Umali: 'No strings attached' in Enrile joining Sereno prosecution panel

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 11) — No special favors were granted when former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile volunteered to join the prosecution panel in Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno's impeachment trial.

House Justice Committee Chairperson Reynaldo Umali clarified this to CNN Philippines Sunday, after confirming the former Senate president will be part of the team against Sereno.

"There are no strings to his volunteering his services. He wants to do it for the sake of the nation. I salute him for being a...patriot," Umali said.

 

Enrile still has pending plunder and graft cases at the Sandiganbayan over his alleged involvement in the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scam.

The case against him also involves his former chief of staff Gigi Reyes, accused of processing the pork barrel transactions. Reyes, who has been detained since 2014, has a pending petition for bail.

Umali said Enrile will be able to defend himself from such accusations. CNN Philippines has reached out to the camp of Enrile for comment.

Enrile's participation will be made official once the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader approve it, Umali said.

He further clarified Enrile would not head the prosecution team.

"It's really more on the advice because...he's more than 90 years old. I don't know if he can still stand the difficulties of prosecution, but definitely his mind is still sharp and this is what is most needed at this point in time is institutional memory with respect to the conduct of the impeachment of former Chief Justice Corona, and of course his brilliance in law and in Constitution," Umali said.

Enrile was the presiding judge in the impeachment trial of the late  Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012, who was ousted from office  following revelations that some properties were not disclosed in his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN).

"Former Chief Justice Corona was impeached on the basis of failure to disclose some of his assets in the SALN and he (Enrile) was responsible in leading the Senate to get a 20-3, 20 against 3 votes in favor of convicting former Chief Justice Corona," Umali said.

Sereno faces similar charges. She is accused of failing to file her SALNs during her term as a professor at the University of the Philippines.

Umali did not disclose who else would be part of the prosecution panel, but he said they had a long list of more than 40 lawmakers who are lawyers to choose from.

"We'll have to consider other criteria, like for example, litigation experience, impeachment trial experience, and some other aspects like certain disciplines that will be needed in pursuing some of the charges that will form part of the articles of impeachment," he said.

Senator Francis "Chiz" Escudero said the Enrile's participation in the prosecution would be beneficial to the team.

Escudero said he recognizes Enrile's skill as a lawyer. Both sat as senator -judges during Corona's impachment trial.

Escudero said, "I think the respect between us would be mutual, and I think the same is true for most if not all of the senators na isang bagay na dapat nating kilalanin kay Senator Enrile, marunong naman siyang lumugar at pumosisyon eh. Bagaman dati siyang Senate President, kung tatayo siya bilang abogado alam niya yung papel na dapat niyang gampanan at tamang pagtrato sa mga uupo bilang huwes sa isang impeachment court. I've seen him handle himself pretty well."

[Translation: I think the respect between us would be mutual and I think the same is true for most, if not all the senators, that one thing to know about Enrlle is he knows where he stands. He may have been the Senate President, but if he stands as a lawyer, he knows what role he will play and how he should deal with those who will sit as judges in an impeachment court. I've seen him handle himself pretty well.]

Escudero however, refused to discuss the impeachment trial until the rules of impeachment are out.

Sereno 'ready to go'

In a text message to CNN Philippines Sunday, Sereno's lawyer Jojo Lacanilao said they are looking forward to the chief justice's vindication at the Senate.

"(Enrile) is a worthy opponent. But he is working from the disadvantage of having to prosecute a very weak case," he said.

Speaking to CNN Philippines on Thursday, Sereno said they were ready with their impeachment defense.

Alex Poblador will lead her legal team. Other than that information, Sereno deferred other issues to her lawyers preparing her defense.

READ: Sereno on impeachment defense: We're 'ready to go'

But when pressed on what would get her to resign, Sereno answered, "Wala [Nothing]."

Sereno said lawyer Larry Gadon, who filed the impeachment complaint against her, needs to prove his accusations are impeachable offenses.

If one-third of the House agrees with the articles of impeachment, the case would be elevated to the Senate for trial. Sereno's camp has long pushed for the complaint to be fast-tracked to the Upper House, where they believe they have a chance at disproving the claims against her.

"Everyone has a fighting chance. Especially when you stand on the truth, you have more than a fighting chance," said Sereno.

This story was updated on March 12 to include the statement of Senator Chiz. Escudero.

CNN Philippines multi-platform writer Regine Cabato and senior correspondent Cecille Lardizabal contributed to this report.