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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

P-Noy in denial about loss of INC support; JPE averts Senate trial court's collision with SC; Cuevas is defense’s rock star, besieged for photos by female admirers of all ages


Yesterday, Tuesday, Feb. 28, was a day that will long be remembered.  First, there were the million people who crowded the streets of Manila, snarling traffic in the metropolis from morning until well into the night. The solid core was made up of Iglesia ni Cristo members ordered by their higher authorities to attend the INC's launch of its "Grand Evangelical Mission" at the Luneta; but there were decidedly a lot others such as individual members of El Shaddai and Catholic elements, who showed up because they wanted to add their voices to those of INC members in support of the Rule of Law and the Constitution.
Police cited only about 600,000 people, although ABS-CBN commentators tried hard to subtract from that number. But this blogger actually saw many buses parked along the length of Roxas Blvd. and around the CCP complex that remained full of people in the early evening. Definitely these folks would have swelled the mammoth crowds at the Luneta even more, but doubtless they wisely figured that finding their way back to their buses would have been a nightmare---so they chose to stay in the buses.

Yesterday’s INC-led  massive rally was something we have not seen in Metro Manila since the glory days of EDSA 1, and it came just two days after the P-Noy administration thought it could pre-empt the INC gathering by recruiting  hakot crowds to the 26th annoversary of the People Power Revolution commemorating EDSA 1. But the thinness of the crowds at that occasion was signal that hakot had failed.

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The INC mammoth gathering in Manila was replicated in various cities around the country and the message of their sheer numerical force doubtless was delivered, especially to the six re-electionist senator-judges, as well as the prosecutors who would be up for reelection in 2013. Though the purported reason was a grand bible exposition, it had been bruited about for days that the gathering would be in support of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona ,who has become Malacanang’s No. 1 hate object now that former President GMA has been arraigned.   CJ Corona was billed as the guest of honor and earlier reports said he would show up; but he chose to stay away for fear, according to reports, that his attendance would add political color to the religious gathering. 
Frankly, I myself felt the CJ should attend it, that if he wanted support in his Senate trial that gathering was an indisputable way to chalk it up; but in hindsight I think he did the right thing in staying away---thus displaying a lot of maturity and sobriety in his decision.

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By contrast, reports indicate that earlier President Aquino sought out the INC  authorities through emissaries, wanting to wangle an invite to the Luneta gathering, but he was told that it would be open to everyone. Obviously that reply didn’t seem good enough, so P-Noy stayed away too.  This was good, for he would have run the risk of being booed by some elements in that crowd who are turned off by his obstinate refusal to recognize the independence and integrity of the Senate trial court.
Today’s newspapers report that P-Noy now thinks the mammoth rally wasn’t intended to send him a message about how he has been treating some friends of INC.  Pathetically he insists that he still has the support of the sect as he had in his Senate and presidential run in 2007 and 2010, respectively. P-Noy IS OBVIOUSLY IN DENIAL about INC as well as many other issues.  

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For days last week the prosecution had been bruiting that they would cut the Senate trial short by limiting the Articles on Impeachment in which they would present evidence.  But when lead prosecutor Niel Tupas announced yesterday that they are ABANDONING five out of the eight Articles, it still hit  the senators as well as the Senate gallery crowd like a thunderbolt.


Many factors could explain this decision. Definitely one factor was the incredible show of force of the INC-led gathering and the political impact it imparted, no matter how everyone tried to pass it off solely as a religious event. But one doesn’t need to be a brilliant political pundit to see that the prosecution’s decision was a sign of the lousy crafting of their hasty impeachment complaint and the weakness of their evidence---that their “dynamite fishing expedition” had failed. Inevitably it will be viewed this way by the Filipino people. 


Rep. Tupas tried to excuse his panel’s failure to produce more evidence by claiming that their difficulty stemmed from their fighting no less than the Chief Justice. Sen. Joker Arroyo shot down that claim fast, however,  when he stressed that the prosecution has no less than the President of the Republic for their ally.  In the past two days the prosecution seemed to be scraping the bottom of the barrel when they produced ABS-CBN cameramen and Malacanang records personnel as witnesses; this prompted a Senate wag to quip that next they’ll produce the ambulance driver that took GMA to the airport and the saleslady from Rustan’s.
AS former Sen. Kit Tatad, who’s writing a book on the Corona trial, put it in an interview yesterday at the Senate, the prosecution's abandonment of the other five Articles was “the knock-out punch” to them.

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Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile refused to grant prosecutor Neri Colmenares’ request for the Senate Court to subpoena Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, and instead coaxed his panel to “invite” her on their own. The prosecution initially refused to take up JPE’s suggestion as it doubtless realized that the lady magistrate won’t appear without the “compelling force of a subpoena" to protect her, inasmuch as the SC made an en banc ruling last Feb. 14 dis-allowing any court personnel from appearing in the Senate trial. 


A subpoena, of course, would be different, but as JPE argued, with Sen. Miriam backing him up,:  what would the Senate do if the SC disallows Sereno from appearing?  That would mean a head-on collision between the two courts.  How would the Senate enforce its subpoena? Call in the armed forces or the police?

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Actually I don’t see what Justice Sereno would achieve by becoming a witness for the prosecution. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima already dissected for two days Sereno’s dissenting opinion on the SC’s majority decision of Nov. 15 to issue a TRO against the DOJ’s watch-list order on GMA that day.  It’s easy to see that if she herself were to appear as witness, she would be revealing behind-the-scenes details not stated in her dissenting opinion, of what must have been the stormy sessions on that TRO in those three days.


Necessarily she would have to RAT ON HER COLLEAGUES and shatter the confidentiality of SC closed-door deliberations, which the Feb. 14 en banc resolution seeks to avoid (this would make her even more unpopular with her SC colleagues and the Court personnel than she already is).  Moreover, Sereno would be subjected to the customary withering cross-examination by Justice Serafin Cuevas which is not flattering for one perched on Olympus and accustomed to her own withering interrogation of witnesses there. At best it would demean this first appointee of P-Noy. If I were Maylou Sereno, I’d rest on my dissenting opinion.

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Speaking of lead defense counsel Cuevas, former Sen. Ernesto Maceda, himself a lawyer and who writes a very popular column for the Star, was heard after an exceptionally good cross-examination by Cuevas as opining, “That’s classic cross-examination at its best.”  We saw it again last Tuesday, when Cuevas reduced two witnesses from ABS-CBN to almost zero output. 


Cuevas’ cross reminds me of someone peeling an artichoke ever so patiently, one layer at a time, until he reveals the core. Yet he does it with such polite and courtly manners, never imperious, that the witness ends up with a smile, feeling good at having ultimately said nothing, while Cuevas' admiring audience across the nation, led by JPE, hangs on to his every sentence. In the memorable words of Standard columnist Jojo Robles, "Cuevas wiped the floor with Secretary Leila de Lima.” 


It’s no exaggeration that this balding 83-year old veteran lawyer with a voice  like crackling lard has become a rock star, and women of all ages flock to him after each trial session, wanting to have photos with him or pushing a lozenge pack into his hands, lest he loses that voice. 

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