Remaining Silent May Not Help Chief Justice Corona

CHICAGO (jGLi) – Many people are wondering why Philippine Chief Justice Renato Corona is keeping everybody guessing if he is going to testify or not before the Senate trying him for alleged impeachable offenses.

Number 7 of Section 3 of Philippine Constitution’s Article XI for Accountability of Public Officers provides, “Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than removal from office and disqualification to hold any office under the Republic of the Philippines, but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to prosecution, trial, and punishment, according to law.”

If you read the first part of the complex sentence, it gives Mr. Corona the main reason why he should heed the call of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte to come down and testify.

But if you go on reading the concluding clause, it gives Mr. Corona a pause. “What if I am convicted? What is my way out?”

So, as the tired cliché says, at the end of the day, Mr. Corona would be reluctant to testify if he feels that he would be convicted by the two-third votes (14) of the 23-member Senate.

It is very clear that Mr. Corona is about to reach a fork in the road. If he feels that the evidence against him is weak, then he could testify. So, he can further weaken the evidence, enhancing his acquittal if he gets nine votes.

Although the Senate impeachment is not a criminal trial, invoking his right to remain silent for fear of future criminal prosecution against double jeopardy, in case the Senate convicts him, remaining silent may not help his cause. The Senate could approve a motion, charging him with violation of anti-graft practices before the Sandiganbayan (trial court) and whatever he says in his testimony before the Senate could still be used by the Ombudsman during its subsequent criminal investigation against Mr. Corona.

But if he feels the evidence is overwhelming against him, then if he exercises his right to remain silent, it will not make any difference. I am not sure if he could still resign at this stage of the trial and prevent the Senate from coming up with its verdict. This is a gray area and the Philippine Senate could be breaking ground for whatever its ruling would be.

Like former Philippine Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, President Richard Nixon resigned before the full House of Representatives would impeach him while Speaker-elect Robert L. Livingston [R-La.] resigned on the day of his impeachment when his own extramarital affair was exposed.
On the other hand, President Bill Clinton volunteered with a videotaped deposition to a Grand Jury investigation (in the case of the Philippines, probably the House Committee on Justice or a House-created Independent Investigative ad hoc committee) for perjury and obstruction of justice. The U.S. Senate found Clinton’s videotaped testimony sufficient, as if Clinton testified in person before the Senate, before acquitting Clinton of the impeachment charges.

THIS CHIEF JUSTICE INVOKED HIS RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT

Let’s take a look at the first judge to be impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives and convicted by the Senate. New Hampshire State Chief Justice John Pickering invoked his right to remain silent during his trial.

Justice Pickering first served as a member of the New Hampshire state legislature before being elected as New Hampshire delegation to the Constitutional Convention. When he declined to serve as a delegate, he returned to private practice.

Pickering was appointed to the New Hampshire Superior Court and he eventually became its Chief Justice.

Because of his illness, there was an unsuccessful attempt to remove him as Chief Justice. He was later appointed to a low workload as judge of the Federal District Court of New Hampshire.

When he was no longer attending court, court staff wrote the First Circuit Court of Appeals to send a replacement because Pickering had gone insane.

Pickering returned and took over from his replacement. But Pickering adjourned the Court’s business and disappeared again the next day.

Pickering, however, could not be removed because he did not commit “high crimes nor misdemeanors” as required by the Constitution.

President Thomas Jefferson later sent evidence to the U.S. House of Representatives, who voted to impeach Pickering on charges of drunkenness and unlawful rulings. The U.S. Senate tried and convicted him of all charges, removing him from the bench.

In another case, where a son testified in the impeachment of his father, U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous of Louisiana, Timothy Porteous said in the case of the bachelor party, including a lap dance in Las Vegas, Nevada that was hosted for him by two lawyer friends of his father, the two lawyers were longtime friends of his family, and were part of his life since he was a little boy.

“No disrespect for my father,” Timothy Porteous said, “it was done out of love for me.”

Porteous was also accused of lying to Congress during his judicial confirmation and filing for bankruptcy under a false name.

After months of hearings, the Senate closed the chamber for more than two hours to deliberate on his fate in December 2010. The Senate made its decision the following day in a solemn ceremonial vote in which senators sat at their desks and rose when called, saying “guilty” or “not guilty.”

Judge Porteous was later convicted on four articles of impeachment, making him the eighth federal judge in history to be removed by the Senate, which  also approved a motion barring him from holding future federal office.

House prosecutors said gambling and drinking problems led Judge Porteous to accept cash and other favors from attorneys and bail bondsmen with business before his court. (lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net)

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