After a long discussion, the impeachment court finally got hold of Chief Justice Renato Corona Jr.'s controversial Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SALN).
Supreme Court clerk of court, lawyer Enriqueta Vidal had no option but to turn in Corona's SALN despite her apprehensions she might be sanctioned by the High court.
Vidal, a custodian of the records, initially refused to submit Corona's SALN despite admitting she brought it to the Senate.
She cited SC's May 2, 1989 resolution which states the Clerk of Court could furnish copies of SALNs "to any person upon request, provided there is a legitimate reason for the request" unless the "person making the request and the request for information appears to be a “fishing expedition” intended to harass or get back at the Judge."
"We are covered by the rules of the Supreme Court and also by this honorable court. But may I request that I get the authorization from the court before I submit [SALN]," a calm but apparently nervous Vidal said.
But Senator-juror Franklin Drilon noted that Senate as an impeachment court is allowed by the Constitution to do its duty to resolve the case.
"This court under the Constitution has the sole power to try and solve this case and must not be impeded by any other agency in our in our performance of duty," Drilon said.
This was however opposed by Senator-judge Joker Arroyo, who noted that compelling the witness might spur more problems.
"We will now run the risk of having a showdown between the impeachment court and the Supreme Court. We cannot have another problem of the clash between SC and Congress," said Arroyo.
"In our desire to have a fair trial, [let us] give her a day to ask the Supreme court whether it's alright with her," he added.
But Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Jinggoy Estrada noted that the impeachment court was not requesting but ordering Vidal to hand over the SALN.
Defense panel's Serafin Cuevas warned that the witness may then be subject to disciplinary action.
SC to clerk: Don't worry
Supreme Court spokesman Midas Marquez said Vidal need not worry about handing over Corona's SALN.
"Just for the assurance of the clerk of court, I was told by the Chief Justice to assure her she has nothing to worry about as far as the Chief Justice is concerned," Marquez said in a separate press conference.
Vidal was called to testify on the authenticity of Corona's SALN, which comprises Article II of the Articles of Impeachment.
Vidal has been working in her current post since September 24, 2010 but has been in the judiciary for 36 years.
Prosecution's lead private prosecutor, Mario Bautista earlier asked her to explain how justices file their SALNs.
But when asked further why the SALNs were not disclosed when the law states it should be made available to the public, Vidal said: "It is not within my competence, it is within the competence of the court."
In the course of the examination, Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile, acting as impeachment presiding officer, repeatedly told Bautista to rephrase his questions and treat Vidal not as a hostile witness.
"Frame question in such a manner you are eliciting facts," Enrile told Bautista.
The prosecution panel then called its second witness, Marianito Dimaandal, head of the Malacanang Records Office.
Dimaandal, the custodian of SALNs for the Office of the President, brought with him Corona’s SALNs while he was working in Malacanang from 1992 to 2001.
After the Dimaandal authenticated and Corona's SALNs, the prosecution and the defense teams marked them as evidence.
Lawyer Jose Justiniano, private prosecutor of the House panel, said Corona’s SALNs will show the trend of his gained wealth.
Can Corona still testify?
Meanwhile, despite a decision not to compel Corona to testify, the defense panel said they still have the option to put the chief justice himself on the witness stand.
Lawyer Tranquil Salvador, spokesperson of the defense team, clarified that the court only prohibited the prosecution team from asking the Senate to summon Corona and his family and to testify against the chief justice.
“It is our option if we feel that it is necessary but it also depends on the chief justice and his family if they will voluntarily testify. It’s a matter of strategy,” Salvador said.
He added that even if the prosecution team can cross-examine Corona once he submits himself as a witness for the defense team, the chief justice would still be protected by his constitutional right against self-incrimination. This means that the questions of the prosecution team would be limited and can be objected upon.
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