, 2012 (STANDARD) by Joyce Pangco Pañares, Rey E. Requejo and Christine F. Herrera - PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III has ordered his Cabinet and congressional allies to distance themselves from the members of the Senate to avoid being accused of trying to influence the outcome of the impeachment trial against Chief Justice Renato Corona, an official said Tuesday.

“We respect the separation of branches of government. The President gave us instructions to distance ourselves from the Senate,” Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said.

Abad, a member of the Liberal Party and Mr. Aquino’s senior political adviser, said the administration had “full confidence” in the Senate, especially in the leadership of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

He said the administration would “cooperate” with prosecutors in gathering and presenting evidence against Corona.

“To the extent that we can, we cooperate. We will not stand in the way,” Abad said.

There are four Liberal Party members in the Senate: Francis Pangilinan, Ralph Recto, Franklin Drilon, and Teofisto Guingona III.

Corona was impeached by the House of Representatives on Dec. 12 for alleged graft and corruption, betrayal of the public trust, and violation of the Constitution.

House prosecutors continued their public attack on the chief justice ahead of the trial, saying Corona and his wife were the owners of a P14.5-million condominium unit in the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig.

Another member of the prosecution panel said other justices might later be impeached for their decisions after Corona was ousted.

Corona’s trial is set to start on Jan. 16. But more lawyers on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to declare the impeachment complaint unconstitutional, even as others urged it to avoid intervening and simply allow the trial to proceed.

Former assemblyman Homobono Adaza and ousted President Joseph Estrada’s lawyer Alan Paguia on Tuesday added their petitions to four others urging the high court to reject the articles of impeachment transmitted by the House to the Senate for trial.

The other petitions were earlier filed by Social Justice System lawyer Vladimir Cabigao, tax informer Danilo Lihaylihay, former Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Vicente Millora, and lawyer Oliver Lozano.

Adaza and Paguia said in their petition that the impeachment complaint against Corona “has not been verified by the overwhelming majority of the complainants.”

“Not having been verified, the so-called ‘verified complaint’ is a mere scrap of paper with no legal effect,” they said.

They argued that the House also violated due process and the Constitution’s equal-protection clause by the swift approval of eight articles of impeachment by 188 congressmen.

Adaza and Paguia went further and said the Senate abused its discretion when it accepted the articles of impeachment despite the lack of verification.

“In reality, the Senate has no legal basis for convening themselves into an impeachment jury,” Paguia said in an interview.

“And to avoid making the issue moot and academic, we are asking the Supreme Court to stop or issue a temporary restraining order against the Senate from proceeding with the trial of the impeachment articles.”

Meanwhile, the camp of the chief justice expressed optimism they would get a favorable verdict from the impeachment court, especially after President Aquino’s chief political adviser Ronald Llamas himself admitted that acquittal was a possibility.

“We are hoping the chief justice will be acquitted,” Court spokesman Jose Midas Marquez told reporters.

“His lawyers already submitted an answer where it was shown that not only the impeachment complaint was weak, but also the process of filing the complaint.”

Marquez said lawyers led by retired Justice Serafin Cuevas would also respond to the reply filed by the House on Monday, if necessary.

The lead impeachment prosecutor, Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., told reporters that Corona and his wife Cristina bought a condominium unit and three parking slots for P14.5 million at the Bellagio in Bonifacio Global City.

He challenged Corona again to produce his statement of assets and liabilities to show if the condominium was included.

Corona and the Supreme Court’s other justices have not made their statements of assets and liabilities public since a 1992 decision that shields them from “deceptive requests” for information that could lead to intimidation, harassment and fishing expeditions.

Maguindanao Rep. Simeon Datumanong, an opposition lawmaker, criticized the prosecution for using a press conference instead of the trial to expose its charges against the chief justice.

A spokesman for the prosecution panel, House Deputy Majority Leader Miro Quimbo, on Tuesday said that while it would be difficult to prosecute several Supreme Court justices at the same time, their focus on Corona at the moment did not mean that other justices would not later be impeached.

“At the moment, the evidence against Corona is stronger and more apparent than against the other justices ... But this does not necessarily mean that other justices will not later on be similarly held accountable,” Quimbo said. With Maricel Cruz

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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