By Emmanuel Mongaya (journalist & blogger)
The opening of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona began yesterday with initial victories for the prosecution. But like many others, I think this is just the first skirmish of a protracted process that the Chief Justice and his supporters seem to believe they can win.
Looking back at what happened yesterday, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile dismissed the Chief Justice’s motion for a preliminary hearing. The defense panel argued that Corona had been deprived due process under the Rules of Court because the House of Representatives did not follow proper procedure. The complaint signed by 188 members of the House in December allegedly had not been properly verified because some congressmen reportedly just signed without reading. Corona also had not been given notice about the complaint nor was he given a chance to defend himself before being impeached.
Enrile, however, said the Rules of Court were only meant to supplement the internal rules of the House and the Senate. He ruled that the filing of the verified complaint had been done in accordance with the Constitution, and the rules of each house of Congress. The Senate impeachment court likewise denied a separate motion, filed by lawyer Fernando Perito, asking the body to cite the members of the prosecution team in contempt.
In response, the Supreme Court has set to discuss today the five petitions seeking a stop to the Senate’s impeachment proceedings. The High Tribunal will resume a full-court session and it is expected to rule on whether to grant the common petition seeking a temporary restraining order.
Seen along with Chief Justice Corona‘s defiant speech after a morning mass with hundreds of black-clad supporters and a sudden increase in pro-Corona media noise, these developments are giving us a sense that the Corona camp has planned well within and outside the impeachment trial.
But can Corona beat the prosecution, convince the impeachment senators to acquit him, and sway the public to his favor?
1. The Senate impeachment trial is a political process mandated by the Constitution for removing impeachable officials. The Constitution provides that an official facing impeachment only needs eight votes to win acquittal.
Just a note: With only 23 sitting senators (minus President Noynoy Aquino), the pro-impeachment camp will need 16 votes to get 2/3 of the senators. But would this mean acquittal only needs seven votes? Or should it be eight? I expect controversy on this point as the voting would be tight.
Now even before the trial, we are counting three pro-Gloria Arroyo senators to vote for acquittal: Senators Lito Lapid, Bong Revilla, and Joker Arroyo.
2. This means the Corona camp only needs to win the votes of five more senators. Now, let’s take a look at the political alignments of the rest of the senators.
- Pro-Aquino senators: LP Senators Franklin Drilon, Kiko Pangilinan, Ralph Recto, and TG Guingona; Aquino allies Sen. Ping Lacson, Serge Osmena, Antonio Trillanes, Chiz Escudero, and Koko Pimentel.
- Independents: Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Tito Sotto, and Gringo Honasan; and Nacionalista senators Manny Villar, Loren Legarda, the two Cayetanos Allan Peter and Pia and Bongbong Marcos.
Assuming the nine pro-Aquino senators would vote guilty, the pro-impeachment camp would still need to win seven independents. Again, Corona only needs five more votes for acquittal. As former senator Ernie Maceda pointed out when interviewed by Cebu reporters last week, the independent senators are the swing votes.
3. How to woo these independent senators?
I believe many of these independents would be conscious of the public mood. In fact, the Nacionalista Party has commissioned a survey conducted in December 2011 and January 2012. The survey showed 50% of the 1,200 respondents are undecided on the impeachment case, said Deputy Speaker and Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla.
“When it comes to CJ (Corona) the country is divided, same number for and against impeachment with 50 percent undecided,” Remulla, a member of the NP, told the weekly media forum Kapihan sa Diamond Hotel in Manila in a Philippine Star report. He said the undecided “want to see what evidence will be presented.”
In dealing with the political nature of the impeachment process and the reality that our senators are principally political beings, the Corona camp has apparently adopted the following strategies:
- The Corona camp has enough veteran trial lawyers who should be able to find ways of punching holes on the prosecution’s case and discredit them before the independent senators and the public. But this is not enough.
- Chief Justice Corona, for two occasions already, has mobilized court employees in people power-like gatherings. The main message of the Corona supporters seemed consistent — the executive branch wants to control the judiciary and, if the Senate votes guilty, the legislative branch completely surrenders its independence to the President.
- This message is being echoed by allies and known supporters of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in traditional and social media.
- CJ Corona is trying to build an underdog image ostensibly to win sympathy.
Will these strategies work in favor of CJ Corona? Well, the Chief Justice looked confident and, during his public statements, in a fighting mood. He also seemed to have the support of a segment of the Catholic clergy that is pushing for a favorable High Court decision on the controversial Reproductive Health bill.
The way I look at it, much will depend on how well the prosecution panel presents their case, the maneuvering of the defense panel, and the public reaction to their moves and counter-moves. I’m sure, despite their posturings of being independent, each senator would be sensitive to the public mood and present their individual decision with this in mind.
This will be a long process indeed.
But contrary to what Corona supporters are saying, I say this is a great democratic exercise that involves the Filipino people. It is not a process towards dictatorship. It is part of a cleansing process that all Filipinos should support.
- ‘Exposes on Corona ‘tip of the iceberg’ (www.philstar.com)
- Chief Justice Corona’s Impeachment Trial, the truth about it (theanythingvanessa.com)
- Chief Justice on Trial (in-asia.net)
- Philippine chief justice impeachment trial starts (thehimalayantimes.com)
- TRIALserye: The Pilot Episode (Corona Impeachment Trial) (rojan88.wordpress.com)
- Impeachment for Philippine CJ (nation.com.pk)
- Corona has gone political, should run for president: Cebu judge (politika2013.wordpress.com)
- Philippine chief justice impeachment trial starts (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- PNoy vs. Corona: A PDI columnist’s perspective (politika2013.wordpress.com)
- Witnesses vs. Corona lined up (politika2013.wordpress.com)
- Philippine chief justice impeachment trial starts (ctv.ca)
- Historic trial in the Philippines (bbc.co.uk)
- Cebuano lawyer among private prosecutors vs. Corona (politika2013.wordpress.com)