MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile warned yesterday former chief justice Renato Corona against contesting his ouster, saying the impeachment court is prepared to defend its ruling even if it means defying the Supreme Court (SC).
“I will say this very frankly and I hope they understand. If they will question the jurisdiction of the impeachment court and reverse our decision, we will defy them,” Enrile said in a TV interview.
Enrile shrugged off warnings of a possible constitutional crisis if the Supreme Court decides to intervene.
“If they want a constitutional crisis in this country, they will have one,” said Enrile, who acted as presiding officer of the Senate impeachment court.
The impeachment court on Tuesday voted 20-3 to remove Corona from office for betrayal of public trust by failing to disclose all his assets, particularly his millions of peso and dollar accounts, in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs).
Lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas and another defense lawyer, Ramon Esguerra, said contesting the Senate verdict before the SC is an option.
“We’ve been asked to study and study very well the option of going to the Supreme Court. We need to review everything on record,” Esguerra said yesterday.
Enrile recalled that he had made it clear to one of the defense lawyers, Jose Roy III, that he was ready to square off with Corona and his team after the former chief magistrate walked out after delivering his first testimony on May 22.
“Of course we have to temper the rigors of the law with a certain degree of compassion and understanding, but there must be a firm hand to enforce the law in a society in order to maintain the balance between competing forces,” he said.
Enrile reiterated that the Senate as an impeachment court is given special jurisdiction over impeachment cases.
“Who will enforce their order? I’m sure the members of the Court will understand this. We are given a special jurisdiction. The people removed this case from the ordinary courts covered by the judicial system by Article 8 of the Constitution,” he said.
“We belong to Article 11 and we are outside the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in terms of the trial and judgment in an impeachment case. They cannot review our decision. Otherwise, they will be the one to make the final decision in violation of the Constitution, which says that the Senate has the sole power to decide and try all impeachment cases,” Enrile said.
He stressed the impeachment court has given Corona a fair trial, contrary to allegations by some members of the defense team.
“What is important is that you give the respondent all the opportunity to be heard, to present his evidence to a use-compulsory process available to the court, to compel the correction of documents that he did not forge his defense, as well as the appearance of witnesses to use as witnesses for himself. And we did that. There’s no question about it,” he said.
Enrile said he started to have doubts on the credibility of Corona when the defense panel presented court officials who revealed some information regarding the Corona family dispute over Basa Guidote Enterprises Inc. (BGEI).
Enrile referred to revelations by a Quezon City court sheriff that Cristina Corona, as trustee of BGEI, did not object to the sale of 90 percent share of deceased Jose Basa to her daughter Carla for P28,000. Mrs. Corona also knew by then that the BGEI was worth at least P35 million.
“That to me is unjust enrichment. If there is any unjust enrichment done, then that would be it because P28,000 for 90 percent control of the corporation with an asset of P35 million,” Enrile said.
“The transaction between the mother and the daughter, I think any court in this world will rather raise its eyebrows in a case like that,” he said.
Enrile also pointed out that the move of the defense to call Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales as hostile witness had also compromised Corona’s position.
“The Ombudsman presented a report based on documents so detailed, myriad of details. No mind, even Einstein’s, can invent the details covered by those transactions,” he said.
“A legal mind or a financial mind could concoct or invent the contents of those documents and the numbers and the transactions that happened over a period of eight years,” Enrile said.