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Senate to Noy, CJ: Exercise restraint

MANILA, Philippines - Amid the word war between President Aquino and Chief Justice Renato Corona, senators are calling on the two top officials to spare the public from the spectacle of divisiveness.

Senate majority leader Sen. Vicente Sotto III and senators Gregorio Honasan, Francis Pangilinan, Loren Legarda and Joker Arroyo urged both parties to exercise self-restraint.

Sotto said it was improper for both camps to malign each other publicly, with Corona even asking the President to prove that he is mentally fit to govern the country.

“Not only improper but also unbecoming of their stature,” Sotto said.

Sotto conceded it appears that nobody is daring enough to intervene to stop the two from taking the issue before the bar of public opinion instead of just letting the impeachment trial take its course.

“Who will caution them? Who can advise them against going to the public? What can we do? We have brought our country into this mess? Now, I am just voicing my opinion,” Sotto said.

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“Your question is: is it improper? I say, it is unbecoming. A councilor, a mayor or even a senator can resort to such acts, but as far as the Chief Justice and the President are concerned, it is not pleasing to the public eye. It’s not good,” Sotto said.

Honasan, for his part, said President Aquino could not be faulted for saying his piece on the issue, and Corona for defending himself.

“The President is making statements, I don’t fault him… also the same with the Chief Justice, the defense and prosecution camps... the senator-judges, and even the opinions of a hundred lawyers and constitutional experts... The practical question is: can we hold anybody in contempt? The answer is no,” he said.

But he stressed it would be best for both officials to stop talking about the case outside the impeachment court.

“We are talking about the President who espouses his tuwid na daan (righteous path) and his campaign against graft and corruption, and the Chief Justice who is protecting his name and his honor. Can you blame any one of them?” Honasan, however, said the word war between Aquino and Corona could be taken as sign of a “vibrant” democracy. He said that while Aquino has advisers, “he speaks his own mind.”

Malacañang said President Aquino was just asserting the need for reforms in the judiciary in his tirades against the Chief Justice.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte also said Aquino is not engaging in a proxy war with his predecessor, former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

“Why would it be a proxy war? Why has the nation come to this point? Because it’s about the system of justice; it’s about reforming – it’s about correcting systemic errors which is hard if you have someone at the top who apparently does not subscribe to that idea of judicial reform. That is all there is to it,” Valte said.

Aquino had said that the executive branch’s fight with the Supreme Court began when it issued a temporary restraining order on the travel ban against Arroyo, which would have allowed her to escape from the various charges filed against her.

Based on some analyses, Corona’s acquittal could lead to Arroyo’s release from jail on charges of electoral sabotage because she could get a favorable ruling from the SC on her petitions.

Corona’s acquittal could also weaken Aquino politically when he was just on his second year in office.

Valte also stressed the President was not lawyering or aiding the House prosecution team whose performance in the trial has been widely criticized.

She defended Aquino’s right to speak about the issue before the public as the trial had been filled with legal jargon and technicalities.

Asked if the President should stop making public statements about Corona’s case to stop the word war, Valte said Aquino only felt that the public was “being excluded because of the legal technicalities, the obstructions that have been coming out” and he felt he had to simplify the issue before the public.

“The President felt the need to simplify the issues which, again, is very simple: If you look at it, you (Corona) declared these (assets), more is coming out by the day, why is that so?” Valte remarked.

Valte said Aquino wanted the public to continue to be vigilant and monitor the developments in the impeachment trial.

She said almost everyone had been talking about the merits of the case and this could not be helped because the trial was being done publicly.

“What you have to also understand about the President is that he is very frank. He will not hesitate to simplify issues when he feels that one side is already doing legal cartwheels just to convolute or to confuse the evidence that is supposed to be coming out,” Valte said.

Repercussions

Asked if he thought the President was going too far in his tirade against the Chief Justice, Sotto said “it is not proper for us to comment on that.”

“We remain impartial, but I have heard the views of some airing the same observation,” Sotto added.

As majority leader, Sotto said he would not rule out the possibility that some of his colleagues might bring to the impeachment body the issue of the raging media war between the two.

Sotto said he was worried about how the international community would view the issue.

Pangilinan also expressed belief that self-restraint is key to ending the word war between President Aquino and Corona.

“It would be best for the process to have both the executive and the judiciary to exercise self-restraint,” he said.

Pangilinan said he believes the Senate does not have to remind the two of the repercussions of their actions.

For her part, Legarda called on both camps to just let the Constitutional process take its course. “I hope both camps will desist from doing so (fighting in public) because it does not send a good signal to the youth and our people and to the investors that top officials are squabbling publicly,” Legarda said.

Legarda urged both camps to “let the impeachment court be the venue of these allegations.”

Honasan and Sotto said that while the impeachment trial is a long and tedious process, the public should make sure that it is concluded properly, either with an acquittal or conviction.

They also called for sobriety and patience. The two senators said the people have become more circumspect in dealing with issues like the impeachment trial in view of lessons drawn from two people power revolutions.

“This (hearing) would go on further, we haven’t even heard the defense,” Sotto said.

Senate power

But despite the clashing opinions on issues raised in the impeachment trial, one thing is indisputable: The Senate has the sole power to try impeachment cases, according to Honasan.

“Nothing, nobody can stop this trial… we will do this every day… until we have reached a verdict,” Honasan said.

“This is not a competition between the Supreme Court (SC) and the Senate. This is not a test of political will between the SC and the executive… This has gone beyond the legislative and the executive, it is about the Constitution and how we should respect it,” Honasan added.

Sotto said that while he is not happy with President Aquino’s attacking Corona publicly, he remains optimistic that majority of the 23 senator-judges will remain impartial since the body has yet to hear all testimonies of witnesses.

Sotto estimated that about 10 senators are not allowing themselves to be affected by developments outside the impeachment court.

While some senators’ questioning during the trial may give a hint of how they will vote, Sotto expressed belief his colleagues will never be swayed by political pressures.

Enrile noted that the Corona impeachment case would be decided upon by 23 senator-judges with independent views on the case.

Sen. Arroyo, meanwhile, expressed disappointment over Aquino’s continuous attacks on Corona.

He said the verbal tussle between the officials was sparked by Aquino’s challenging Corona to open his dollar accounts before the impeachment court, instead of seeking relief from the SC.

Arroyo said Malacañang should adopt a hands-off policy and stay neutral in the impeachment process to allow the Senate to carry out its mandate. – With Aurea Calica

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