By Raïssa Robles
As Defense lawyer Serafin Cuevas mightily tried to have the Senate toss out the impeachment case yesterday against Chief Justice Renato Corona, Senator-judge Joker Arroyo told him in no uncertain terms that the Senate could not do it.
Calling him “Justice Cuevas, my friend,” Arroyo gently said it wasn’t possible.
Before I go any further, I would like to explain to the reader that for this article, I am trying a different tack. I am writing this while watching the resumption of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment trial on ABS-CBN’s livestream.
Senator-judges argue with Cuevas
Since the hearing started over 1.5 hours ago, Cuevas has been pulling out all the stops to have the entire impeachment case thrown out because this violated his client’s constitutional right to due process.
Cuevas has been arguing with one senator-judge after another, beginning with the Presiding Officer Juan Ponce Enrile. Next came Senator-Judges Allan Peter Cayetano, Francis Escudero and Miriam Defensor-Santiago. They all patiently explained to Cuevas their opinions as Cuevas continued to argue with all of them, one after the other.
Then Senator-Judge Arroyo stood up. But instead of siding with the defense as he was wont to do while the prosecution was presenting its own evidence, Arroyo this time asked Cuevas a direct question – whether he was trying to toss out a particular Article of the Impeachment Complaint or ALL the Articles.
Cuevas frankly told Senator-Judge Arroyo:
To us it will appear there is no valid complaint because the complaint is not in accordance to what the Constitution requires – the right of the accused to due process.
Senator-Judge Joker Arroyo then told Cuevas –
After seven weeks and 27 days we are now going to decide it on practically the arguments you stated.
Then Senator-Judge Arroyo raised his own participation as a member of the prosecution panel in the 2000-2001 impeachment trial of then President Joseph Estrada. He said:
But I was in the prosecution case of President Estrada (when) the same issue arose. The defense and all (argued the same)…. Our argument (then) is that a House impeaches. This Senate hears and decides.
What the House transmits to the Senate – faults and all, everything – will have to be accepted by the Senate because the Senate cannot direct the House how to make an impeachment complaint.
Because the Constitution says the House impeaches, the Senate decides.
I’m thinking about the ultimate end of this goal. You are asking us to in effect pass judgment on what the House did. The defense is asking the Senate to decide and say the House is wrong. The House did this and did that. Can we do it as the Senate?
Just like the Estrada trial, defects and all, it was accepted that was the argument.
In fact, let me ask just a little while.
Prosecution, do you have any objection to what the congressmen will be presented here? This is what Sen. Escudero who spoke before me wanted to ask and asked me to ask.
We have an objection. The House has the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment.
Senator-Judge Joker Arroyo turned again to Cuevas and told him in a gentle voice –
Justice Cuevas, my friend. That is the only question we have. You are asking the Senate in effect to nullify what the House did.
Cuevas then argued, saying –
We did that your honor, we have predicated our action on the decision of the Supreme Court. We can raise the violation of the House to due process.
But Senator-judge Joker Arroyo told him –
Yes, but the Davide case never reached the Senate. [Arroyo was referring to the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Hilario Davide which was quashed in the House.]
Cuevas told Senator-Judge Joker Arroyo he was referring to the Francisco case. [This was a petition filed by lawyer Ernesto Francisco asking the Supreme Court to declare the impeachment complaint against Davide unconstitutional.]
But Arroyo reminded Cuevas that “it (the Davide impeachment complaint) never reached the Senate but died in the House.
But in Corona’s case, Arroyo said, “the Senate has already acquired jurisdiction.” Arroyo then told Cuevas that the defense lawyers had all of Christmas break to try to quash the Corona impeachment before the Senate began the trial in January.
But Cuevas said:
There was no time to react. It was a blitzkrieg action.
Following Senator-Judge Joker Arroyo’s questioning, fellow Senator-Judge Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III also stood up and asked:
So you are pursuing that issue before the Supreme Court and you are pursuing it before this court?
“That is correct,” Cuevas said.
Then Senator-Judge Pimentel said –
Although it’s a basic doctrine, it’s the Supreme Court that interprets the Constitution, the House and Senate are not prevented from interpreting the Constitution. Hence in my humble opinion, the Senate CAN interpret the Constitution. Just as the Supreme Court can interpret. Just as the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution, the Senate can also interpret the Constitution.
After Pimentel spoke, Senator-Judge Francis Pangilinan again asked Cuevas which portion of the impeachment complaint would be affected by their motion to dismiss.
It will cover the entirety of this impeachment complaint.
Under the Constitution, the sole power to try and decide all impeachment cases belong to this court. Only this court has the jurisdiction. The Supreme Court has no jurisdiction to try and decide all impeachment cases. Once the articles of the impeachment reaches this House, the command of the Constitution is the trial shall forthwith proceed.
Due process is not only the function of the House of Representatives. Due process is also the function of this house.
The facts of this case are that the Articles of Impeachment were referred to the Senate by the House, 188 members of the House filed the Articles of Impeachment to this house. The main complainants in that impeachment case are Representatives Niel Tupas, Joseph Emilio Abaya, Lorenzo R Tanada IIII, Reynaldo V. Umali, Arlene J. Baggao.
When this Senate, sitting as an Impeachment Court, received the Articles of Impeachment, it issued the proper process to notify…to the existence of these Articles of Impeachment against him (Corona) and requested and ordered the respondent to answer within 10 days. Which respondent Chief Justice did.
And a reply was equally filed by the prosecution with respect to the answer filed by the respondent Chief Justice, at least this Court has followed the principle of due process in a case like this.
And so, having made the ruling, the Court has assumed jurisdiction.
Knowing it has jurisdiction, proceed with the trial. As much as we want to accommodate the desire of the defense, this Court regrets to deny the desire of the defense. So you proceed with your evidence.
What just happened to the Senator-judges?
The senators have actually made a ruling that will have an impact on ALL future impeachment trials.
First, this means that in future impeachment complaints, the person being impeached can no longer question the manner by which the House of Representatives approves an impeachment complaint. The moment the magic number – of one-third signatories – is reached, the complaint is deemed verified and can automatically be transmitted to the Senate.
And second, the trial itself by the Senate is part of due process being accorded to the impeached personality. The respondent in an impeachment trial can no longer cry “lack of due process” even if Congress impeaches in lightning fashion, as what Cuevas complained today.
It’s a historic ruling and one that should serve notice to all impeachable state officials to be accountable for their actions.
As for the testimony of Congressman Toby Tiangco that followed Enrile’s ruling, it served as the day’s comic relief. It was the first time a congressman disclosed the intense wheeling and dealing that goes on in Congress whenever an important matter is taken up. He even giggled.