Lead defense counsel of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona, Serafin Cuevas, a former associate justice in the Marcos Supreme Court who has been impressing the public with his vast knowledge of legal technicalities and legal maneuvers proved himself ham-handed at cross-examination. He blew his cross-examination of BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) Commissioner Kim Henares and BPI (Bank of the Philippine Islands) branch manger Leonora Dizon.

He overreached with Henares. Instead of simply asking her questions that would show her to be unqualified to testify on matters relating to SALNs (Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth), he tried to get her to state that mis-declared SALNs can be remedied and then he took a stab at portraying the inquiry on Corona’s income tax return as persecution.

Anyway here is Cuevas, in his own words. Enjoy.

    Cuevas: “My understanding is that the SALN may be corrected if there are entries in there made not accurate and so on…In this particular case which you said you have examined SALN of Chief Justice Corona, did you come to the conclusion that this is one which can be corrected pursuant to law? Or it may not be corrected at all?”

    Henares: “My personal opinion is it cannot be corrected at all.”

    Cuevas: “Why?”

    Henares: “Because first—in the first place, it is sworn to under oath. And then second place, like I said, I am a government official and I have sworn to—and I would think that the SALN requires me to completely list all my asset[s] because it is a way for the public to determine whether at the end of the day I have enriched myself because of my position. So if it can be amended at anytime, then it is a useless exercise to even require government official[s] to submit a
    SALN.”

    Cuevas: “We will move to strike out the answer of the witness, Your Honor.”

    Sen. Enrile: “Your witness answered already. Why should you ask for the striking out of her answer? It is under cross-examination?”

A few minutes later, Cuevas tore into the BIR tax investigation.

    Cuevas: “…what I am questioning is the propriety of that investigation being conducted now while these impeachment proceedings are going on, covering the same matter.”

    Henares: “Sir, the alternative is to be told that we are sleeping on the job…So I think the better alternative for the Bureau of Internal Revenue is to do its job.”

    Cuevas: “All right. So much so that if there is a complaint involving any of the prosecutors here and the rest of the other members thereof, you will investigate the case?”

    Henares: “Of course, Sir. Yes, Sir.”

Cuevas made an even bigger boo-boo when he cross-examined BPI branch manager Leonora Dizon over Corona’s undeclared P12-million account. The defense strategy had always been to block any and all evidence supporting the charges against Corona. They had succeeded in limiting the scope of subpoenas to cover only the year-end balances of Corona’s bank accounts but surprisingly, Cuevas asked that all of Corona’s BPI bank statements from 2005 all the way to 2010 be subpoenaed!

    Cuevas: “All right. So, this is not one single transaction, P12,024,067.”

    Dizon: “Since this is an ending balance, it could come from ending balance of the previous months, and then the transactions for deposits and withdrawals, this is the net amount.”

    Cuevas: “Thank you. So that you will agree with me that this must have covered several transactions involved in that year.”

    Dizon: “It could be, Sir.”

    Cuevas: “All right. And your observation or your statement applies to all this account particularly for the years 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.”

    Dizon: “It could be, Sir.”

    Cuevas: “Now, if ordered by the Court to produce the statement of account, will you be able to do that? I am not asking you whether you are willing, but will you be able? Because I know you will be willing, except when you are already somewhere else.”

    Dizon: “Yes, Sir. We will comply whatever is being required in the subpoena.”

    Cuevas: “In view of the answer of the witness, Your Honor, may we respectfully request that the statement of account covering these periods 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 be produced by the witness at the most convenient time considering her condition now, Your Honor. Our purpose, Your Honor, is to show that this figure is not made in one single deposit and one single withdrawal, Your Honor.”

Impeached Chief Justice Corona must have fallen out of his chair when he heard the request of Cuevas because a few minutes later…

    Cuevas: “While the Court is debating among its Members the matter of inspection or production of the statement of accounts, Your Honor, my co-counsel in the Defense received a call from the Chief Justice that he has these documents, some of these documents I am referring to the statement of accounts are with him. I would not know which will be material to us. If this is true, then, in effect, we will be withdrawing the motion because we have them already with us. That is my point, Your Honor. We will not unduly burden our colleagues.”

It’s more fun with Cuevas; he does not know if he’s coming or going.

Manuel Buencamino (241 Posts)

Buencamino was a weekly columnist for Today and Business Mirror. He has also written articles in other publications like Malaya, Newsbreak, "Yellow Pad" in Business World, and "Talk of the Town" in the Inquirer. He is currently with Interaksyon, the news site of TV5. MB blogged for Filipino Voices, blogs for ProPinoy and maintains a blog, Uniffors.com. Game-changers for him, as far as music goes, are Monk, Miles, Jimi, and Santana.


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