incomplete details after the witness had given direct testimony. (Valdez v. Aquilizan, 133 SCRA 150, 153 [1984]). After all, the judge is the arbiter and he ought to satisfy himself as to the respective merits of the claims of both parties in accord with the stringent demands of due process. (People v. Ancheta, 64 SCRA 90, 97 [1975]).

NOTED…Private Prosecutor Atty. Mario Bautista had to be reminded that he had to state the purpose of his witness’ testimony…Atty. Cuevas was very active in his objections and cross-examinations and came off as a better litigator…Senate President Enrile continues to be an effective and patient Presiding Officer, its a good thing that a lawyer, a very wise and experienced one at that, is the captain of a ship, which is always weathering legal storms…From their performance yesterday, it seems that the private prosecutors are also experiencing “birthing pains” in the impeachment trial, looks like its time to stop delegating litigation work on the law firm associates and hit the trenches once again.

One Response to “Day 3 of Corona Impeachment Trial – SALN Drama”

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