Miriam: SC has no power over impeach court

Posted at 01/24/2012 12:18 PM | Updated as of 01/24/2012 7:07 PM

MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) - Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago on Tuesday said the Supreme Court has no judicial authority over the Senate impeachment court amid pleas from various parties for the SC to stop Chief Justice Renato Corona's impeachment trial.

In a press conference, Santiago said the SC "cannot assert any level of judicial authority over the impeachment court."

"We are a high court. We are as high as the Supreme Court because we are a constitutional creation and we are not listed among those over which the SC has jurisdiction...We are completely separate and independent," she told reporters.

The senator, who will sit as judge in the impeachment trial, said the Constitution specifically lists areas or topics on which the SC has jurisdiction. "We are not listed there," she said.

Asked what the Senate should say after the Supreme Court asked the Upper Chamber to reply to various motions to stop the impeachment trial, Santiago said there is no necessity except to tell the Court that it has no power over the impeachment court.

"That should be the extent of the answer. And we will proceed anyway no matter what they do.  The Senate could say in effect to the SC, 'Alright, you want us to answer? We will not answer. Who is going to take action against us? You and what army?'" she said.

"I should not even call it the Senate but the high court answer to the Supreme Court: 'You might be Supreme but we are high.'" she added.

Terminal boredom

Santiago skipped the first week of Corona's impeachment trial due to hypertension.

She told reporters that the first week of the trial appeared unstructured and that she suffered "terminal boredom" while watching the hearings.

Asked why she finally decided to appear, she said: "This is a duty, believe me. I would really rather go scuba-diving in the Bermuda Triangle and possibly get lost there. Believe you me, it will really raise my blood pressure but in any event I have come because this is my duty as a senator. I have no choice."

Santiago said she was bored by how some of the lawyers in the impeachment trial used esoteric legal references or Latin phrases to emphasize a point during the trial.

"That is the problem sometimes with the law. When people quote at random from the past without connecting it to the present circumstances. The moment you said that I just turned it off. I said my act of contrition, got down on my knees and almost shot myself," she said.

No to surprise witnesses

The senator-judge said one proposal she will make before the impeachment court is for the prosecutors and defense to present a list of witnesses and documents to be presented as well as an outline of what will be tackled during the hearings. She said this was her usual procedure to speed up a trial when she was still a trial judge.

"I will ask the counsel 'Could you please submit to the court a list of all your witnesses, their names and substance of their testimonies. Ano ba ang sasabihin nila?'" she said.

She said this will also prevent the presentation of surprise witnesses in the trial, which is a violation of the due process clause.

"You cannot spring a mystery witness just to hold your TV audience in suspense. You are likely to be reprimanded by a judge...and even cited for unethical conduct," she said.

Santiago said the defense lawyers should not be faulted for raising technicalities in making their objections. She added that technicalities are essential in the achievement of justice.

She, however, noted: "Impeachment should not be a case where the triumph will belong to those who cite the most number of technicalities. I intend to shortcut these technicalities when they are cited."

Billing system

Santiago said Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has been very conscientious in presiding over the impeachment trial.

"All his rulings have been respectable. There is no reason to doubt their competence," she said.

She, however, added that some of the lawyers and even the senator-judges have a tendency to ramble on during the trial.

"I think everybody tended to go overboard first because they thought that they had to take a dramatic stance in front of the TV cameras. That is a problem with TV because the presence of the observer changes the observed. If you shut down all the TV cameras, these proceedings will be finished in 1 week," she said.

The lawmaker said Enrile cannot simply reprimand the senator-judges because he is only 1 of the 23 sitting in judgment of Corona. She said the Senate President could instead call for a judicial recess and give a gentle reminder to the senator that there are time limits.

On the part of the prosecutors and defense, she said some of the lawyers are just "earning their appearance fees."

"In actual trial court, when the lawyer appears, he is paid an appearance fee. So the client expects P10,00 worth of histrionics. They flail their arms about and speak in their squeaky voices. That is why they do that because they have to earn their appearance fee. It is an effect of the billing system," she said.