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MANILA, Philippines - It was a most remarkable birthday for the third highest officer of the land, now thrust in the unique role of presiding officer in the impeachment court trying Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Having gone home past 11 p.m. of the previous day - Day 16, February 13, was one of the most contentious in the impeachment trial so far - Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile was still up early as usual, and now had to juggle his many tasks with fielding numerous greetings from well-wishers.
He hosted lunch for friends and colleagues, and for lawyers from both camps in the trial, and at one point, history seemed to converge on the birthday of one of the most compelling political leaders of the land.
In an unguarded moment at the Senate, as a birthday cake was brought in, among the first to take a look at it were three men: Vice President Jejomar Binay, who had tangled with Enrile, then Defense Minister, during martial law; Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., namesake and son of the late dictator from whom JPE (as Enrile is endearingly called by friends and foes alike) had broken away in 1986, sparking the historic Edsa revolution; and Senator Jinggoy Estrada, also a judge in the current trial, who has, like Bongbong, made the remarkable journey with a father once caught up in what a court observer called an "accident of history." Joseph Ejercito Estrada was the first Philippine president to be impeached, but his trial was aborted, giving way to Edsa Dos and nine years of endless debates on constitution, democracy and the rule of law.
From his birthday lunch, Senate President Enrile donned his robe as presiding officer and was quickly confronted with a long debate over whether the subpoena he signed, summoning records connected with the peso bank accounts of Corona, partook of a general search warrant - prohibited by the Constitution for violating due process - because it was of a shotgun nature and lacked specificity.
Enrile, who turned all of 88 years on Valentine's Day, stated what he called "the position of this humble presiding officer, subject to opinion of Senate sitting as the impeachment court."
"It is the humble view of the presiding officer", Enrile said, that the Senate as an impeachment court "must at all times observe the rule of law. It cannot transgress any of the applicable provisions of the bill of rights. It must be guided by presumption of innocence before the pronouncement of guilt. It must at all times observe principle of procedural and substantial due process. It cannot use its power to issue compulsory processes to compel any witness to appear and testify and in testifying, is forced to commit a crime.
"It cannot compel a witness to testify against himself. It cannot arbitrarily declare a person guilty of contempt and deprive that person of his or her liberty. It cannot violate the laws passed by Congress, of which it is an integral part."
As far as the subpoena that he issued is concerned, Enrile said, "this presiding officer assumes full responsibility for issuing that subpoena, and is ready to defend his position in any court of law, if there is a need for that."
No other sound was heard as he said in solemnity: "I will not pass the buck to the Senate sitting as an impeachment court, my position as presiding officer, and I am personally bound to assume the consequences of my action as presiding officer."
He stressed, however: "My bounden duty as officer of this court [is] to respect the right of the SC to review acts of the impeachment court in interlocutory matters, i.e., meaning, with a bearing on the manner in which this court conducts trial of this case. My humble view is that the Supreme Court, in spite of having the power of judicial review, cannot assume jurisdiction over the sole power of this Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, to try and decide this impeachment case."
Thus, making it crystal clear that, while he was prepared to argue before the high court the matter of the Foreign Currency Deposits Act where PSBank sought SC guidance, he will not brook any move by the high court to stop the Senate from proceeding with the impeachment trial, because that is its prerogative and duty under the same Constitution.
Juan Ponce Enrile has seen, in 88 full years, the highs and lows, the tragedies and triumphs, countless political seasons, of the country. He not only lived through most of them, but also at every turn played a key role. The remarkable journey made his birthday, at the helm of a historic trial, so much more pregnant with meaning. Having been born in on the day of hearts, it seemed fitting he remained, eight decades after, still very much at home in the heart of history.