By Jelly F. Musico
MANILA, Philippines (16 Jan. 2012) – The much-awaited impeachment trial of embattled Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Renato Corona formally started on Monday afternoon with 21 senator-judges appearing in colored maroon robes.
Senator Edgardo Angara rendered the opening prayer before Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, sitting as presiding officer, delivered his opening statement to kick off the impeachment trial at 2 p.m.
”As jurors, it is our obligation and responsibility to closely and diligently examine the evidence and the facts to be presented before us, to determine whether such evidence and facts sufficiently and convincingly support the charges, and ultimately, to decide the fate of no less than the Chief Justice of the Highest Court of the land, and the head of a co-equal branch of our government,” Enrile said.
Although not required to be present at the hearing, Chief Justice Corona, along with his wife and children, showed up in the Senate and was welcomed by the Senate president.
Aside from Enrile and Angara, other present senator-judges include: Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III, Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon ‘Bong’ Revilla Jr., Lito Lapid, Gregorio Honasan II, Teofisto Guingona III, Aquilino Pimentel III, Joker Arroyo, Antonio Trillanes IV, Manuel Villar, Pia Cayetano, Alan Peter Cayetano, Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Francis Escudero, Sergio Osmena III, Panfilo Lacson, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Ralph Recto.
Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago and Loren Legarda failed to show up in the opening of the impeachment trial, with Santiago asking to be excused due to hypertension and Legarda still on official trip outside the country.
The opening statement of the presiding officer was followed by the entry of appearance of the prosecution team led by Rep. Niel Tupas and the defense panel spearheaded by former Supreme Court Associate Justice Serafin Cuevas.
Other members of the 11-man House prosecution panel include: Reps. Giorgidi Aggabao, Arlene Bag-ao, Elpidio Barzaga Jr., Neri Colmenares, Raul Daza, Rodolfo Farinas, Reynaldo Umali, Marlyn Primicias-Agabas and Sherwin Tugna.
Here is the complete opening statement of the Senate President:
”Ladies and gentlemen of the Senate and our beloved countrymen.
“Today, we begin to perform a solemn task that the sovereign people, through the Constitution they ordained, have reposed upon us, the Senators of the Republic. We convene as a body of jurors to try and render judgment on the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court under the Articles of Impeachment filed with the Senate by 188 members of the House of Representatives.
”The task at hand is a constitutional mandate and duty which we have no discretion to postpone or evade. As jurors, it is our obligation and responsibility to closely and diligently examine the evidence and the facts to be presented before us, to determine whether such evidence and facts sufficiently and convincingly support the charges, and ultimately, to decide the fate of no less than the Chief Justice of the Highest Court of the land, and the head of a co-equal branch of our government.
”The Constitution recognizes a distinct class of public officers, elected or appointed, that include the President, the Vice-President, the members of the Supreme Court, the members of Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman, who, unlike the rest of the public officials in various positions in government, may only be removed from office through the process of impeachment. These men and women in the highest and most sensitive echelons of government may only be removed upon conviction for culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes and betrayal of public trust – no more, no less.
”Hence, by its very nature, the work we are about to do is unique. It is a rendition of justice outside our traditional judicial system and it carries with it a grave and serious responsibility. It deviates from our ordinary or normal functions and duties as legislators. The House of Representatives impeaches on the basis of its determination of the sufficiency of the charges both in form and in substance, and of the existence of probable cause, while the Senate bears the sole responsibility to try and decide whether to convict or to acquit the respondent in an impeachment case, that is, whether or not the respondent official deserves to be removed from the office he or she occupies, based on the grounds dictated in the Constitution.
”While it has often been said that, by and large, the trial in an impeachment case is political in nature, nonetheless, such is neither an excuse nor a license for us to ignore and abandon our solemn and higher obligation and responsibility as a body of jurors to see to it that the Bill of Rights are observed and that justice is served, and to conduct the trial with impartiality and fairness, to hear the case with a clear and open mind, to weigh carefully in the scale the evidence against the respondent, and to render to him a just verdict based on no other consideration than our Constitution and laws, the facts presented to us, and our individual moral conviction.
“I would like to remind the opposing sides, my colleagues, as well as the public and the media, that this trial will be governed by the Rules we have adopted. I therefore urge everyone to fully cooperate in the orderly conduct of these proceedings in accordance with the Rules, to demonstrate civility and to observe the decorum that is required for us to carry out our respective duties with dispatch, with honor and with dignity.
”As I preside over this impeachment trial, allow me to assure one and all that I am committed and determined to see this process all the way to its completion. Let us finish the job, for our Oath demands no less from us.
”Although the ostensible respondent in the trial before us is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, we cannot escape the reality that, in a larger sense, the conduct of this trial and its outcome will necessarily have a serious impact on the entire nation. Its success or failure to achieve the purpose for which the Constitution has provided this mechanism as part of our system of checks and balances and of public accountability, may spell the success or failure of our democratic institutions, the strengthening or weakening of our sense of justice as a people, our stability or disintegration as a nation, and the triumph or demise of the rule of law in our land.
”The people’s faith in the Senate of the Republic, the image and the very fabric of our nation and our democratic system are at stake. Let us all take heed of the seriousness of this challenge and invoke the divine guidance of the Almighty God to enlighten our minds and guide our conscience in discharging faithfully our sacred duty.
”May God provide us with sufficient physical strength, intellectual keenness, and moral courage to render justice in the case before us on the basis of the law, our honest perception and understanding of the facts, and in accordance with the dictates of our individual conscience.” (PNA)