Santiago: Aquino attempt to influence Corona trial not a crime

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

SENATOR Miriam Defensor Santiago on Tuesday said President Benigno Aquino III did not commit a crime if he simply tried to influence the outcome of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

"If President Aquino merely confined himself to attempts to influence the outcome of the impeachment trial last year of Chief Justice Renato Corona, he did not commit a crime under the law," the senator said.

Santiago said that it was fine for Aquino to influence the outcome of the trial since he is the nominal head of his political party, the Liberal Party. "He has the right to assure his political survival."

"But if he bribed the senator-judges to convict the accused, then he is guilty of bribery as prohibited by law and as a ground of his own impeachment under the Constitution," said Santiago. "Influencing the outcome of the impeachment and bribing senators-judges are two different things."

Senator Ramon Revilla Jr. said in a privilege speech Monday that the Chief Executive, along with Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II personally asked for his commitment to convict Corona.

The senator said that in case there is truth in the allegation against the President, under the law.

"It is not a crime for the President to try to influence the outcome, because an impeachment trial is both legal and political in nature," she said.

What is illegal, said Santiago, is if the President will influence the courts, because of the principle of independence of the judiciary. Santiago is a former trial court judge.

In his privilege speech, Revilla claimed that Aquino had him fetched from his house and brought to Malacañang, where the Chief Executive allegedly tried to convince him to withstand pressures from civil society to acquit Corona.

"Hence, I shall deal with two issues: judicial review of impeachment trial; and the constitutionality of the DAP, particularly when it is apparently used as a bribe," Santiago said.

On the issue of whether judicial review of the impeachment trial is now called for, Santiago expressed belief that the "Supreme Court can give due course to a petition for review on certiorari, on the ground of extrinsic fraud, which was committed outside the narratives of the trial."

Citing an example, Santiago used the American authors' conflict on whether the Supreme Court has the power to review a judgment of impeachment and conviction by the Congress.

"Prof. Charles Black, Jr. of Yale University writes that judicial review is not acceptable. But Prof. Raoul Berger of Harvard University writes that judicial review can be undertaken by the Supreme Court. He argues that judicial review of impeachment is required to protect the two other branches of government from the arbitrary will of Congress."

Revilla, one of three senators accused in the multibillion peso pork barrel scam bared that Aquino himself, aided by two of his most trusted and ranking men in the Cabinet asked Revilla to convict Corona, saying, "Pare, parang awa mo na, Ibalato mo na sa akin ito. Kailangan siya ma-impeach."

Revilla was one of the senator-judges in the Corona trial.

Initially showing in a PowerPoint slide presentation a photo of a vehicle's plate number "6" kept in a sunvisor, Revilla said it's owner was no less than Roxas, then Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), who then acted as his "chauffeur" on their way to meet up with the President for a private meeting in Aquino's official residence, Bahay Pangarap.

Revilla said he himself took a picture, using his mobile phone's camera, on the said plate number while in transit with Roxas, whom he had given the tag "Boy-Pickup."

Santiago also warned that not only President Aquino will be in hot water but the senators as well, if there are concrete evidence on the bribery issue.

Santiago said the DAP, which is known as the additional pork barrel for lawmakers, was given shortly after the impeachment trial.

"If evidence shows that Malacañang paid these amounts to the senator-judges as consideration for a guilty verdict, then the crime of bribery has been committed, both by the President and by the senators," she said.

"Naturally, Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Senator Ramon Revilla, Jr., in their respective privilege speeches, denied that the DAP funds they received were bribes, because the law punishes both the giver and the taker," Santiago said.

It will be recalled that in a privilege speech Estrada also exposed that each senator who had voted to convict Corona was given P50 million each. Estrada referred to it as an "incentive."

It reportedly consisted of P50 million for each senator-judge and P100 million each for then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, and senators Franklin Drilon and Francis Escudero.

Santiago questioned the real motive behind the incentive, which was given after the conviction of Corona.

"Why were the three senators who voted to acquit not given P50 million or P100 million each? Thus, it appears on the record that if the senator voted to convict, he got at least P50 million. But if the senator voted to acquit, he does not get anything. At the very least, this procedure is discriminatory and constitutes a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. It also gives rise to the natural presumption that bribery was intended and consummated," Santiago said.

Santiago also asked the Supreme Court to give priority to petitions concerning the constitutionality of the DAP, to help settle the burning issue of bribery of an impeachment court.

"Senator Joker Arroyo, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and I were the only three out of 24 senators who voted to acquit. If the Supreme Court rules that DAP is unconstitutional, then the usual consequence is that the senator-judges will be obliged to restitute and return to the government the sum of P50 million each; and the sum of P100 million each from Sens. Enrile, Drilon, and Escudero. Furthermore, President Aquino will become liable for impeachment, on the constitutional ground of bribery," she said.

Santiago also said that this move of the three senators, which include Revilla, Estrada and Enrile, who are now facing a plunder case before the Office of the Ombudsman, are using the media to pressure the Ombudsman to favor them.

"I find it unusual, but not illegal, that the three senators widely reported to be most involved in the pork barrel scam – Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, Senator Jinggoy Estrada, and Senator Ramon Revilla Jr. – are airing their defense in the media, in addition to the counteraffidavits they have filed with the Ombudsman," she said.

"The rule against public comment applies only when the case is pending before the court. But this unconventional method of using media to raise a defense in a criminal case raises the issue of whether the persons in interest, meaning the accused, do not have full faith in their counteraffidavits, and seek to use public opinion to pressure the Ombudsman to resolve the cases in their favor," Santiago added.

Senator Enrile, when asked to comment, said he cannot speak for anybody considering that he is not aware of the alleged meeting between the President and Revilla.

"As President, when he invites you, you have to respond and see him. But we do not know what they have discussed. So I cannot make any judgment." Enrile said.

Meanwhile, Revilla said Tuesday that he is ready to face both Aquino and Roxas for the people to know who is telling the truth.

"Handa po akong humarap sa kanila anumang oras. Tamaan na ng kidlat kung sino sa amin ang nagsisinungaling," Revilla said.

Revilla believed that the President had committed an impeachable offense when he meddled in the Corona impeachment trial.

"I do believe it's impeachable. Hindi dapat makikiaalam ang Pangulo especially kaming mga senator-judges," he said.

He laughed off the claim of Roxas that it was the senator who asked for the meeting.

"Why will I do that. Siguro common sense na lang dahil lahat naman ng bagay ay nag comply kami as far are the requirement of the cityhood of Bacoor. at lahat po iyon ay aprubado at pumasa. Walang katotohanan na kailangan pa naman ang tulong ng Pangulo sa puntong yan," he said.

Senator Lito Lapid also admitted Tuesday that Roxas invited him and also offered himself as a chauffeur but this is has nothing to do with Corona's impeachment trial.

Lapid, a personal friend of Roxas and a member of the Wednesday Club in the Senate, said that in several occasions during the time of Roxas in the Senate, the Secretary offered himself to drive the car so he can always attend the Wednesday Club.

But Lapid did not hide the fact that he was one of the recipients of the DAP fund, which were given to senators after the impeachment trial.

Lapid said the DAP was given in the form of government projects and he noted that all these projects have been officially declared and are open to public scrutiny. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)

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