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(Updated 5:45 p.m.) The lack of preparation among members of the House prosecution team cut short the second day of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment trial at the Senate on Tuesday.
“Since the prosecution is not prepared to present evidence, the Senate motu proprio suspends trial until Wednesday 2 p.m,” presiding officer and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile ruled during the day's proceedings, which lasted for only two hours. (Motu proprio is Latin for "of its own accord")
The trial was deferred after Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, one of the prosecutors, admitted before the impeachment court that their camp did not have witnesses to authenticate “computer-generated” documents on Corona’s supposed ill-gotten assets.
“We are not presenting testimonial evidence. We are only presenting documentary evidence which are public records,” the prosecutor said during the trial.
Enrile told the prosecution team that the Senate impeachment court will only accept pieces of documentary evidence that have been authenticated.
“I warn you that unless the chair is satisfied that these documents have been authenticated by the present custodians of these documents, the ruling of this presiding officer will be adverse,” he said.
Corona was impeached last December and is currently being tried at the Senate for betrayal of public trust, graft and corruption, and culpable violation of the Constitution.
Before the trial was suspended, the prosecution and defense camps debated about the order of presentation of the eight Articles of Impeachment before the Senate.
Barzaga argued that the prosecution panel was “prepared” to tackle Article II, which accuses Corona of nondisclosure of his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). He also insisted that their camp had the prerogative to determine the sequence of presentation.
But retired Justice Serafin Cuevas, lead defense counsel, maintained that the prosecution’s power to determine the sequence of presentation “is merely discretionary and not a matter of right.” The defense said it wanted to tackle Article I, which accused Corona of partiality and subservience in cases involving the Arroyo administration.
“If we subscribe to this, we will allow this impeachment trial to be at the mercy of the prosecution,” he said.
Cuevas also admitted that the defense camp is “not prepared” to tackle Article II of the impeachment complaint.
Senator Joker Arroyo, who served as public prosecutor during the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada in late 2000, then stood up and suggested that the prosecution disclose the order by which they plan to tackle the eight articles of impeachment.
“It will help everyone, and it will allow us [senator-judges] to know what we will study beforehand,” he said. Enrile adopted Arroyo’s suggestion.
Lead public prosecutor Niel Tupas Jr. then said their camp will submit a written manifestation revealing the sequence of presentation of the articles of impeachment.
Earlier, the Senate denied the prosecution’s plea to summon Corona and some of his relatives, as well as the defense camp’s motion to subpoena several members of the House, including Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.
Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, one of the prosecution’s spokespersons, described the lack of preparation within the prosecution team as a “misconception.”
“The prosecution was prepared to present evidence. We even took the liberty of bringing down over 100 documents. We were supposed to present these today,” Angara said at a press briefing after the trial.
He said the prosecutors had brought authenticated copies of documents that were already admissible in court.
Another prosecution spokesperson, Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, explained that the prosecution team had asked the impeachment court to summon the custodians of the documents, but the subpoenas were sent only on Tuesday morning.
“If the subpoenas were just sent this morning, they did not reach the witnesses on time,” Tañada said.
Another prosecution spokesman, Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo, said Tuesday’s proceedings only showed “birth pains” in the early stages of the trial.
“Ang disadvantage namin, as prosecution, kami ang magbe-bear ng brunt ng birth pains,” he said. 'Initial victory'
Meanwhile, lawyer Tranquil Salvador, spokesperson of Corona’s defense team, said the defense considers the early adjournment as an “initial victory.”
“We are happy with the advances that we had today, still we have to see the pieces of evidence (that the prosecution shall present),” Salvador said at a separate press briefing.
He said the Senate’s dismissal of the prosecution's request to subpoena Corona and his family members was another victory for for the defense. Salvador downplayed the prosecution's fumbling as the “realities of a trial.”
“Sa (impeachment) trial na katulad nito, hindi mo rin malalaman kung ano ang mangyayari. Kung pakikikingan ninyo they were very candid enough to tell us na nagprepara sila for Article Two,” Tranquil said.
Karen Jimeno, another spokesperson for the defense team, said that aside from the prosecution’s plea to suspend Tuesday’s trial, the other panel seemed to be ill-prepared with their documentary evidence.
“Ang naging isa pa rin nilang problema ay ang mga supposedly certified titles na dapat ay ipre-presenta nila. Ito ay mga computer generated copies lang. So, baka masayang ang oras ng impeachment court kung ilalabas nila ito (dahil) hindi naman pala authenticated,” Jimeno said. — with Rouchelle Dinglasan/KBK/RSJ/YA/HS, GMA News