Premature Disclosures Smack of Trial by Publicity

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MANILA, Philippines - Senators led by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile Thursday dared congressmen-prosecutors to withdraw their impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Renato C. Corona because their disclosure of supposed evidence against Corona smacks of trial by publicity. Enrile said the so-called pieces of evidence, particularly a P14.5-million condominium unit at The Fort in Taguig City the Coronas supposedly own, should be presented during the impeachment trial, not publicly discussed before the trial starts on January 16. Enrile advised Iloilo Rep. Neil Tupas, the one who led his colleagues in filing the eight-article impeachment case against Corona, to study his law. Tupas, the chairman of the House of Representatives justice committee, got Enrile's ire when he said the "gag order" on prosecutors and others named in the Senate impeachment rule does not apply to him because he has not yet entered his appearance as one of the House prosecutors. During a press conference recently, Tupas showed to media representatives a copy of the deed of sale of a condominium unit supposedly owned by the Coronas. Other senators were equally critical of the prosecutors. Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson warned members of the House prosecution team that the Senate can sanction them if they insist in making public the pieces of evidence they have against Corona. As a collegial body, the Senate as an impeachment court could decide what to do with them if they violate the Senate impeachment rules, Lacson said. He added that the Senate has already assumed jurisdiction over the eight-article impeachment complaint when Corona and the House prosecutors submitted their answers. "If they persist in making comments or making public the evidence (against Corona) that they are supposedly holding, I myself will put into a vote a contempt citation," he said. Rule 18 of the Senate Rules of Procedure on Impeachment Trials, Lacson said, clearly prohibits senator-judges, as well as prosecutors, the person impeached, their counsels and witnesses "from making any comments and disclosures in public pertaining to the merits of a pending impeachment trial.'' "They should be able to dissociate or distinguish themselves as representatives elected by the people and as prosecutors in an impeachment trial. They mixed it. They said they there is a need for them to tell their constituents the evidence they are holding (against Corona). What they forgot is that they have duties and responsibilities as prosecutors and they are bound by the rules of impeachment," he said. Sen. Gregorio B. Honasan II said if the prosecutors insist on revealing in public evidence against the Chief Justice, the Senate should give them a slap on the wrist. Honasan said the Senate will meet to decide what sanction to impose. Senate President Pro Tempore Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada said the prosecutors were "atat na atat na" (too eager). Both Honasan and Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson noted that the Senate Rules of Procedure on Impeachment unambiguously prohibit senator-judges, as well as prosecutors, the person impeached, their counsels and witnesses "from making any comments and disclosures in pubic pertaining to the merits of a pending impeachment trial." Honasan said public presentation of evidence against an accused "might sway public opinion." But Tupas argued the Rules of Senate Impeachment Procedures only apply if the direct merits of the case were being discussed. …