Top Philippine judge ordered back to witness stand

The Philippines' top judge was Wednesday told to rise from his sick bed and take the witness stand at his impeachment trial, a day after walking out of the court and suffering an apparent heart attack.

Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile ordered Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona to appear in court by Friday, so the tribunal can rule by early next week whether to kick him out of office.

Corona bizarrely left the witness stand and checked himself into hospital on Tuesday after a three-hour testimony in which he denounced the landmark corruption proceedings as a personal vendetta by President Benigno Aquino.

His spokesman Midas Marquez later said during radio interviews that he had suffered a possible heart attack after the court hearing, during which Corona rejected a charge that he failed to declare $12 million in bank accounts.

Despite an ultimatum from Enrile that his testimony would be thrown out unless he showed up Wednesday, the chief justice failed to return to the stand.

"The court will give you until Friday," Enrile later ruled. "After that we will consider the case submitted on the record."

Enrile then ordered prosecutors and Corona's defence team to submit their final arguments to the court on Monday, to allow the 23-member senate to vote on three impeachment charges.

Corona's removal from office was sought by President Aquino, who won a landslide election victory in 2010 on a platform to end the pervasive corruption that he blamed for mass poverty.

Prosecutors allege that in addition to failing to declare $12 million, Corona blocked government efforts to prosecute former president Gloria Arroyo, whose term of almost 10 years was marked with corruption scandals.

Arroyo herself is being tried separately for vote rigging.

Corona's lawyer Serafin Cuevas told the court Wednesday that the 63-year-old, who suffers from diabetes, was "not in a condition mentally or physically to testify".

He submitted a medical certificate from Corona's doctor which, he said, suggested that the chief justice had suffered from an apparent heart attack shortly after taking the witness stand.

Aquino's allies in the House of Representatives impeached Corona in December, the first such move ever against a chief justice of the Supreme Court.

The trial, beamed live on television to a nationwide audience, has caused deep political divisions in one of Southeast Asia's most free-wheeling democracies.

In his testimony Tuesday, Corona accused Aquino of a personal vendetta after a landmark Supreme Court verdict last year that ordered the president's clan to break up a sprawling sugar plantation and hand plots over to farmers.

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