THE impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona reached a turning point this week after Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile clarified at last that the impeachment trial is not a criminal proceeding.
Enrile made the clarification in an apparent response to the propensity of Corona’s lawyers to use legal technicalities as a means to prevent the prosecution’s presentation of testimonial and documentary evidence – in this instance the testimony of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima about the alleged irregularities in the issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order by the Corona-led tribunal lifting the travel ban on Malacañang’s former occupant Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“We must remember that we are not trying a criminal case. We are trying an impeachment case …and, therefore, the hearsay rule contained in our rules of evidence does not apply strictly in impeachment cases,” Enrile said after Corona’s counsel, Serafin Cuevas, moved to strike out as hearsay last Thursday’s testimony of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
“We’re going to decide this case on the basis of the quantum of evidence that we think is best to be used in determining whether he is guilty or not guilty, not beyond reasonable doubt because this is not a criminal case. It is akin to a criminal case, but not really a criminal case,” Enrile explained.
Corona’s lawyers centered their defense in making the whole proceeding akin to a criminal trial hence their penchant for legal technicalities while the prosecution’s strategy is based on simplifying the entire proceeding and the issues involved which is the reason why they are bumbling in their presentation of the case. The contrasting strategies of the defense and prosecution are the reasons why the impeachment trial is snail paced.
After Enrile’s clarification it is clear that the Impeachment Court will decide Corona’s case based on the minimum amount of evidence presented and not on the “guilt beyond reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal trials. The people can now expect a hastening of the trial pace.
An impeachment trial is a process where the people through the Senator-Judges of the Impeachment Court, determines whether an impeachable official like Corona is fit to remain in office. Although it is a quasi-judicial proceeding it has a sui generis (a class of its own) nature thereby freeing the senators from the straight jacket that is the Rules of Court and the Rules on Evidence in determining Corona’s fitness to remain in office.