Prosec's evidence not for impeachable offense?

Three weeks into the trial, some of the senator-judges lamented that the prosecution has yet to prove that Chief Justice Renato Corona committed an impeachable offense.

The prosecution has been presenting since Day 1 evidence for Article II of the impeachment complaint which pertains to Corona’s failure to disclose and truthfully disclose his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth.

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, prosecutor in charge for Article II, stressed on Thursday that the chief justice failed to disclose the acquisition costs of the properties declared in the SALNs as required by the Civil Service Commission.

Senator Ralph Recto asked the prosecution the penalty for inaccuracies in the SALN.

“According to a Supreme Court decision, the filer would be liable for perjury because he was under oath that the information is true,” Barzaga said.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, presiding officer of the impeachment court, quizzed the prosecution if perjury is a high crime.

“No, your honor,” Barzaga replied.

“Then it is not a ground for impeachment,” Enrile pointed out.

Corona 'betrayed public trust'

The presiding officer added that the 1987 Philippine Constitution states that the grounds for impeachment include culpable violation of the Constitution, bribery, graft and corruption, and other high crimes.

“We might be wasting our time discussing crimes that are not impeachable. Educate us on gravity of crimes that can be considered impeachable,” Senator Francis Escudero said.

Senator Joker Arroyo likewise said, “Not every crime committed by the respondent is an impeachable offense. Prosecution should present evidence for a crime amounting to an impeachable offense unless it would be unfair for the Senate.”

“Please give us something to hang on to,” Arroyo told the prosecution.

Chief prosecutor Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas, however, justified that though their charge is not a high crime, it falls under betrayal of public trust which is also considered an impeachable offense by the Constitution.

Tupas further explained that public trust is betrayed when a high official lied under oath which Corona allegedly did when he did not properly disclose his SALNs.

Enrile answered, “The impeachment court will decide what public trust is. From there we can resolve how it is betrayed.”

A call to be fair, ethical

The prosecution was also reprimanded by the senator-judges for releasing evidence to the media.

“What is revolting to us is prosecution publicizes evidence not yet offered to the court,” said Retired Associate Justice Serafin Cuevas, lead defense counsel.

Tupas denied the accusations but Senator Jinggoy Estrada said he has seen footages that show the prosecution team displaying documents on the alleged 45 properties of Corona.

“I'm not defending CJ Corona. Ang gusto ko lang maging patas tayo dito,” Estrada said.

Senator Gregorio Honasan also noted that the trial outside seems to be proceeding faster than the trial inside the court.

“I appeal to both sides to practice ethical standards as lawyers of this country,” Enrile reminded.

“Pakiusap lang, maging fair tayo. Igalang ang karapatan ng nasasakdal,” the presiding officer further appealed.