Juan Ponce Enrile
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

The prosecution panel in the impeachment trial of Philippine Chief Justice Renato Corona suffered a setback on Day 21 (Feb. 21, 2012, Manila time) of the hearing when Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, presiding judge of the impeachment court, disallowed the presentation of the testimony of an executive of the Philippine Airlines (PAL).

Enrile said that the reason for his ruling barring the prosecutors from presenting the testimony of the witness was that there was no allegation of bribery in Article 3 of the impeachment complaint. He said that Article 3 accuses the Chief Justice of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution, noting that bribery was not alleged.[box type=”default” size=”large”] Enrile disallows presentation of PAL exec’s testimony [/box]On Day 22 (Feb. 22) of the trial, the prosecution panel presented Justice Secretary Leila de Lima as its witness to prove its allegations in Article 7 of the impeachment complaint. De Lima’s testimony was centered on the alleged partiality of the Chief Justice in the issuance by the Supreme Court of a temporary restraining order (TRO) that would have allowed former President Gloria Arroyo to leave for abroad and “escape prosecution in connection with plunder and electoral-sabotage charges filed against her.”

On Enrile’s ruling disallowing the PAL executive from testifying on Article 3 of the impeachment complaint, former Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas, lead defense counsel, had earlier objected to the presentation of the witness on the ground that his testimony would be immaterial and irrelevant. He said that the prosecution cannot prove what it did not allege.

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Enrile, in an angry tone, criticized the prosecution panel for its tendency to expand the scope of Article 3 of the impeachment charges by including matters which were not alleged. He said he has been lenient with the prosecution but “there is a limit to the patience of this court.”

Congressman Niel Tupas Jr., head of the prosecution panel, appealed to Enrile to reconsider his ruling, saying that the prosecution’s purpose in presenting the testimony of the witness is to prove that Corona betrayed public trust when he and his wife had received some benefits and privileges from PAL during the pendency of a case filed against the airline. This is the reason the Supreme Court flipflopped in its decision on a case filed against the airline by the PAL Employees Association, Tupas said.

In a manifestation, the prosecution said that had the impeachment court allowed the PAL executive to testify, he would have enumerated the benefits and privileges given by the airline to Corona and his wife. The benefits, according to the prosecution, included more than a dozen free airline tickets for local and foreign trips.

However, Enrile stood firm on his ruling disallowing the presentation of the testimony of the witness. He suggested to the prosecutors to amend the complaint to include bribery in the list of allegations.

The prosecution said, however, it would no longer amend the complaint. Had the prosecution accepted the suggestion, it would have meant that it has to go back to the House of Representatives and go through the tedious process of having the amendment approved by the lawmakers.

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Surprised by the adverse ruling of the presiding judge, the prosecution panel asked for the continuance of the presentation of its evidence in Article 3 the next day (Feb. 22, 2012).

The prosecution panel started last Feb. 21 the presentation of its evidence in Article 3 after it finished its introduction of evidence in Article 2 which had dragged on for days due to an alleged leakage of a bank document on the foreign-currency deposit accounts of Corona.

It was stressed that such records are confidential in nature, and the leakage of the documents is penalized by law.

The document in question was attached by the prosecution as an annex to its request for the issuance of a subpoena.

Congressman Umali, who was the one who gave the document to the prosecution team, claimed that a small lady handed it over to him while he was in the Senate building. In the course of questioning of PSBank Katipunan Branch Manager Annabelle Tiongson, the name of Congressman Jorge Banal II cropped up as a possible source of the document.

Tiongson said that Banal had visited her in her office, asking her questions about a document which is the same as the leaked document.