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Movement 188 says Corona camp in 'panic mode'

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A newly-formed potent bloc in the House of Representatives comprising the 188 signatories to the resolution impeaching Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona said on Sunday the chief magistrate's camp is in "panic mode" with barely a week into the Senate trial, owing to the prevalence this early of evidence buttressing the prosecution panel’s charges that he had allegedly amassed ill-gotten wealth -- and was thus no longer morally fit to serve at the helm of the High Tribunal.

The Movement 188 said the surfeit of diversionary moves and scare tactics mounted by the Corona camp and its allies at the end of Week 1 of the impeachment trial show that they are "already running scared" and hell-bent on preventing the whole truth from coming out, more so now when the 11-member team of House prosecutors is set to present more official and authentic documents and more reliable witnesses in the second week of the impeachment trial proving that the beleaguered chief justice had misdeclared and/or underdeclared his assets in his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs).

Among these latest dilatory and scare ploys, they said, are the plans by the Corona camp and its allies to put the Senate Impeachment Court in a "straitjacket" by asking the Supreme Court to make certain senator-judges inhibit from the trial.

The group also alleged that the Corona camp is set to file an urgent motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) for the Supreme Court to stop the Senate from proceeding with the trial.

Movement 188 stalwarts belonging to the various majority-coalition parties include Reps. Maricar Apsay (Compostela Valley), Joy Bernos (Abra), Roy Loyola (Cavite), Rene Relampagos (Bohol), Dan Fernandez (Laguna), Roger Espina (Biliran), Leo Ocampos (Misamis Occidental), Albee Benitez (Negros Occidental), Carlo Lopez (Manila), and Ben Evardone (Eastern Samar).

They said the Corona camp "is obviously in panic mode this early as they have already seen this writing on the wall: the Chief Justice is going down in the face of solid evidence underlining the barefaced discrepancy between his SALN-declared assets and his true-but-concealed assets that were uncovered in last Thursday’s testimonies by the respective Registers of Deeds of Taguig, Quezon and Marikina cities."

"The slew of evidence presented and testimonies made during the Thursday session were but the tip of the iceberg as our House prosecutor-colleagues are due this second trial week to present more authentic witnesses and more official documents establishing that the Chief Justice had, at the very least, repeatedly committed perjury in his annual SALN declarations, which already manifested a betrayal of public trust that warrants his immediate eviction from the High Court and permanent disqualification from holding public office," they added.

Corona’s annual SALN declarations during his incumbency as member and, later, head of the Supreme Court were surrendered last Thursday by SC Clerk of Court Enriqueta Vidal after much resistance from the defense panel.

Based on his SALNs, the chief magistrate's declared net worth had jumped from P14 million in 2002 to P22 million in 2010, which was not commensurate with his combined legal income as a public servant over that eight-year period.

On the other hand, the documents presented by registrars Randy Rutaquio, Carlo Alcantara and Sedfrey Garcia of Taguig, Quezon and Marikina cities, respectively, bared that the chief justice had not accurately declared in his SALNs a host of properties belonging to him or members of his family -- condominium units and parking lots at the Bellagio Tower, McKinley Hill and Bonifacio Ridge, all in Global City in Taguig; and condos or other assets at La Vista Subdivision, Katipunan Avenue, One Burgundy and other parts of Quezon and Marikina cities, to name a few.

"This explains all the diversionary ploys and scare tactics that the Corona camp and its allies have been resorting to this early in the trial to delay the proceedings and prevent the whole truth from coming out," they said.

The group stressed that Corona has obviously been "speaking with a forked tongue," because his pronouncements of innocence, readiness to confront his accusers, and public disclosure of his true assets "do not jibe with the devious legal moves by his team of hotshot lawyers to stop the House prosecutors from presenting or obtaining documents pertinent to the impeachment raps and to bar witnesses from testifying before the Senate impeachment court."

"For all -- to quote former senator and now congressman Rodolfo Biazon in the Estrada impeachment trial -- the 'legal gobbledygook' that Corona’s legal eagles have been resorting to every step of the way since Day One purportedly in the name of due process, such surfeit of motions and objections from the defense team cannot mask the ugly truth that they are already running scared because every trial day from hereon will build on this narrative: 8 articles of impeachment anchored on culpable violations of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust will prove beyond doubt that the midnight appointee is no longer morally fit to stay one minute longer as Chief Justice," they said.

Defense panel spokesperson Karen Jimeno earlier said it would take legal action to force senator-judges they perceive to be "lawyering" for the prosecution to recuse themselves from the trial.

Also, a group led by lawyers Homobono Adaza and Alan Paguia said it would file another TRO appeal before the High Court despite the SC decision last week to deny the five previous appeals for the magistrates to stop the Senate from going ahead with the trial.

However, Movement 188 noted that no less than Senate President and Impeachment Court Presiding Officer Juan Ponce Enrile, whose adept and impartial handling of the trial’s first week has been recognized by both the prosecution and defense camps, has denied the charge that certain senator-judges have been lawyering for either group.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares, member of the House prosecution team, has condemned the alleged unwarranted use by Chief Justice's lawyers of the Rules of Court in order to delay the impeachment proceedings.

"What is supposed to be suppletory has become the main rule, to the detriment of the peoples’ search for truth. CJ Corona should allow the prosecution to present its case with minimum interruptions, and after that, the defense should also be allowed to present their case with minimum interruptions and let the senators and the people decide. That is the better rule so the impeachment proceedings can be concluded at the earliest possible time," he said.

Colmenares said "the obsession of the defense panel on the rules of court, raising technical objections, that not only delays the proceedings but makes the ongoing impeachment impossible to understand, is now getting out of hand."

"Hindi na malalaman ng mga nanood at naghuhusga kung ano ang kwento at katotohanan dahil sa walang katapusang objections ng defense. This obsession of the defense lawyers with the rules of court is meant to allow CJ Corona to confuse the issue and delay the proceedings. It is absurdly based on the arrogant belief that anything that is not provided in the rules of court does not accord due process. In fact, there were many times when these same rules of court have also led to injustice by allowing accused corrupt officials to go free," he said.

Colmenares further explained that there is no provision in the law or the Constitution that requires the rules of court to be used in impeachment proceedings.

"Ang resulta ng ganitong pagkahibang sa rules of court ay malaking disbentahe para sa mamamayan at sa prosekusyon at malaking panalo para sa mga corrupt na opisyales na ini-impeach. The implication of using the rules of court in this impeachment proceedings is that the impeached official will most likely escape accountability and get acquitted," he said.

Colmenares also criticized the attack of the defense panel against Senator Franklin Drilon as "unfounded and a dangerous trap" to set up the impeachment court for a Supreme Court appeal for TRO.

"The (SC) Clerk of Court was subpoenaed by the Senate to bring Chief Justice Corona’s SALN. Senator Drilon merely asked if she brought with her the SALN. Was that unreasonable or biased? It was not," he declared.

Secondly, he said, former Justice Serafin Cuevas, lead counsel for the defense, also marked the same SALN as their evidence to prove the innocence of the Chief Justice.

"So, how can Drilon’s request for the clerk to produce the SALN be biased in favor of the prosecution when the same is also going to be used by the defense?" he said.

Lastly, Colmenares said Atty. Mario Bautista of the prosecution directly asked the SC clerk of court if she brought the SALN but she said no.

"The transcript (of the trial proceeding) will bear this out. She lied and committed perjury," he said.

"If the charge of bias against Senator Drilon is baseless, why did the defense attack him? CJ Corona is actually setting us up to an appeal to the Supreme Court with a request for TRO on the ground that the senators are partial. The accusation is not only malicious but a dangerous declaration as it could lead to a Supreme Court intervention in the impeachment proceedings. This could lead into turmoil. This attack on Drilon is below-the-belt and only paves the way for CJ Corona to escape accountability," he added.

Meanwhile, House members led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and House Deputy Speaker and Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II signed a manifesto to reaffirm their full support to the 11-man congressmen-prosecutors "who want to reclaim the Supreme Court and restore its once exalted status as a fiercely independent and highly credible co-equal branch of government."

"We have signed the resolution freely and resolutely -- and on the strength of our collective conviction that the ouster of the Chief Justice through the legal remedy provided for in the Constitution will clear one major roadblock in the 'daang matuwid' reform agenda of the Aquino administration. Our resolution is neither an attack on the Justices nor on the Judiciary itself. We have resorted to this constitutional process precisely to strengthen our judicial system by ridding it of the malignancy that has corrupted the very essence of equality and fairness in the High Court," they said.

By Lilybeth G. Ison




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