By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
The excitement over Day 44 of the trial deciding the fate of Chief Justice Renato Corona, as expected, spilled way past the Senate grounds.
Outside the gate, the long line of prospective watchers was up for a final effort. As before, only 40 green passes to the Session Hall would be given out.
And no ticket more, this last full show already full. Not even for actor Pen Medina, who showed up with a “Convict Corona” shirt. He took it off to comply with regulations, yet still missed the cut.
Farther off at the Senate security checkpoint beside the Manila Film Center, three news vans were parked near a barricade and a throng of anti-riot police.
This spot was the closest any groups wanting to amass in protest or support could get to the Senate.
Close to noon, nearly 50 members of a health workers’ group arrived with “Guilty!” signs. They brought out effigies of Corona, his benefactor Gloria Arroyo, and of President Aquino.
They wanted a Corona conviction, but hoped the alternative was not a Supreme Court controlled by the President. They left after 30 minutes.
A group of the same number, this time from Akbayan, a party allied with Aquino, later came with yellow placards that all repeated “Convict” and “Guilty”.
Unlike before, only one side came out that day. Many of those praying for an acquittal for Corona remained at the Supreme Court to watch the Senate verdict via an LCD projector.
The Akbayan assembly stayed on to monitor the votes cast by the 23 senator-judges through a radio piped into their mobile speakers.
ABS-CBN’s cameras were trained on both spots for live reactions to the moment of decision.
At ABS’s Senate OB van control, it was business as usual, yet spiced with the excitement of a final sprint.
The crews manning the facilities that broadcast the trial sessions and live reports for Channel 2, ANC, and DZMM had been at it since January. And except for infrequent session lulls, their work routines for four months have been 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., all to and from the Senate.
The expected flow of events for the final session was less volatile than past days, when the session might end too early, a senator might go ballistic over “irreverent” participants, a counsel might fumble, or a witness might walk out.
The agenda for Day 44 was the senator-judges’ votes wrapped in practically privilege speeches.
Three of the original eight articles of impeachment against Corona were up for voting. If 8 votes to acquit won in one article, votes were again cast for the next. Sixteen convict votes in an article, and the game was up.
Analysts predicted a likely win for the convict side. Still, the numbers that would take form were yet to be unveiled.
First for judgment was impeachment Article 2 against Corona’s failure to disclose his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth or SALN.
TV graphics constantly displayed a running score card. On the ground, a bond paper and marker sufficed. Senate media crews had photocopied lists of the senators with 3 columns for checking their votes.
The senators’ speeches ranged from 5 minutes to half an hour. Most chose to save their verdicts for their last sentences, but some verdicts were ostensibly laid out from the outset.
And as each said “guilty” or “not guilty”, cheers or boos arose from those watching at the Supreme Court and listening outside the Senate.
Even the police officers that earlier surrounded the rally soon put down their shields and helmets when it appeared that no clash between pros and antis would happen. They were soon munching on balut and watching the trial through a network van’s monitor.
The reactions were quicker and more colorful online, where Twitter excitedly waited for the speech of the normally silent Sen. Lito Lapid. Then after, it mostly applauded him for appealing to the common man unacquainted with law and legalese.
Some wondered at the leaning of Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s speech that approached 20 minutes and berated both prosecution and defense panels. After a mix of sighs and the occasional curse, she was soon prodded by presiding senator-judge Juan Ponce Enrile for her vote.
She said, “Would you be surprised if I vote ‘not guilty’?”
After the tallies reached 15-3 favoring “convict,” the crews at the Senate control room looked forward to the senator who would deliver the final blow.
It came from one who was earlier expected to vote to acquit–-Sen. Bong Revilla, President of Gloria Arroyo’s political party. And he appeared conscious of this moment, enunciating his verdict as if proclaiming independence, and with words like “unity”, “healing”, “the next generations and our future”.
Senate President Enrile had the final say, as the senators listened a la school children.
His forty-minute-long treatise essentially gift-wrapped the Senate’s final decision, tying loose ends and underlining the impeachment court’s “moral dilemma” that day.
In the end, he found Corona guilty, saying that it would be hard to trust the truthfulness of future SALNs should they acquit Corona for an omission supposedly made in good faith.
By the time Enrile pounded the gavel on the court’s decision, reports said nearly half the seats in the Supreme Court viewing area were already empty.
The crowd outside the Senate was visibly fewer as well, but that did not stop the shouts and claps celebrating the conviction.
Back at the post-verdict session hall, reporters and cameramen flooded the floor for ambush interviews.
Segment producers shadowed personalities for live exchanges on the news channels.
A number looked around for Enrile, unarguably the man of the hour. Some wanted him for the primetime newscasts. But he was gone.
Especially mobbed was retired Justice Serafin Cuevas, chief counsel of the panel that lost.
Cuevas said he was surprised at the 20-3 result. “I did not know the difference would be that big. Some of the votes we expected never came.”
Would they find a legal recourse? It was still up for talks, he said.
Just beside the group mobbing Cuevas, defense spokesperson Karen Jimeno was being approached, not for her reaction, but for pictures with trial spectators.
The all-in-barong prosecution team walked past the crews waiting at the lobby. They saved their statements for a press conference at the briefing room.
Production team heads were trafficking the voice-overs and video feeds that needed to land the newscasts, which would go on air in 30 minutes.
It was the final stretch for the technical crews, who would later be packing up the cables, platforms, tents, and makeshift studios that made the Senate their home since January.
On TV Patrol, reporters went live from nearly bare locations. Still to be answered: who the next chief justice would be, when Corona would be released from The Medical City, what’s next for Citizen Renato, will this change anything, and (re)election, anyone?
This show is far from over.
Scenes from Day 44 of the Corona impeachment trial:
*Click here to watch other back stories from the trial’s final days, as reported by Ryan Chua on Patrol ng Pilipino.