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Feb 22

Under Pressure

“Sometime’s you’ve got to back up, to go forward.” One senses mounting fear on the part of the Defense with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima scheduled to testify today.

Of the Thirty-Six Stratagems, the first of the Stratagems for Gaining Ground is Replace The Beams With Rotten Timbers.

I don’t know if the Defense could have done this but the Senate President sure did. The Prosecution, expecting a liberal, lenient Senate tried to lay the basis for Article III and Senator Enrile, speaking in behalf of the court, made a U-turn and said the Senate’s patience was wearing thin. It was a sudden abandonment of the liberality of the court for Article II which was the norm rather than the exception in the previous weeks.

A tactical victory for the defense, but a political defeat: and, along the way, a ruling that may have cost the Senate President a bit more political capital than was worth it, considering the larger effort on his part to secure his place in history and that of the Senate, institutionally.

The defense excluded testimony as immaterial and irrelevant as part of its larger strategy of excluding inconvenient facts rather than confront them, as their client had once-upon-at-time pledged to do. Tactically necessary, politically, though, this would only result in a Pyrrhic Victory.

Lawyers briskly debated the Senate President’s ruling. Perhaps the strongest criticism came from bLawgger Article VIII Jester, see his entry Wrong as hell:

Contrary to the erroneous ruling of the Presiding Officer, the testimony of the witness from Philippine Airlines (PAL) should have been allowed considering that Article III of the Impeachment Complaint sufficiently alleges that Chief Justice Renato Corona committed culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust, which are impeachable offenses.

The Presiding Officer erroneously disallowed the presentation of Mr. Enrique Javier, PAL Vice-President for Sales, to testify in relation with Article III of the Impeachment Complaint. As in the case of Article II, the Presiding Officer solely focused his attention on the caption of Article III and totally disregarded the specific allegations in the body thereof which states.

ARTICLE III

RESPONDENT COMMITTED CULPABLE VIOLATIONS OF THE CONSTITUTION AND BETRAYED THE PUBLIC TRUST BY FAILING TO MEET AND OBSERVE THE STRINGENT STANDARDS UNDER ART. VIII, SECTION 7 (3) OF THE CONSTITUTION THAT PROVIDES THAT “[A] MEMBER OF THE JUDICIARY MUST BE A PERSON OF PROVEN COMPETENCE, INTEGRITY, PROBITY, AND INDEPENDENCE” IN ALLOWING THE SUPREME COURT TO ACT ON MERE LETTERS FILED BY A COUNSEL WHICH CAUSED THE ISSUANCE OF FLIP-FLOPPING DECISIONS IN FINAL AND EXECUTORY CASES; IN CREATING AN EXCESSIVE ENTANGLEMENT WITH MRS. ARROYO THROUGH HER APPOINTMENT OF HIS WIFE TO OFFICE; AND IN DISCUSSING WITH LITIGANTS REGARDING CASES PENDING BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT.[Emphasis supplied]

Existing rules and prevailing jurisprudence on the issue of the nature of allegations and/or causes of action point to the sufficiency of the allegations within Article III and the discussion/allegations therein. The Presiding Officer should take note that while the sufficiency of a complaint is controlled by the allegations as a whole, the body of the complaint takes precedence over the title or heading of the complaint. Thus, it is the body of the pleading or complaint itself that determines the nature of the action.

A cause of action is the act or omission by which a party violates the right of another, entitling the injured party to relief. Its existence is determined from the allegations in the complaint. [Section 1, Rule 2 of the Rules of Court; Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority (MCIAA) vs. Heirs of Marcelina L. Sero, 551 SCRA 633 (2008)]

Further, the cause of action in a complaint is not determined by the designation, caption or heading given to it by the parties as repeatedly cited by the Defense. The allegations in the body of the complaint define or describe the cause of action. The designation, caption or heading is not controlling more than the allegations in the complaint. Such heading, caption or heading is not even an indispensable part of the complaint. [Hernudd vs. Lofgren, 534 SCRA 205 (2007), citing Sumulong vs. Court of Appeals, 232 SCRA 372 (1994)]

Moreover, the allegations in a pleading should determine the nature of the action, because even without the prayer for a specific remedy, the courts may nevertheless grant the proper relief as may be warranted by the facts alleged in the complaint and the evidence introduced. [Evangelista vs. Santiago, 457 SCRA 744 (2005), citing Chacon Enterprises vs. Court of Appeals, 124 SCRA 784 (1983)]

Thus, the allegations in a complaint are sufficient to constitute a cause of action against the defendants if, admitting the facts alleged, the court can render a valid judgment upon the same in accordance with the prayer therein. [Dulay vs. Court of Appeals, 243 SCRA 220 (1995)]

Simply put, the Impeachment Complaint clearly alleges that Corona does not possess the integrity, probity and independence required of members of the Judiciary as shown by his impeachable act of allowing, among others, the reopening of the final and executory Decision dated July 22, 2008 in Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (FASAP) vs. Philippine Airlines, Inc., et al., G.R. No. 178083 (FASAP Case).

Thus, even without going into the specific allegations contained in the body of Article III of the Impeachment Complaint as quoted above, even just going by the above-quoted caption alone, it is clear that the Prosecution should have been allowed to present evidence explaining the consideration, inducement, motive and/or reasons for Corona’s actions relating to the recall of a final and executory judgment and reopening the FASAP Case anew.

The evidence sought to be elicited from said witness indubitably goes into the issue of whether Corona possesses the requisite integrity, probity and independence as a magistrate, regardless of whether the act tends to prove the criminal act of bribery, which is immaterial for the purposes of the impeachment trial involving only Corona’s fitness to hold public office.

This was precisely the reason for presenting the PAL witness – to prove that Corona received special privileges, including free plane tickets from PAL, to explain Corona’s favorable treatment of the ex parte letter of Atty. Estelito Medoza to reopen the final and executory ruling in the FASAP Case against PAL without even giving FASAP an opportunity to be heard on the issue. It also explains why, on the other hand, FASAP own letters were simply given short shrift simply because, unlike PAL, they could not give Corona such privileges. Clearly, this is relevant to the issue squarely tendered in the Impeachment Complaint of whether Corona possesses the required integrity, independence and probity to remain in the Judiciary!

This, among others, amount to violations of not only of the Constitution and statutory law but also of his oath of office as a member of the Judiciary, which clearly justify the charge of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.

According to the Records of the 1986 Constitutional Commission (Volume II, page 314), “culpable violation of the Constitution” was understood to mean “willful and intentional violation of the Constitution and not violation committed unintentionally or involuntarily or in good faith or thru an honest mistake of judgment” and it “implies deliberate intent, perhaps even a certain degree of perversity for it is not easy to imagine that individuals in the category of theses officials would go so far as to defy knowingly what the Constitution commands.”

Returning to where we began, you may want to read the views put forward by lawyers on the recent ruling and the role of the Prosecution in impeachment: an interesting exchange of views.

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