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MANILA, Philippines -- Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile served notice Sunday he will do everything possible, including extending trial hours until 10 p.m. “or midnight,” to conclude the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona by end-May.
Enrile, presiding officer of the Senate sitting as impeachment court at the trial that resumes Monday after a six-week recess, said a speedy, fair trial will be in the interest of everyone -- all parties and the public that needs the senators’ full attention to legislative work.
To speed things up, Enrile said in a radio interview he will talk to both defense and prosecution panels, and the senator-judges, to persuade them to be open to holding the four-day-weekly trial from 2 pm to 10 pm, “or even midnight,” if that becomes necessary. The court had been holding hearings that usually lasted until 6 or 7 p.m. since the historic trial began January 16.
Congress adjourns June 6, and Enrile says the Senate has roughly 16 trial days in May for the defense to conclude its presentation of witnesses; and the prosecution to make a rebuttal presentation if it wants to, which is its prerogative.
“If at my age of 88, I can still sit through trial sessions until midnight, I’m sure the much younger parties can do so as well,” Enrile told dzBB, speaking mostly in Filipino.
No more advice to CJ Corona
Meanwhile, Enrile declined to repeat his earlier advice -- expressed as an open wish in interviews -- for Chief Justice Corona to testify in his own behalf in order to be his own best witness.
The prosecution panel spokesmen said Friday Corona’s taking the stand will speed up the trial, as it will answer many questions raised against him.
But Enrile said Sunday he would rather have Corona and his battery of lawyers make that decision to testify. “He is a topnotch lawyer, otherwise he won’t be chief justice. He can best make that decision [to testify].”
He also said he will not press the defense panel for a list of its upcoming witnesses, but expects them “to be ready to present these witnesses” in a timely manner so as not to lose time. He recalled being informed the defense has 10 more witnesses, and “I don’t see any reason” why they need more than the 16 trial days in May to put all these witnesses on the stand.
For Monday, the court is calling anew former Manila three-term mayor Lito Atienza, who was the last witness to testify before the court went on break. Atienza was called to explain the circumstances behind the sale of the property in Sampaloc, Manila, sold to the city government by the family of Chief Justice Corona’s wife, Cristina.
The defense had claimed Corona obtained money to buy properties from a loan he obtained from his wife’s family corporation.
De Lima may not have a choice
As for the prosecution’s bid to stop the move to put on the stand Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Enrile said the defense is “entitled to the compulsory process” in asking the court to subpoena her.
The risk is for the defense, he adds, because whatever de Lima says “will be binding on the defense, as she is a defense witness; unless they qualify her as a hostile witness.”