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Expectations that the Corona impeachment trial would pick up speed when it resumes from a six-week break were dampened Monday after the impeachment court shot down the defense’s bid to present witnesses on matters deemed “irrelevant” and “immaterial” to the charges against the chief justice.
After the court dismissed former three-term Manila mayor Lito Atienza who had faced further questioning on his March 23 testimony, the defense called in two more witnesses, one from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Fort Bonifacio Development Corp.
Then it sought to bring in two witnesses whose potential testimonies were deemed by the court to be irrelevant to the case, and thus not called to the stand.
This prompted the defense to admit finally that it had run out of witnesses for the day, triggering an early adjournment.
The early end to Monday’s session was unexpected, since Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, presiding officer of the impeachment court, said on Sunday that it was best for the country to have the trial over by May 31 so that lawmakers can attend to badly-needed legislation.
To meet that deadline, Enrile said he would pitch having hearings from 2-10 p.m., four days weekly, if needed, which would give the court and all parties a maximum of 128 hours or 16 trial days to conclude it. Point is simply ‘money passed’ Enrile sounded irritated by both defense and prosecution lawyers when trial resumed Monday.
When the lawyers kept bringing in more witnesses from other agencies to testify on other facets of the P34.7-million sale to the Manila city government of the Sampaloc property owned by the family of Corona’s wife Cristina—even after both parties had exhaustively questioned Mayor Atienza who confirmed the deal—Enrile banged the gavel.
He said, “money passed: that’s all that had to be established here,” because, he said, the point was simply to affirm or negate Corona’s claim that there was money in the Basa-Guidote coffers, arising from the sale, from which he drew a “cash advance” that in turn was used to buy other properties.
Any questions, Enrile said, about the propriety of the transaction, alleged flaws in the documentation of the deal or questions by auditors, or even innuendoes of overpricing—which caused Atienza to bristle and tell off the prosecution lawyer—were irrelevant or immaterial to the impeachment articles. Enrile’s sentiments were shared by Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who made her manifestation minutes after the hearing began.
"Is it relevant to the impeachment proceedings that the sale to the City of Manila of land owned by Basa-Guidote Enterprises, Inc. represented by Cristina Corona was disallowed in audit?" Santiago said, citing a 2002 Commission on Audit (COA) notice that suspended Manila’s P35 million payment to the BGEI.
However, Santiago said "it appeared" that the City of Manila took no action of the notice.
The Notice of Suspension was based on alleged failure to submit certain documents.
In March 2012, COA issued a notice of disallowance on the purchase.
But Santiago said that the Chief Justice "did not conceal the vital fact of the sale."
'Angara must inhibit'
In a related development, the defense also asked Senator-Judge Edgardo Angara to inhibit himself on Monday, citing conflict of interest as one of the grounds.
Defense spokesperson Rico Quicho declined to give more details regarding the motion since it was already being discussed at the impeachment court.
However, Quicho confirmed that the motion seeking Angara’s inhibition was filed on Monday, the 35th day of the impeachment trial.
"We raised the possibility of a situation of conflict of interest," Quicho told reporters.
Angara's son, Rep. Sonny Angara, is a spokesperson for the prosecution team.
Asked why the motion was filed only now, Quicho said: "Ngayon lang naging malinaw ang mga facts."
But the elder Angara isn’t about to give up.
On Monday, he categorically said he will not inhibit himself, citing his constitutional duty as a senator-judge in the impeachment trial.
“Besides, I have nothing to do with the appointment of my son (Quezon Rep. Sonny Angara) as spokesperson of the House prosecution panel,” Angara said after the trial adjourned.
The argument laid down by the defense panel to the impeachment court for his inhibition has no basis and flanked the constitutional requirements of the members of the Upper House. He also clarified that the trial has “caused a barrier for the family bonding...for the last five months.”
“We have not talked nor consulted each other on the impeachment trial,” Angara said. Lira Dalangin-Fernandez, Abigail Kwok, Lourdes Fernandez, InterAksyon.com