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Subic Bay Freeport Zone – Five days after the Senate Impeachment Court booted out of office the chief magistrate of the land for culpable violation of the constitution, prosecution spokesperson, Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tanada III, said the impeachment exercise offers many lessons, if only to fine-tune the process for future impeachment proceedings.
In an exclusive interview, Tanada, often serious and occasionally humorous, cited some fumbles and blunders, and suggested a list of a few do’s and don’ts for both the prosecution and the defense-- as well as for the senator judges--that he said he learned from the just concluded impeachment process.
The whole impeachment process, which lasted five months, is too long, he stressed. “There should be a way [to] cut the process shorter to allow both the House and the Senate to do their main task at legislation,” Tanada, also the House Deputy Speaker, said.
“For example, if you have already secured an official document from a government agency (that you intend to use as evidence), there should be no need for further authentication. The need for further authentication only prolongs the process unnecessarily,” he explained.
Second lesson, according to Tanada, was that, the Senate, in terms of proper procedure, should not have adjourned the Tuesday hearing immediately after the senator-judges had cast their votes, “because, for one, the service of summons had not been returned,” the Quezon Representative explained.
“Secondly, the Senate has not specified the penalties yet. Yes, Corona was convicted, but what is the penalty?” he asked.
It was really a learning process for many as it was only the first impeachment process that went all the way to conviction,” he said.
Tanada in January this year had asked the people for more understanding as the prosecution panel fumbled on the second day of the trial that began January 16 and ended on Day 44, May 29. He explained that even though many members of the 11-man prosecution panel, including him, are lawyers, they are prevented from appearing in court and practicing law while they are in office. “If we stay in office for three years up to nine years, that’s a long time that we are barred from practicing law,” he said.
Another reason: apart from Samar Rep. Raul Daza, who participated in the 2001 Senate trial of then President Joseph Estrada, the rest of the prosecutors are first time participants in an impeachment trial.
On proper procedures, he suggested that the Senate Impeachment Court should come up with one majority decision which must be concurred in by the Senate majority.
“If you will recall,” Tanada pointed out,” the senator judges who voted for Corona’s conviction failed to dwell on the issue of Corona’s properties and stressed only on the former chief justice’s bank accounts.”
He said the Senate Impeachment Court would not have missed this important issue had they been given enough time to convene and draft a majority decision. “The Impeachment Court’s final decision, like the Supreme Court’s ruling, should also bear separate opposing opinions,” he stressed.
He revealed that after Corona’s conviction, the defense lawyers, in some discussions where he was privy to, even toyed with the idea of filing a petition for certiorari because the Senate’s ruling failed to state clearly the penalty.
He suggested that the Senate Impeachment Court make an assessment of the whole experience if only to fine-tune the process in the future.
‘Palusot’ pitch was perfect
For the prosecution, he thinks the approach that Ilocos Norte Rep. Rudy Farinas used in delivering his closing statement, punctuated with the Tagalog term ‘palusot’ [or excuses] was perfect. Many of those who were finally convinced of the correctness of convicting Chief Justice Corona, including some senators who voted for conviction, admitted to being Farinas converts.
“It was wise for Farinas to craft his statement taking into account that his audience is the Filipino people and not the senators alone,” Tanada said.
“Kaya nga medyo mali yung closing arguments ni Junjun (Iloilo 5th District Rep. Neil Tupas, Jr.) kasi masyadong legal,” the Liberal Party head from Quezon province said.
Among the many blunders that Corona and his defense team committed, Tanada said that Corona’s explanation of how he was able to save so much dollars in his bank account showed his utter lack of history.
“When he said he started saving dollars in late 60’s, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile immediately knew he was lying. That was why he asked Corona again, and Corona just repeated his answer.”
Had Corona reviewed his lessons in History, he should have known that it was the late President Diosdado Macapagal, the 5th President of the Republic of the Philippines and the father of former President Gloria Macapagal, who devalued the peso in 1961, according to Tanada.
“I know that because it was the elder Macapagal who first agreed to the impositions of the International Monetary Fund,” he said.
Lessons in math
Turning humorous, Tanada said the impeachment of Corona also offered lessons in Mathematics. “Now I know that 44, referring to the number of days that the trial went until Corona’s final conviction, is the product of four multiplied by four (4x4) referring to the minimum number (two thirds) of votes by the Senator Judges needed to convict the former chief justice, and not the sum of four and four (4+4), which is the number of votes needed by Corona for his acquittal.
Among the “Don’ts,” the country’s first experience in impeachment in 2001, Tanada said, gave them one very important lesson. There is this one activity that the prosecutors have vigorously avoided doing -- dancing.
Tanada was obviously referring to the then Senator Tessie Aquino Oreta, who was later labeled as the “dancing queen” for the jig she made during the 2001 impeachment trial of then President Estrada, when she and her colleagues voted not to have a controversial "second envelope" opened.