By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
May we ever know if Supreme Court Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno can — or will — testify at the Senate impeachment trial to bolster the prosecution charge that Chief Justice Renato Corona had betrayed public trust by acting with partiality in favor of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?
If she testifies, we may learn more than just the truth about Corona’s alleged partiality (impartiality being required of any member of the judiciary).
We may also find out if the cloak of secrecy imposed by the SC on its internal processes — in the name of judicial privilege — can be lifted to serve the higher goal of pursuing truth, public accountability and, yes, justice. (On Feb. 14 the SC issued a resolution preventing the justices and its employees from testifying in the impeachment court.)
Last Tuesday the prosecution, through Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares, formally invited Sereno to testify on March 1. This was upon the advice of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who had denied the prosecution’s request to subpoena or compel Sereno to testify, in order to avoid a “direct collision course” between the impeachment court and the SC.
On his part, SC spokesperson and court administrator Midas Marquez indicated that it was up to Sereno to decide whether to testify or not. “If and when she attends, she will have her reasons. So we will leave it to her,” he said.
For good measure, Enrile stated that, should Sereno testify, the Senate would treat her “with deference” because she is a member of a co-equal branch of government. He added:
“It is better if she testifies, because the contents of her dissenting opinion are considered hearsay as far as the witness who took an oath to testify [is concerned].”
Enrile was referring to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima who, testifying last week, quoted mostly from Sereno’s dissenting opinion on the TRO issued by the SC last November 15 against her watchlist order preventing Mrs. Arroyo from leaving the country. Enrile allowed the testimony to remain in the trial records, but he ruled that the citations from Sereno constituted hearsay. However, he clarified that in an impeachment trial the hearsay principle does not strictly apply.
(If Sereno testifies and reaffirms her dissenting opinion, it will stand as direct testimony, negating the hearsay tag on the portions cited by de Lima.)
But before Sereno could reply to Colmenares’ invitation, lead prosecutor Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. manifested last Tuesday, and repeated on Wednesday, that the prosecution was resting its case. Initially, as agreed upon by the prosecution panel, Tupas made a reservation to present additional evidence on Corona’s dollar deposits as well as Sereno’s testimony.
But upon questioning by Enrile, he dropped the reservation on Sereno’s testimony without an explanation.
Tupas’ “unilateral” action raised a howl of protest and questions from impeachment trial supporters, including the progressive party-list members of the House of Representatives and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan). In a press statement, Reps. Teddy Casino, Emmie de Jesus and Antonio Tinio declared:
“When we filed the impeachment complaint, it was clear that Corona was being made to account for his partiality and subservience to Arroyo. And now that aspect of the case is being weakened by the lead prosecutor himself.
“May we remind our colleagues in the prosecution that this case got broad support from our people because Corona acted as GMA’s lackey? If that is not strongly established through the testimonies of Sereno and others, then the public might lose interest in pursuing the case.”
From the group’s viewpoint, removing Corona as chief justice on the ground of partiality for Arroyo, who had appointed him under controversy, would boost the efforts to prosecute GMA and her cohorts for crimes against the people. If Tupas was acting upon “orders from his higher-ups,” they pointed out, this put under question the Aquino administration’s sincerity in prosecuting Arroyo.
Tupas’ move also apparently surprised Sereno. On Wednesday afternoon she replied to Colmenares. She thanked him for inviting her to testify on March 1, but added plainly:
“I understand, however, that the termination of the presentation of evidence by the Prosecution Panel yesterday and reiterated today before the impeachment court has superseded your invitation.”
Was Sereno willing to testify against Corona hadn’t Tupas’ move “superseded” the invitation? We may know the answer only if the prosecution panel decides to rebuff Tupas, restores its reservation to present her testimony, and reiterates the invitation to her.
If such steps are taken and Justice Sereno testifies, we may be able to find out whether she will summon the necessary moral courage, legal resourcefulness, and judicial erudition to do two things:
1. Satisfy the requirements of the impeachment court for first-hand information regarding Corona’s alleged acts of partiality towards Arroyo, “distortion” of the collegial decision and “judicial misconduct” in relation to the issuance of the Nov. 15 TRO; and
2. Either avoid or justify breaching the SC-imposed “cloak of confidentiality” in relation to its Feb. 14 resolution, in order to serve (as earlier stated) the higher purpose of pursuing the truth, public accountability and justice.
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March 03, 2012