By Gel Santos Relos
Despite the sub judice rule, both CJ Corona and PNoy use the court of public opinion while the case is being tried in the impeachment court. All these conflicting versions of the truth not only confuse the public, but weaken our faith in the judicial system of the nation.
Renato Corona vowed to face all charges filed against him in the impeachment court to clear his name, but instead of doing this, the Chief Justice had made the rounds of media interviews to give his version of the “truth.”
He said he was just following the advise of his lawyers who advised him not to take the witness stand to defend himself in the impeachment court.
There is, however, a sub judice rule, which mandates that nobody can comment on the merits of the case or make disclosures regarding judicial proceedings on cases already under the jurisdiction of the Court.
This rule seeks to avoid prejudging the issue, influencing the court, or obstructing the administration of justice. Section 3 (d) Rule 71 of the Rules of Court may hold a violator liable for indirect contempt.
In addition, Section XVIII of Senate Resolution 39 (which contains the rules on the impeachment trial), also prohibits prosecutors, senator-judges, the person impeached, their counsel and witnesses from “making any comments and disclosures in public pertaining to the merits of a pending impeachment trial.”
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima pointed out that Corona’s denial of allegations against him and berating his critics (using the media as his venue)clearly violates the sub judice rule. She argued that while the Chief Justice has the right to defend himself, the right venue would be the impeachment court.
"To do those things, things that are normally the territory of politicians, that's too unbecoming of a chief magistrate, De Lima argued.
De Lima testified in court as a witness of the prosecution.
"He's not supposed to be a politician. He is the highest official of the judiciary, which is an oath to be completely non-partisan, and therefore should be devoid of political and partisan elements and personalities," the DOJ chief added.
Supporters of Corona, however, counter-argue that the Chief Justice is just leveling the playing field, because no less than President Benigno Aquino III himself is violating the sub judice rule.
While PNoy may have exercised his freedom of speech in criticizing Corona to his face that the Chief Justice is an impediment to justice and good governance because of ties to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, PNoy’s continuing to do the same even after the impeachment case has been filed and is tried in court, is already a violation of the sub judice rule.
The President should have just let the evidences speak for themselves in the impeachment court, instead of rallying for Corona’s conviction. This action of PNoy is deemed by many (even by some of his supporters) as very un-presidential.
The President should have been more prudent in his statements on the impeachment trial, especially because of allegations that PNoy’s motivation in running after Corona has something to do with the Supreme Court’s decision on the Hacienda Luisita, which is owned by PNoy’s family.
A month before the House of Representatives impeached Corona, the Supreme Court ordered the distribution of the Cojuangco-owned 4,915.75-hectare Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac to over 6,000 farmer workers-beneficiaries of the sugar estate. The Cojuangco-Aquino family has filed for a motion for reconsideration against the decision.
This Hacienda Luisita case makes some kababayans doubt Aquino’s relentless pursuit of Corona’s conviction. They criticize Aquino of allegedly harassing not only Corona, but the Supreme Court in general, toward a decision favorable to his family. Aquino, however, has maintained he has nothing to do with his family's motion for reconsideration.
The President’s reported “meetings” with Senator Judges even added fuel to the fire. PNoy was said to have discussed about the surveys and studies about the public’s opinion about the ongoing impeachment trial.
More recently, President Aquino was also reported to have met with leaders of the House and the Senate on the "necessity" of holding a special session to pass the amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
While Aquino may have very noble intent and legitimate reasons in communicating with the legislature including the Senator-Judges, he has given his critics a political ammunition to frame this issue differently and accuse the President of using these “meetings” to influence the ‘mind set’ the Senator-Judges, who will ultimately decide if Chief Corona should be impeached.
And if the Senate Impeachment Court so decides to acquit the Chief Justice, Aquino detractors allege that the President’s alleged sub judice lashing at Corona preps his loyal supporters to “make a stand” against the decision. Another “People Power” in the name of justice and Daang Matuwid’?
One character in the impeachment trial tried to bridge the divide between the “court of public opinion” and the impeachment court. That is Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, witness of the Defense whom Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago” named as “iconoclast” (because of his hairstyle?). An “iconoclast” is a person who destroys religious images or opposes their veneration, perhaps alluding to his going against PNoy’s wishes?
Despite “warnings” on his possible expulsion from the House of Representative as a result of his testifying for the Defense, Tiangco took the witness stand, to prove he wasn’t lying about the facts he divulged in his privilege speech and media interviews.
Tiangco testified under oath that on December 12, 2011, he attended caucus called by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte. He quoted Speaker Belmonte, whom he said announced that “we are here to impeach CJ Corona dahil siya ang magiging hadlang sa magandang layunin ni PNoy.”
In his testimony, Tiangco said they were not given copies of the Articles of Impeachment before hand for them to study, and that these were just presented to them through power-point presentation during the three-hour caucus.
Tiangco further said that Belmonte’s assertion in the caucus that the issue was “non-debatable and that "no questions will be entertained,” were “a veiled threat.”
Tiangco likewise stated in interviews about fears of some Congressmen that going against PNoy might mean delay of the disbursement of their pork barrel--- funding theu need to help their constituents.
Prosecution argued that Tiangco's testimony had no relation to the articles of impeachment, and doubt his motives for testifying for the defense. Moreover, PNoy supporters say Tiangco has already received his PDAF in 2011 despite his not voting for the impeachment of Corona.
Tiangco's critics said he was just sour graping, have pointed out his disgrace for the Aquino administration, and speculate that he may be using this "going rogue" antic to promote his senatorial bid in the future.
These layers of conflicting allegations, denials, arguments and counter-arguments from the different players in the impeachment saga, both in the Senate Impeachment Court and the court of public opinion, not only confuse the public, but weaken our faith in the judicial system of the nation.
If the leaders of the country (who are supposed to be the role models for people to follow the law of the land) break the rules for their own political and personal gain, what will compel us, ordinary citizens to give up some of our rights and liberties so they may be peace, order and justice in the country?