Supporters of private prosecutor Vitaliano Aguirre wear shirts featuring his face and cover their ears during a rally outside the Senate, which was discussing the penalty for the lawyer over the incident with Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago (inset) last week.  (Photos by Manny Marcelo)

MANILA — The Senate impeachment court has ruled out daylong trials for impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Instead the court will just try to get as much work done as possible from March 12 to 23.

For the remaining eight days of the trial before Congress goes on Lenten break, the impeachment court will have at least 40 hours to hear the side of the defense panel.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said that the proposal to hold daylong trials until the Lenten break on March 23 was scrapped after the defense panel aired its concerns to him about this Wednesday.

Enrile met with both the prosecution panel, represented by lead prosecutor Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, and the defense panel, represented by lead counsel retired Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas, at his office to present the proposal to extend trial hours.

According to Enrile, the defense panel said that they would have to prepare their witnesses every day so they would need to do this in the morning before the trial.

Several senators were also apprehensive about holding whole day trials because it would mean doing away with the legislative sessions.

What was eventually agreed on was that the trials would continue to start at 2 p.m. and could go on until 7 p.m.

Tupas said that the prosecution made a proposal to extend the trial for one week after the Lenten recess starts on March 23.

He said the prosecution panel would give their counterparts from the defense as much leeway as they had during their presentation of evidence.

However, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said that many senators were not too keen about extending the trial for another week because they already made plans for that period.

“And if we won’t be able to finish this anyway, including the verdict, why should we extend for another three days? This would be a huge inconvenience especially to more than half of the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives,” Sotto said.

Enrile revealed another proposal that was raised during Wednesday’s meeting, which is to shorten the Lenten break by a week, meaning they would be back to trial on April 30 instead of May 7.

Sotto said that he would have to consult with all the senators regarding the two proposals but he was not optimistic that they would agree to this.

He argued that it would make no sense to push through with the two proposals if there is no guarantee that the trial would be finished within that time.

Enrile himself does not believe the trial could be completed this month.

He explained that after the defense had presented its case, they would have to make a formal offer of evidence, which would then go through a review by the prosecution.

Enrile said that the prosecution could still present rebuttal witnesses after the turn of the defense.

There would also be the oral arguments of both sides before the senator-judges would be required to decide on the case.

“This will be very lengthy. Here is the factor that we can’t control, how long the examination of witnesses will take,” Enrile said.

Cuevas said that they would also like to finish the trial right away but they just cannot do this.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said that he is concerned about how the lengthy trials would take their toll on the health of Enrile, given his age and how much is expected from him as presiding officer of the court.

According to Marcos, the other senators like him are only required to sit and listen to the presentations of the two sides.

But Enrile has to listen to everything that is being said because he has to make a ruling from time to time.

Enrile said that he is only concerned about his being able to perform his duties as presiding officer no matter how long the trial takes.

As far as his health is concerned, he said that he has not experienced any serious ailment since the trial started last January.

Enrile pointed out that he has vaccines against flu and pneumonia and that he takes vitamins everyday.

He admitted that his blood pressure would go up occasionally but not to serious levels.

Regarding the need for him to listen to what is being said for the entire duration of the trial, Enrile quipped, “How do they know I’m listening?”

Enrile said that he expects a decision to come out by May or before Congress goes on sine die adjournment this June 7.

“Definitely before we go on sine die this June,” Enrile said.

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