by Emmanuel Mongaya (journalist & blogger)
The defense strategy of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona seemed wrapped around legal maneuvers. But it already took into account the political nature of the Senate Impeachment Trial even before the impeach-serye began last January 2012.
We remembered the mobilizations of pro-Corona court employees even before the start of the trial. The defense and pro-Corona senator-judges highlighted the weaknesses of the prosecution before the public. These moves, I believed, were designed to win the public and, along with them, independent senator-judges considering that the Palace lacked the numbers at the onset.
Unfortunately for Corona, the defense strategy failed.
Several analysts already had their take. Law deans dissected the end game confrontations especially the “culpa” exchange between Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and defense lead counsel Serafin Cuevas.
I am not a lawyer and incompetent therefore to analyze the fine points in the legal skirmishes. But as a media practitioner, I can say the defense faced a tricky situation.
Chief Justice Renato Corona’s hold on moral ascendancy was shaky. He was allied with a discredited former president accused of corruption and electoral fraud. He faced a popular sitting president who described him as a roadblock in the matuwid na daan advocacy. While he insisted on his innocence, he actually had millions to hide.
Yes, the prosecution lawyers fumbled against courtroom veterans during the trial proper. The wily lead counsel for the defense Serafin Cuevas clearly ran circles around them in several occasions seen live on national television. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago further magnified prosecution slips by concentrating her vitriol on them.
But to the consternation of the defense, Senator-Judge Santiago and Senator-Judge Joker Arroyo, the prosecution did better before the public and the so-called trial by publicity. Success in blocking prosecution evidence made the defense look like they suppressed the truth. Chief Justice Renato Corona tried hard to play David but succeeded in becoming the impeach-serye’s villain.
Note that Corona also had advocates calling up radio commentary programs even during the early days of the impeachment trial. Online, I read pro-Corona discussions in Facebook though some go to the extreme of trying to heckle anti-Corona bloggers or even make complaints in attempts to shut down FB pages and WordPress blogs.
In Cebu, the more active pro-Corona supporters included anti-communist party list congressman Pastor Alcover Jr. I heard Alcover on radio talking about Hacienda Luisita as the reason behind the impeachment and President Noynoy Aquino coordinating with officials with communist links in going after former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Chief Justice Corona. The officials, Alcover said, are Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who is said to be related to the wife of the CPP’s Jose Maria Sison, and Political Affairs Secretary Ronald Llamas who used to head BISIG or the Bukluran sa Ikauunlad ng Sosyalistang Isip at Gawa.
Unfortunately for Chief Justice Corona, he failed to realize that the general public considered him the kontrabida and his messages did not get through. Though dismayed with how the prosecution conducted themselves, most lapped up anti-Corona information including critical posts in http://www.rappler.com and http://www.raissarobles.com.
Within the Senate walls, the prosecution meanwhile created a situation that produced Corona’s statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) during the first days of the impeachment trial. They likewise presented evidences showing Corona failed to declare all his properties and money in bank accounts. These successes forced the defense to risk calling Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales in an attempt to discredit her as hostile witness. They also risked presenting Chief Justice Corona himself as defense witness.
We saw what happened next. The Ombudsman brought with her a record of Corona’s dollar accounts from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) and confirmed that the Chief Justice had actually hidden away millions of dollars. When Corona stood before the witness stand, the senator-judges and general public expected Corona to counter the claims of the prosecution ombudsman. They wanted him to back up his explanation with convincing evidence. Instead, he chose to address the emotions of the television-viewing public and failed miserably.
Corona mistakenly thought he had the moral ascendancy and a monopoly of the truth as he assailed President Aquino and other officials, along with journalist-blogger Raissa Robles. He attempted to speak in Tagalog to connect with masa but he did it in manner that was not elegant befitting a chief justice speaking before senator-judges. Corona failed to realize that he entered the Senate hall seen as the villain. The dramatic signing of a bank waiver would have redeemed himself in the eyes of the public. The moment was spoiled big time when he proceeded to make conditions and topped this with an arrogant but failed walkout that insulted the Senate Impeachment Court. Desperate damage control efforts in the end foisted an image of a Corona in a wheelchair much like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
In a process described as political, this was bad for Corona to say the least. The checkmate was not all about the prosecution taking the initiative and dominating the board. Corona and his defense panel failed to assess the political situation right that led to a series of wrong moves at the endgame.
When the trial began, I thought the impeached Chief Justice Corona had a good chance of getting eight “not guilty” votes. He ended up with 20-3 for conviction.
Can Corona beat impeachment? (politika2013.wordpress.com)