Enrile: I will not subject trial to ‘use and misuse’
MANILA, Philippines - Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said he is slowly realizing that being presiding officer of the impeachment trial is not something he relishes.
In a speech before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on Friday, the 88-year-old but still sharp lawyer said: “Not only do I have to carefully study the legalities of all the issues and concerns being raised by both the Prosecution and the Defense, but I also have to consider and balance the divergent and, most of the time, opposing views of my colleagues, my fellow Senator-Judges.”
He said presiding over an impeachment trial, characterized by diverse personalities, “is simply very trying, no pun intended.”
He took note of the subpoena that the court issued on the bank documents of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
He said the law on the confidentiality of bank deposits, Republic Act 1405, exempted impeachment cases on the general rule of secrecy of bank deposits, especially pertaining to local currency accounts.
The impeachment court also allowed the opening of the dollar accounts, but later backtracked because of a stay order from the Supreme Court.
Impeach court subject to Bill of Rights
“One thing that I can assure the public though is that this consensus was painstakingly arrived at because most, if not all, of us believed that, in carrying out our duty as an Impeachment Court, we remain under, and not above, the Rule of Law,” he noted.
Enrile was one of the 13 who voted to respect the high court’s halt order.
“Indeed, even as the ‘sole power’ to try and decide all cases of impeachment is lodged on the Senate sitting as an Impeachment Court, the actual exercise of that awesome power is subject to the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution,” he added.
He said that the impeachment process, being a very powerful tool, can’t be subject to use and misuse.
He said it is his duty not to allow this despite the trying role of a presiding officer.
Lawmakers should not be law-breakers
He said the filing of an impeachment case against heads of government with the Senate does not “erase, modify, or affect” the operation of the separation of powers.
Some senator-judges believe that the impeachment court is “supreme.”
“The Senate sitting as an Impeachment Court must at all times observe the Rule of Law. It cannot transgress any of the applicable provisions of the Bill of Rights. It must be guided by the presumption of innocence before the pronouncement of guilt. It must at all times observe the principle of procedural and substantial due process,” he said.
He said lawmakers should not be “law-breakers.”
“It cannot use its power to issue compulsory processes to compel any witness to appear and testify and, in testifying, is forced to commit a crime. It cannot compel a witness to testify against himself. It cannot arbitrarily declare a person guilty of contempt and deprive that person of his or her liberty. It cannot violate the laws passed by Congress of which it is an integral part,” he added.
Rule of law
He said the decision of the court will have a serious impact on the entire nation.
“Its success or failure to achieve the purpose for which the Constitution has provided this mechanism as part of our system of checks and balances and of public accountability, may spell the success or failure of our democratic institutions, the strengthening or weakening of our sense of justice as a people, our stability or disintegration as a nation, and the triumph or demise of the rule of law in our land,” he said.
He noted he and other senator-judges have a heavy burden to carry. He said the people’s faith in the Senate is also at stake.
“At this point, the only assurance I can give to the public is this -- that, as Presiding Officer, I will always be fair, just and impartial,” he said.
“Personally, however, whatever the outcome may be, I will leave it to our people and to history to judge me based on my actions and decisions as Presiding Officer and a juror of this Impeachment Court,” he added.