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MANILA, Philippines - The House of Representatives' prosecution panel is hailing as a "major victory" the declaration of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile that the impeachment trial against Chief Justice Renato Corona is not a criminal proceeding and does not require proof beyond reasonable doubt to warrant a conviction.
House prosecutors also lauded Enrile for clarifying the rules on hearsay, saying the Senate impeachment court will not strictly apply these in the proceedings.
"We really look at this as a major victory," said panel spokesman Marikina City Rep. Romero Federico "Miro" Quimbo, adding that the Senate President's declarations are a vindication of the position taken by the prosecution from Day 1 of the impeachment trial. "We saw some light (on Thursday) with something we have always been arguing from the very beginning on the very nature of how or what the impeachment proceedings should be."
House deputy chief prosecutor Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas said the prosecution seems to have recovered from its setback last Tuesday, when the Senate president and presiding judge disallowed the presentation of evidence pertaining to the special privileges received by Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona and his wife, Cristina, from the Philippine Airlines (PAL).
He said this could be an indication that the impeachment court will be more liberal in accepting evidence against the chief magistrate.
"The Senate president said that proof beyond reasonable doubt is not the quantum of evidence here. It is very clear that this impeachment proceeding is not in the nature of a criminal case," said Farinas. Enrile on Thursday reiterated his earlier opinion that "clear and convincing evidence" should be enough for a vote to convict Corona.
"Maybe the Senate president realized that the People of the Philippines, represented by the House of Representatives, also have the right to due process... Our evidence must also be heard and we hope this will lead to the court allowing us to present our case properly," he said.
Meanwhile, House Deputy Speaker and Quezon Rep. Lorenzo "Erin" Tanada, one of the spokesmen for the prosecution, decried the seeming refusal of the Supreme Court to obey the subpoena of the Senate impeachment court for court records.
Tanada, who is the sponsor for the House's version of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, said "it is contrary to transparency and accountability principles of the Constitution."
"The refusal of the Supreme Court to present its records gives us a déjà vu feeling of the dark times of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo presidency when she prevented executive officials from testifying in Senate and House inquiries using the controversial Executive Order 464. Of course, if allowed to testify, they will be asked to bring documents," he said.
"It appears that CJ Rento Corona is making the Supreme Court his own dimly-lit fortress. Like his SALN (statement of assets, liabilities and net worth), CJ Corona cannot keep everything in secret, and like the impeachment, the FOI, when passed into law, will open the court's secret to public scrutiny," he added.