The Corona impeachment trial is entering its third week. In that time, both the prosecution and the defense have shown their mettle. To be fair to the prosecution, they were dogged in their determination to maintain a steady pace of uncovering and presenting their evidence and witnesses. To be sure, they got whipped in the trial procedures and legal points.
The defense capitalized on this. At every turn, particularly through former Justice Serafin Cuevas, it never failed to do a lecture on proper court procedures, rules of court, and rules of evidence. The prosecution generally fail to see through the trap, arguing futilely for “liberal” interpretation of these rules and procedures. The Senate, on its part, has vacillated between allowing the testimonies and accepting the evidences and a strict application of these rules, according to the defense.
The dilemma of both the prosecution and the senator-judges is this: Where to you draw the line between judicial framework and the impeachment framework, particularly when the latter is a sui generis case (a case in its own category)?
The defense is sure of its strategy, and that is, to use every rule in the judicial book in order to prevent the acceptance of testimonies and evidences. To do so, it continually invokes the rules, criteria, and standards of a criminal case, which requires proof beyond reasonable doubt.
The prosecution, on the other hand, seems to rely on making sure that its facts are aired in public and in open court and not necessarily to be accepted by the court. This is, of course, in consonance with the basic assertion that an impeachment court is only for the determination of the fitness of the accused for the public office which he or she occupies.
In this case, Chief Justice Renato Corona has a triple handicap.
First, the impeachment process by reason of its being a sui generis type, may not necessarily use the judicial rules, including the rules of evidence and even jurisprudence on this matter. The tendency, in fact, is to relax the rules in order to get at the facts of the case.
Second, the sensitive nature of the position held by the Chief Justice (and other SC justices)–akin to a referee in a sports game–requires much higher standards than the other impeachable officials. Here, the oft-said standards is of “Caesar’s wife”–meaning, cannot even be suspected of indiscreet behavior, hint of partiality, or loss of integrity.
Third, CJ Corona is deeply unpopular with the public, with survey ratings showing him consistently in the negative since his very controversial appointment as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In fact, he is the only one among the chief justices who has this rating since the survey on this matter started. In this regard, the IBP board and court employee support do not count as much.
In a political setting of a Senate trial by senator-judges–many of whom are non-lawyers–the defense faces an uphill battle. Getting at the facts would necessarily trump court brilliance.
The one thing that can trump the facts is the political vote by a critical number of senator judges. Political vote in this case refer to various political scenarios dependent on the larger political considerations such as the 2013 and 2016 elections, popularity of President Aquino, economic crisis, and governance problems.
For the defense and CJ Corona, obviously delaying the proceedings open the possibility of this political vote–in their favor. Otherwise, when the time comes, the facts will become decisive in the Senate vote–possibly with a favorable political climate in favor of the vote.