The much-awaited testimony of Chief Justice Renato Corona in Day 40 of the impeachment trial before the Senate, ended with him walking out of the session hall without leave of the Senate, that earned the ire of the senator-judges and widespread speculation from the public.
Bacolod-based human rights lawyer Andres Hagad said "More than convincing the impeachment court to accept his defense, CJ Corona must convince the Filipino public that he deserves to stay on as chief justice.
“That walk-out was not what one would expect from a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It weakened his defense and jeopardized his chance of acquittal,” Hagad added.
Defense lead counsel Justice Serafin Cuevas has to apologize for Corona’s sudden departure from the session hall even as he got boos from the gallery.
The House prosecution panel said the "premeditated" and "planned walkout" of Corona only shows that the chief magistrate has no intention to be cross-examined.
They said what the chief justice did was "a blatant insult and disrespect to the impeachment court."
The chief magistrate's actuation was unbecoming of a chief justice. As head of the Supreme Court, which is the highest court of the land, it was shameful that the chief magistrate had resorted to this stunt, they said.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, meanwhile, said in a press release “It does not help Mr. Corona that after having been given the highest consideration by the Senate, after giving his side, he tried to leave the proceedings, as if to say he is the only one who should be heard”.
His (Corona) walkout sent the message that his is the only voice that is important; and that he considers himself exempt from the basic processes of confronting testimony – the process by which courts discover the truth, Lacierda added.
Senate President and presiding officer Juan Ponce Enrile issued a warning against Corona to strike out his long testimony and render verdict on the impeachment case if the chief magistrate will not allow himself to be cross-examined by the prosecution and the senator-judges.
"We will give Corona until Wednesday to return. If he does not return, we will consider this case submitted for resolution. If Corona does not want to be cross-examined, I will order his statement stricken off the record," Enrile said, whose decision was supported by all 23 senators present during the impeachment trial.
Corona later returned to the Senate session hall, but already on a wheelchair, forcing Cuevas to ask for suspension to give the CJ enough time to recover from hypoglycemia.
Corona, accused of graft and of protecting tainted former president Gloria Arroyo, repeatedly broke down in his three-hour testimony, and repeatedly denied he was a crook.
"I did not steal a single centavo from the government," the 63-year-old chief magistrate said.
He also signed a conditional document that he said would authorize his bankers to release details of his bank accounts to public scrutiny, but only if all the legislators who had impeached him would also sign a similar waiver.
Meanwhile, at the Bacolod City Hall of Justice, court employees held a mass for Corona and the impeachment court at 11:30 a.m. yesterday, with many of the participants dressed in red T-shirts.
“We prayed for the chief justice and for the impeachment court to stick to the rule of law and not be swayed by political color,” Zen Capatar, Philippine Association of Court Employees-Negros Occidental chapter head, said.
She said they were joined by court employees from the cities of Bago and La Carlota.
Lunch was provided by supporters of Corona. Court functions were not disrupted, she said.
Stickers placed at the Hall of Justice said "Acquit CJ Corona."*PNA/AFP