I volunteered my legal services to the prosecution team but I was spurned. Or my offer has not reached its recipient. Either way, this would not prevent me from kibitzing in this historic trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona for betraying a public trust, among others.
I watched the trial on TV and video copied the entire proceedings so I can watch them later at will and on my own sweet time. I twist and turn watching defense lawyer, Justice S. Cuevas who happened to be my professor in Civil Procedure (Rule 1-71) and Special Proceedings (Rule 72-109) every time he would pummel the prosecution with his unrelenting prowess and exemplary trial skill, not at all in awed admiration but in subdued contempt.
I asked myself, what does an old man with long years of immersion in procedure as a professor of remedial law, CFI judge, court of appeals judge and later on as associate justice of the Supreme Court have to gain in pitting his rich repertoire of trial skills against these greenhorns who have not seen the inside of a courtroom?
Absolutely nothing except perhaps to serve his own vanity or to be a zealous advocate of a client whom he perceived to be innocent of any wrongdoing!
And if there is one who did have seen the inside of a courthouse, Senator Miriam Santiago who was raring to spoil a fight, would lost no time in cutting him to sizes that his practice was limited to “maritime law” and therefore his exposure was administrative contest and way below the level of an adversarial courtroom trials in molds of TV series “Law and Order” and the Perry Mason exploits.
But both S. Cuevas and the lady Senator seem to gloat with the mistaken idea that superior knowledge in trial procedure is equivalent to having the truth on their side. Here could lie their rudest awakening!
If ever there seem to be a one-sided legal battle on the floor between the Prosecution and the Defense, it was purely rhetorics and what looks like a spectacular mismatch was somewhat traceable in no small measure to the inability of the prosecution team to cite even simple provisions of the law where even law students seem to have a stock knowledge of.
Lead prosecutor Neil Tupas, Jr., was practically begging Senator Enrile to be flexible in applying the rules. But queried as to how flexible, he was mute when all he has to say is “flexible enough to bring out the truth before the Senate and before the people.” It was a missed opportunity to score a big counter-point and it was on TV and the defense looked like weaklings.
Congressman Tupas, Jr., was not even required to cite the jurisprudence in support of his request for “flexibility”. All he has to do is to inform Senator Enrile that the Rules of Court over which S. Cuevas have developed a nasty habit of running through his fingertips to bully the prosecution is clear in Sec. 6, Rule 1:
“These Rules shall be liberally construed in order to promote their objective of securing a just, speedy and inexpensive disposition of every action and proceeding.”
And the prosecution can limit their looking inept and disorganized by taking a cue from whatever was happening on the floor. I remembered Enrile telling everyone that the Rules of Court is only to be applied in suppletory character (meaning in the absence of any applicable rule governing the issue in the Rules of Congress and the Senate, the rules of court may be applied).
He was citing Sec. 4, Rule 1 which says that these rules shall not apply to election cases, land registration, cadastral, naturalization and insolvency proceedings, and other cases not herein provided for, except by analogy or in a suppletory character and whenever practicable and convenient.
This opening was not taken advantage of by the Prosecution. It was a large stockpile of ammunition that it can use to mount a serious counter-attack every time S. Cuevas would lecture on the prosecution team that the members had failed to observe the spirit and the mandate of the rules of court.
What rules of court the defense is talking about when those rules are supplanted by the Rules of the Senate, and if there is none, there being suppletory in character should not derogate the very invocation of the rules itself that liberal construction is favored because these rules are means to achieve justice not to frustrate it?
Now after delivering those counter-punches, the prosecution can cite a rich flavorful jurisprudence in support of its position. The members of the prosecution should only be able to think on their feet and deliver a counter-punch with the ferocity and reflex of a real pugilist. They should have included Manny Pacquiao in their team if only to lend an aura that the team would not fold up that easily despite those hard beatings.
Professor Sunderland said that the object of the rule of liberal construction “is to eliminate technical matters by removing the basis for technical objections” (Delgado v. Santiago, L-8935 May 18, 1956) Indeed, the machinery of justice should not be clogged by empty and useless technicalities. These should not be allowed to hamper speedy justice, when the substantial rights of the parties are duly guaranteed and protected (People v. Perez, 83 Phil). In other words, technicality, even when it deserts its proper office as an aid to justice and becomes its great hindrance and chief enemy, deserves scant consideration from the courts.” (Alonso v. Villamor, (16 Phil. 325), Garcia v. Garcia CA G.R. No. 12172-R, Oct. 29, 1955).
“Liberal construction of the Rules of Court means that procedural technicalities, which do not square with the ends of justice, should be avoided since “litigation is not a game of technicalities,” and lawsuits, unlike duels, are not to be won by a rapier’s thrust. A litigation or lawsuit is rather a contest in which each contending party fully and fairly lays before the court the facts in issue and then, brushing aside as wholly trivial and indecisive all imperfections of form and technicalities of procedure, asks that justice be done upon the merits. Lapses in the literal observance of a rule of procedure will be overlooked when they do not involve public policy, when they have not prejudiced the adverse party and have not deprived the court of authority. (Judicial Attitude Towards Technicalities of Procedure, 63 SCRA 157-58).
“Remedial laws, as well as pleadings, should be construed liberally, in order that the litigants may have ample opportunity to prove their respective claims, and that a possible denial of substantial justice, due to legal technicalities may be avoided. Consonantly with this principle, present-day courts are not concerned so much with the form of actions as with their substance. Otherwise stated, the courts, in administering justice, should consider the merits of controversies, not the form thereof, particularly when the form does not serve to maintain a legal right duly vested but to destroy it. (ibid).
Here CJ Corona was served with articles of impeachment and through his battery of experienced lawyers, one of whom no less than a retired justice of the Supreme Court, filed an answer, disputing inter alia, that the imputed “ill-gotten” wealth in Sub. Pars of Art II denominated as “Non-Disclosure of SALNs, were actually product of his “TOILS.”
But the defense would object to any document that tends to prove that his wealth was not supported by his income because Art. II refers only to the SALNs.
Despite the overwhelming firepower of the defense, it has failed to entirely convince the Senate that the property acquisitions of the Coronas are irrelevant in the discussions of Art. II of the Impeachment. Its vociferous protest over the introduction of these documents only heigthens the public’s suspicion that the Chief Justice must be hiding something. Some people would not see this as a blunder because they had been conditioned to believe that veteran lawyers cannot make this courtroom strategy failure and a public relations disaster all in one setting.
Whatever deficiency the prosecution has during the trial, such did not dampen its spirit to bring the truth before the Senate and the public who are glued in this momentous political exercise and put on records that Chief Justice Corona had betrayed the people’s trust by his realty acquisitions disclosed or otherwise, which are unsuportable by his income despite the formidable objection of Cuevas and the juvenile interruptions of Senate jesters like Joker and Miriam.
It was by no means a mediocre feat by the so-called “greenhorns” whom some observers at the start of the trial, had predicted would be eaten up alive by the more seasoned lawyers from the other side. Their being still on the floor instead of in the bowels of their more experienced counterparts only gave meaning to my late grandmother’s favorite adage: “Walang malaking nakakapuwing.”
Keep punching kids, the entire nation is watching!