A tactical blunder?

To Take A Stand
By Oscar P. Lagman, Jr.

Posted on April 24, 2012

Asked by the Philippine Daily Inquirer if surveys on Corona should be banned during his trial, Tranquilino Salvador III, one of the counsels of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona, gave 10 reasons why surveys should not be conducted and results released during the trial. Not one of them is a valid reason for banning said surveys.

His first reason is that surveys should not be used to influence the decision making process of the senator-judges. Well, no one has had the gall to use the survey results to influence the senator-judges. And if the senator-judges were influenced by the survey results, the fault would lie with them, not with the surveys.

His second reason is that surveys cannot be considered as evidence in a court of law. Therefore they should be banned. That is gross demonstration of twisted logic. Editorial and columnist commentaries cannot be considered evidence in a court of law nor can statements of spokespersons of the prosecution and the defense panels. I wonder why he is not batting for their banning.

Reasons No. 3, 4, and 5 say survey results are variable, unverified, and momentary information, respectively. These are not reasons for banning surveys but are mere predications in support of Reason No. 2.

His reason No. 6 is that determination of the guilt or innocence of an impeachable officer should be based on clear and unmistakable facts, and established and proven evidence. That is merely a reiteration of Reason No. 2.

Reason No. 7 says that senator-judges must be insulated from perceived public opinion like a jury so that they can arrive at a well-thought and conscience-based judgment. The appropriate action is not to suppress public opinion but what Atty. Salvador himself suggests: to isolate the senator-judges and to shield them from free-flowing public opinion like what they do to juries in the United States.

However, that is not possible under our system of government. Our Constitution provides that the Senate constitute the Impeachment Court. To perform their sworn duties, senators must relate to their constituency, which is the entire citizenry as they are elected at-large. Members of an American jury are ordinary citizens chosen at random and called to pull jury duty for one criminal case. They are sequestered for the duration of the case.

Atty. Salvador’s eighth reason is that once a case is tried in court, the court is expected to pass upon the issues based on law and evidence. This is merely reiterating Reason No.1 in a different way. Again I say if the court passes upon the issues based on considerations other than the law and evidence, then the fault would lie with the court, not with the surveys.

Reason No. 9 is a repeat of No. 3 and Reason No. 10 is a repeat of No. 5. They are not reasons for banning surveys. They are mere basis of Reason No. 2.

The flaw in Atty. Salvador’s reasoning is that impeachment is strictly a judicial process where the rule of law and rules of court are rigidly observed. If so, the Constitution would have assigned the task of hearing impeachment cases to a judicial body. But as has been said repeatedly by the chair and other members of the impeachment court as well as by renowned constitutionalists, impeachment is a political process as well. After all, the Senate, which acts as the impeachment court, is composed of politicians. Majority of them are not lawyers.

Atty. Salvador is right in saying that survey (results) are only momentary indicators of the predisposition of the respondents which may remarkably change through time. It so happened that the surveys that he is averse to were conducted after the prosecution had completed its presentation of evidence and the defense was just starting to refute the evidence. That is why the survey results were unfavorable to Corona.

If Salvador feels that the results of the surveys on CJ Corona have not advanced the cause of the defense as for him to advocate the banning of surveys, then maybe what the defense panel can do is influence the predisposition of the public so that when surveys are conducted again, the responses would be more favorable to Corona.

Also, maybe the defense panel should take a different tack at the resumption of the trial. Instead of blocking the presentation of evidence by the prosecution, or dismissing the evidence as only the product of impulsive and puerile minds of congressmen, the defense panel should demolish it as mere fabrication of malevolent people. That is if it can.

The start of the defense was, however, inauspicious. The desperate attempt to quash the trial instead of refuting the prosecution’s evidence only reinforced the public’s perception that Corona has something to hide. The defense panel, particularly lead counsel Serafin Cuevas, looked crushed when the rabid defenders of Corona among the senator-judges, Miriam Santiago and Joker Arroyo, counseled Atty. Cuevas to withdraw his objection to the trial and presiding senator-judge Juan Ponce Enrile ruled Congressman’s Tobi Tiangco’s testimony irrelevant.

The testimony of the second witness was also unremarkable due to some inconsistencies in his statements. To many competent observers, the testimony of former Manila Mayor Joselito Atienza only exacerbated Corona’s case. “Rather than clear the air, the testimony of former Manila Mayor Joselito Atienza... on the sale of a lot owned by Basa Guidote Enterprises, Inc. to the city raised more questions about the transaction, “wrote Atty. Raul Palabrica, once legal counsel and chief of staff of Gloria Arroyo and now SEC commissioner, in his column in the Inquirer.

The supercilious and vainglorious posture of Atty. Cuevas (at times he made prominent lawyers in his own panel look like pages good only for showing him exhibits), the relentless effort of Miriam Santiago to sully and deride the prosecutors, and the frequent rebuke Juan Ponce Enrile gave them made the prosecutors appear as the underdog, the very status Corona has been striving to project himself as. The show of force by the Iglesia ni Cristo only sharpened the prosecution’s image of underdog.

Aside from refuting the prosecution’s evidence “punto por punto,” as Corona vowed to do, maybe the tranquil and reverent Salvador should take the lead in the defense, the domineering Cuevas acting as adviser from a back seat. The defense panel can also ask Santiago, Midas Marquez, and Corona himself to keep to their seats and to hold their peace until the court shall have handed down its decision.