By Delon Porcalla
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – President Aquino challenged yesterday Chief Justice Renato Corona to disclose all his bank accounts if he has nothing to hide.
In an interview at the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority in Taguig, Aquino said Corona’s alleged “$700K” in Philippine Savings Bank contradicts the P23 million he had declared in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.
“Bakit hindi tugma?” he said.“Ngayon kung biglang haharangin iyung pagsiyasat niyan, pangit iyung mensaheng kinakalat natin sa lahat, na ito ang paraan para maitago.”
(It doesn’t add up. Now if we suddenly restrain the investigation it might appear that something is being hidden).
Aquino said the Supreme Court (SC) ruling protecting the secrecy of foreign currency deposits had became a tool for injustice.
“Parang napakahigpit, napaka-narrow ng definition nila doon sa pagbasa doon sa batas na tungkol sa foreign currency deposit,” he said.(The reading of the law on foreign currency deposit is too narrow).
Aquino said people who committed injustice must not find refuge in the Foreign Currency Deposits Act.
“Merong SC decision doon sa Salvacion case kung saan sinabi na wala naman sigurong intensyon itong batas na ito na magre-refuge ang mga taong (may kasalanan),” he said. (There’s an SC decision on the Salvacion case that said the law has no intention to serve as refuge for those who committed wrongdoing).
Aquino raised fears that corrupt officials might convert their multi-million-peso accounts into dollar-denominated deposits since it is beyond the reach of the courts.
“Uulitin ko lang ang buod ng ating agam-agam,” he said. “Puwede bang maging taguan ng mga taong may ginawang mali iyang paglalagay ng kanilang proceeds from that crimes into a dollar account?” (We’ll just reiterate the gist of our doubts – can’t those with ill-gotten wealth hide the proceeds in a dollar account?)
Palace: SC weakening impeach court
In blocking the opening of the dollar accounts of Corona, the SC is trying to weaken the impeachment court, Malacañang said yesterday.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the SC will emasculate every order of the impeachment court.
“That is why it is untenable for the Senate to consider to even defer to the SC even in interlocutory orders because the basis is grave abuse of discretion,” he said.
Lacierda said he disagrees with Fr. Joaquin Bernas, one of the framers of the Constitution, that the SC has the authority to intervene when it involves cases of grave abuse of discretion.
“With due respect to Father Bernas, we disagree with him,” he said.
“We believe that the Senate has jurisdiction, sole jurisdiction, of the impeachment case.”
The impeachment court’s mandate is to hold accountable impeachable officials like Corona, he added.
Lacierda said the SC’s decision to interfere has set a bad precedent. “It won’t stop,” he said. “Nagpaparinig na ang defense, sabi nila even in the peso accounts, they are going to say: ‘It’s a fishing expedition.’
“What will stop them now from going to the SC and say: ‘Your honors, the peso accounts, while it has been revealed, was a product of the poisonous tree.’ That’s another question of law. The SC will say: ‘Teka, we have jurisdiction. We are going to rule on that.’
“Kung sa final judgment sabihin nila may grave abuse of discretion, paano na?” (If in final judgment they rule there was grave abuse of discretion, what happens now?)
Aquino warns SC
Aquino warned the SC against setting a bad precedent in stopping the opening of Corona’s dollar accounts.
The country must not be a refuge for thieves and money launderers, he added.
Aquino reminded the SC that the Philippines was a signatory to international treaties against money laundering.
“(This) certain precedent (that I am highlighting) might result in sanctions from the world financial community, if we do not adhere to treaty obligations. So there might be a strike on the economy,” he said.
Aquino said a lawmaker told him a bad precedent would protect the 31 impeachable officials against the 95 million Filipinos.
“Maybe the interest of the 95 million people must prevail over that of the 31 who can be impeached,” he said.
“That’s the thought hovering in my mind as regards this issue on dollar accounts.”
Aquino said the SC held no oral arguments to hear the government’s side and allow the Senate and the House of Representatives to appeal.
Congress has the exclusive power to hold an impeachment trial and the SC could not encroach on other branches of government, he added.
Aquino said the laws on foreign currency accounts must be reviewed as they might violate international treaties against money laundering.
These laws have no intention to protect persons under investigation for alleged irregularities, he added.
Aquino: No constitutional crisis yet
Aquino said a constitutional crisis was hypothetical at this point, and that the executive will not yet intervene in the looming battle between the SC and the Senate over the TRO on the opening of Corona’s dollar accounts.
“Let us see if it will reach that point (constitutional crisis),” he said.
“We need to see the reaction of the Senate. Nobody wants a constitutional crisis.”
Aquino said an individual’s right must be assessed against the interest of the majority.
“In a democracy, the majority makes the decision for everybody,” he said.
“If that’s the case, there are heavy allegations, there are suspicions and then you close the avenues to find out the truth.
“How could that decision help in moving forward the justice system in our country?
“And that is the primary obligation of the Supreme Court, to push for a good justice system in the country.”
Lawmaker wants secrecy lifted
A lawmaker filed yesterday a bill seeking to lift the secrecy of dollar deposits and other foreign currency accounts in an impeachment trial and a few other cases.
Alliance of Concerned Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said a 1977 presidential decree gave nearly absolute protection to dollar deposits and other foreign currency accounts to encourage the flow of foreign funds into the country.
“The impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona has highlighted the possibility that corrupt government officials could exploit the absolute secrecy afforded to foreign currency deposits to conceal their ill-gotten wealth,” he said.
The SC has stopped the Senate impeachment court from examining Corona’s five dollar accounts with Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank).
Tinio said the secrecy provision of the presidential decree was later included in the Foreign Currency Deposits Act under which an account could be examined only upon the depositor’s consent.
“Subsequent developments have rendered obsolete these special protections provided by law to foreign currency deposits,” he said.
“While there may have been a relative scarcity of foreign currency in the domestic banking and financial system in the 1970s, this is clearly no longer the case today.”
Unless the law is amended, corrupt government personnel and members of crime syndicates could hide their ill-gotten wealth in foreign currency accounts, Tinio said.
Under Tinio’s bill, a foreign currency deposit could be examined upon the written permission of the depositor, or in cases of impeachment, or upon order of a competent court in cases of bribery or dereliction of duty of public officials, or in cases where the money deposited or invested is the subject of litigation.
Tinio said the bill would put foreign currency accounts at par with peso deposits, which the Bank Secrecy Law allows to be scrutinized in an impeachment trial.
PSBank president Pascual Garcia III disclosed before the Senate impeachment details about Corona’s five peso accounts with his bank while he refused to give information about the five dollar accounts, he added.
Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada said the SC’s TRO on the examination of Corona’s dollar deposits sets a bad precedent.
“It sends the message that corrupt officials and crime gangs can now convert their assets into dollars and hide them in foreign currency accounts,” he said. – With Aurea Calica, Jess Diaz
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House: CJ has nowhere to go
By Paolo Romero and Jess Diaz
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – There’s nowhere for Chief Justice Renato Corona to go but to face the impeachment process even if it gets stopped by the Supreme Court (SC) through a temporary restraining order and despite the high court’s stopping the Senate impeachment court from examining his dollar accounts, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said yesterday.
“I was personally amazed at that tactic (petition for TRO) because as one senator wants to put it, it’s only one of two things: maybe they don’t want to show contents of that document and they try to involve the Supreme Court in the controversy by stopping it. And I don’t see how you can win there,” Belmonte said.
“If the Supreme Court sustains you, what will public opinion say? That you wanted to hide something. On the other hand, if you would rely on the good judgment of the senators – let’s see what they will say,” Belmonte told reporters before the start of the trial. “Personally, I cannot read the wisdom of that particular move.”
The SC, voting 8-5, issued a TRO yesterday on the subpoena on Corona’s dollar accounts with Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank).
House Majority Leader and Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II described the Chief Justice’s move to seek a TRO from the SC as an “act of desperation.”
He said if the arguments raised by Corona in his petition were serious as he claimed, he should have raised them even before the start of trial.
“Now that he (Corona) brought the matter to the Supreme Court, there is a real threat of a constitutional crisis, and there would be a crisis in the banking industry, but that’s his fault,” Gonzales said.
He said if Corona is not hiding huge dollar bank accounts, he should allow PSBank to bare them to the public.
“If you are stopping the court from disclosing details of bank records, people would think you’re hiding something. If the SC issues a TRO, it would appear that his allies were covering up for him,” Gonzales said.
The Movement 188 group of congressmen who signed the impeachment complaint against Corona, meanwhile, urged him to voluntarily give his consent to the opening of his five dollar accounts in PSBank.
Speaking for the group, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said, “If the Chief Justice has nothing to hide, we urge him to agree to the opening of his dollar accounts.”
“This will avoid a legal confrontation between the Senate impeachment court, which has subpoenaed the records of those accounts, and CJ Corona’s bank,” he said.
Evardone said Corona’s consent would also spare PSBank president Pascual Garcia III from being cited for contempt by the impeachment court for refusing to produce the subpoenaed records, he said.
He added that refusal on Corona’s part to give such consent would only make people more suspicious.
He reminded the Chief Justice that there have been news reports that one of his accounts held as much as $700,000 at one time.
Garcia brought with him records of Corona’s peso accounts when he testified last Wednesday.
One account had a balance of more than P5 million as of Dec. 31, 2007. Another account was opened in 2009 and had a balance of P8.5 million as of Dec. 31 of that year and P12.5 million as of Dec. 31, 2010.
A third account, opened in 2010, had a balance of P7.148 million as of Dec. 31 that year.
The Senate subpoenaed the year-end balances as these were related to the impeachment charge that Corona failed to declare all his assets, including cash, in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).
In his SALN, he declared “cash and investments” amounting to P2.5 million in 2007, 2008 and 2009, and P3.5 million in 2010.
Pascual told the impeachment court that he did not bring the balances of Corona’s five dollar accounts because the Foreign Currency Deposits Act, unlike the Bank Secrecy Law covering peso deposits, prohibits the disclosure of information about foreign currency accounts even in an impeachment trial.
He said the only exception is when the depositor agrees to the opening of his accounts.
In its request for subpoena on Corona’s bank records, prosecutors attached photocopies of two PSBank customer identification and specimen signature cards, and an Application and Agreement for Deposit Account (AADA), all signed by the Chief Justice.
One signature card dated Oct. 31, 2008 covers at least two dollar time deposits and five peso accounts. It indicates that Corona is both the account holder and authorized signatory.
Another specimen signature card names Corona’s son-in-law Constantino Castillo III and his wife Ma. Carla Beatrice Eugenia Corona as account holders but with the Chief Justice as the authorized signatory. It covers a single dollar account. The signature card is dated April 16, 2007.
The AADA covers five dollar accounts with the Chief Justice as the account holder. The document indicates that it was “updated as of July 20, 2007.”
The prosecution counted a total of 14 peso and dollar accounts based on the photocopies of bank documents volunteered to it by an “anonymous source.”
However, the impeachment court subpoenaed the records of only five peso accounts and five dollar accounts. Corona’s lawyers said the bank documents in the possession of the prosecution were illegally obtained.
‘Tip of the iceberg’
Prosecution spokesman Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo said Corona’s P20-million cash in PSBank “is just the tip of the iceberg.”
“We have only hit the tip of the iceberg. What we feel is that the balances revealed in Wednesday’s trial were random samples of the chief magistrate’s hidden stash,” Quimbo told reporters.
He said the discovery of the nearly P20 million in cash in two PSBank peso accounts “only underscores the need for the Senate impeachment court to open his five dollar deposits with the same bank.”
Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada, another prosecution spokesman, said the collective contents of the two bank accounts were not reported in Corona’s SALN for 2010.
“It reinforces our appeal that the foreign currency deposits of the impeached Chief Justice be disclosed in the interest of truth and transparency,” he said.
Aurora Rep. Juan Angara said Corona must have been awash in cash in 2009-2010 “because he still managed to keep nearly P20 million in the bank as of the end of 2010 despite having bought a 303-square-meter penthouse at the Bellagio Tower in The Fort, Taguig City, in December 2009 for P14.5 million.”
At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said they don’t not see any constitutional crisis despite Corona’s filing a petition with the SC seeking to stop his impeachment trial.
“In cases of impeachment trials, SC has no jurisdiction,” Lacierda said, adding Corona was only trying to find a “friendly venue.”
“The Senate sitting as an impeachment court and the senators sitting as judges are very clear with their mandate,” he said. “They are there to hold impeachable officials accountable.
“I think the Constitution is very clear here. The Senate has sole and exclusive jurisdiction to try the impeachment cases. What we say as a matter of jargon is that the House impeaches, the Senate tries,” he said.
He explained at no point did the Constitution envision encroachment by the SC over the Senate sitting as an impeachment court since the upper chamber “is meant to hold accountable impeachable officials who include the members of the Supreme Court.”
“You cannot have someone being checked to be checking the impeachment court. That’s not the idea of the constitutional commissioners when they framed the Constitution,” Lacierda said.
“(The) question has always been: who is going to check the Supreme Court? None. Even if they make an error in their decision, you, as lawyers, will respect the decision of the Supreme Court,” Lacierda said.
“We have seen already here that the prosecution has been heavily (criticized) and yet the prosecution doesn’t say anything, doesn’t go to the Supreme Court to defend itself or to complain about the conduct of the trial,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda said the fact that Corona’s lawyers were seeking the inhibition of Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Maria Lourdes Sereno, who were known to be unsympathetic to the Chief Justice, only proved that he was relying on his friendly colleagues to save him from getting convicted.
An official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), for his part, said the Corona camp’s bid to stop his trial “may be an indicator of his guilt.”
“This is not a legal opinion but from our point of view, it is clear that if he has nothing to hide, why is he (Corona) afraid to reveal his SALN? I think that may be an indicator of guilt. It is a generally accepted principle that that is an indicator of guilt if you are hiding something,” said Fr. Edu Gariguez, executive secretary of the CBCP-National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace.
“Isn’t it if you are a judge you should favor the truth to come out? But how can he do that if he himself is hiding… the truth? He is not worthy to become a chief justice if he would use technicalities and legalities to hide the truth,” he said.
The CBCP official reminded Corona of his promise to subject himself to the impeachment process to clear his name. “So why is he backing out now?”
Kalookan Bishop Deogracias Iniguez also scoffed at the defense panel’s filing a motion to stop the impeachment trial. “Impeachment has its own laws. But that move (filing of motion) goes against the spirit of impeachment,” Iniguez said. With Aurea Calica, Evelyn Macairan
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Senators’ dilemma: Defer to SC or defy it
By Michael Lim Ubac, TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The Senate impeachment court is poised to question the Supreme Court’s order temporarily barring it from examining the dollar accounts of Chief Justice Renato Corona, according to Senator Franklin Drilon.
But Senators Miriam Santiago and Joker Arroyo said the impeachment court should comply with the temporary restraining order lest it risk a confrontation with a coequal branch that could “end in the streets.”
The Senate has asked Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza to defend it before the high court, and the latter has agreed, Drilon said Friday in a phone interview.
“We have the right to question it. We can’t just lie down and [sing] Alleluia,” said Drilon, who was authorized by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to request Jardeleza to defend the Senate.
Drilon said the Office of the Solicitor General had been furnished all the records so it could prepare “to respond on behalf of the Senate.”
“We can’t be interfered with by the Supreme Court. Otherwise, we lose our independence,” he said, reiterating that the impeachment court was “supreme” on matters pertaining to impeachment, “to the exclusion” of the high court.
He said it was up to the Solicitor General to file the “appropriate pleading” but this should be accompanied by a clear statement that “we do not recognize the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.”
SC has no jurisdiction
Drilon said “a good number” of the senators shared the sentiment of questioning the TRO, specifically the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over the impeachment court.
“I don’t think Enrile will put that to a vote, but if it comes to that, the majority of senators will vote for it,” he said.
Drilon also said questioning the TRO was not inconsistent with complying with it. “We can question the jurisdiction of the high court while we are complying with the TRO,” he said.
The high court voted 8-5 on Thursday to temporarily restrain the Senate impeachment court from compelling Philippine Savings Bank officials to disclose information on Corona’s foreign currency deposits.
“We are questioning it, definitely. Our subpoena is a lawful order of the impeachment court,” Sen. Francis Pangilinan said in a text message.
Pangilinan said that while the high court could exercise judicial review over a “justiciable” controversy, it could not do so over an impeachment case, which is political in nature.
“In other words, the Supreme Court abused its authority by interfering in the impeachment case when it is the sole prerogative of the Senate to try and decide impeachment cases,” he said.
Majority to prevail
The senators are holding a caucus on Monday morning to discuss the TRO.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he and his colleagues were facing a dilemma because complying with the TRO might be construed as a tacit admission that they committed grave abuse of discretion in voting for the issuance of the subpoena for the bank records on Corona’s dollar accounts.
“On the other hand, defying the TRO might result in an irreparable constitutional crisis,” Lacson said in a text message.
He said he expected “a heated discussion” on the matter in Monday’s caucus. “At the end of the day, the majority among us will prevail,” he said.
But Santiago and Arroyo said it would be prudent for the Senate to heed the order.
“It’s a nonissue. The court has spoken. I don’t think the Senate would be so brazen as to say we will not obey the Supreme Court,” Arroyo said by phone.
“We don’t want a confrontation between the Supreme Court and the Senate. It’s not good for the country, especially at this time,” he said.
Santiago warned that the Senate’s defiance of the TRO would lead to a “collision” between the two bodies.
“If the impeachment court resolves not to follow the TRO, there will be a collision. There’s no way of avoiding that anymore,” she told reporters in a phone-patch interview, adding:
“If none of them yields, that will result in a stalemate. It will have to be decided on the streets because there’s nobody else that will make the decision.”
‘People Power nausea’
Santiago said there were “7,000 to 10,000 people in [front of] the Supreme Court [on Thursday] in favor of [its] decision.”
“What if it were multiplied 10 times and there were a million people on EDSA?” she said. “We don’t want it to happen all over again. People are suffering from People Power nausea.”
According to Santiago, the three branches of government operate under a system of checks and balances, and the high court’s TRO is part of this.
“Clearly under the Constitution, what the Supreme Court is doing is constitutional,” she said, pointing out that if the Senate defied the TRO, it was indicating it was immune from checks “and that it becomes an absolute impeachment court.”
“That is not allowed by our system of checks and balances. No one branch is allowed to be absolute in its power,” she said.
Matter between SC, Senate
Supreme Court spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said the Senate impeachment court as well as the House prosecutors might raise the issue of jurisdiction before the Supreme Court.
But the TRO did “not necessarily” mean that the high court was interfering with the jurisdiction of the Senate over impeachment proceedings, he said.
“We will only know the issue of jurisdiction if it would be raised by the respondents; they should raise it if they think it is a proper issue,” he said.
Asked to comment on Malacañang’s warning of a constitutional crisis brought about by the TRO, Marquez said: “I don’t see where the executive [branch] is coming from. This is a matter between the Senate acting as the impeachment court and the Supreme Court.
“Let’s see how the Senate will act on it. We are of course hoping that the two equal branches of government will be maintaining interbranch comity and courtesy, and respect for each other’s issuances.”
As for the threat of House prosecutor and Ilocos Norte Representative Rodolfo Fariñas to initiate an impeachment complaint against the eight justices who voted for the issuance of the TRO, Marquez said: “Let’s wait if he’s going to file. We’ve heard that before. It’s a constant threat but of course, the justices will not be threatened by [that] canard.”
He also said the eight justices were of the belief that there was an urgency in PSBank’s petition, and that the issuance of a TRO was the “more prudent” thing to do.
Critics of Corona said the TRO issued by the high court was “a mockery of justice.”
“The TRO on [the inquiry into] Corona’s dollar deposits is a brazen attempt to obstruct the impeachment court’s efforts to uncover the truth behind [his] undeclared … bank deposits. It is a desperate move to mask the full extent of Corona’s hidden and illegitimate wealth from the public,” former lawmaker Risa Hontiveros, spokesperson of the Bantay Gloria Network said in a statement.
Hontiveros reiterated the group’s earlier call for Corona to resign or, at the very least, take a leave of absence while the impeachment trial was ongoing.
She recalled that the “Corona-led Supreme Court” issued a TRO in November 2011 that would have allowed former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo “to leave for abroad and therefore escape prosecution for plunder and electoral sabotage had she not been prevented from doing so by the Department of Justice.”
Now, she said, Arroyo’s appointees in the tribunal “have banded together once again to make a mockery of justice.”
Leah Navarro, co-convener of the Black and White Movement, said the TRO “demonstrated very clearly” that the Arroyo appointees in the high court were “working hand-in-glove with Corona’s defenders to hinder the impeachment trial and prevent Corona’s inevitable removal from office for his massive amounts of undeclared and unexplained wealth.”
Navarro called on the senator-judges to “disregard the TRO and continue to work at uncovering the complete truth regarding Corona’s bank deposits and various expensive real estate properties as required under their constitutional mandate.”
Suppression of evidence
Corona’s foreign currency deposits at PSBank could have been the prosecution’s “coup de grace” to seal his fate before the end of the fourth week of the impeachment trial, according to Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo.
“By coming to the aid of the Chief Justice when all the damaging evidence was about to unravel, and despite the risk of getting the country into a constitutional crisis,” the Supreme Court showed its readiness to rescue the Chief Justice from a judgment of conviction by the Senate,” Quimbo, the prosecution spokesperson, told the Inquirer.
He said that despite earlier setbacks, the prosecution had built a case with “clear and convincing evidence” in a span of four weeks.
“But the dollar account, in our minds, based on the way [the justices] are acting, is a ‘coup de grace.’ They are hiding substantial evidence,” he said. “It’s an attempt to hijack the process and effectively allow the suppression of evidence.”
Asked to comment, defense spokesman Tranquil Salvador III disagreed with Quimbo’s claim.
“No. The Supreme Court only exercised its power to interpret the laws under the Constitution, and we have to understand that the branches of government will not stop operating by reason of the pendency of the impeachment trial. If you will look closely at the petition, you would note that they elevated to the Supreme Court a pure question of law,” Salvador said.
He said what the TRO meant was that “our democracy is effectively functioning even if the Chief Justice is going through an impeachment trial.”
But Quimbo said the fact that the eight justices were “willing to risk getting us to the brink of a clear constitutional crisis … only means that there is something substantial there that they are trying to hide.”
“If there’s nothing there, why go through all this process and practically throw away the Constitution?” he said. “That’s the message. What the Supreme Court is now effectively saying is that transparency is limited only to Philippine currency.”
Salvador, however, pointed out that the high court had acted on the petition filed by PSBank, not by the defense.
Read the full story >> Senators’ dilemma: Defer to SC or defy it
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Fariñas: Corona wants to be tried in two courts
By Paolo Romero and Jess Diaz
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – Chief Justice Renato Corona is effectively being tried in two courts – in the Senate and in the Supreme Court – where he shuttles from one to the other or vice versa whenever he thinks it necessary, Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas said yesterday.
“I think the Chief Justice wants to be tried in two courts, in the Senate and in the Supreme Court, whenever it suits him,” Fariñas, a member of the House prosecution panel in the impeachment trial of the chief justice, told The STAR.
“We in the prosecution always submit to the decisions of the Senate impeachment court even if we don’t like them. The defense also get favorable rulings and they just say thank you but if they don’t like the decisions, they run to the Supreme Court,” he said.
Fariñas voiced his observation a day after the SC granted the petition of Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) to stop the Senate impeachment court from scrutinizing the chief magistrate’s dollar accounts. The SC also said on Thursday it was deferring action on a petition from the camp of Corona to stop the impeachment proceedings.
Fariñas said that while the prosecution panel fully recognizes and submits to the authority of the Senate impeachment court, Corona’s lawyers don’t hesitate to seek relief from the high court which the latter heads.
“They (defense lawyers) even had the gall to ask the Supreme Court to stop the trial. That’s unfair for us,” he said.
Fariñas, who did not sign the Articles of Impeachment against Corona, said it was obvious the Chief Justice is desperately trying to hide evidence against him judging from the legal moves of his lawyers.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Thursday told reporters that he was amazed by Corona’s move to seek relief from the SC.
Belmonte and House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II however said that the Chief Justice is in a no-win situation even if he is able to secure a TRO on the opening of his PSBank dollar accounts.
House prosecutors claimed a major breakthrough in their bid to pin down Corona on misdeclaration of his wealth after Thursday’s testimony from Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) Ayala branch manager Leonora Dizon led to the discovery of what they considered secret accounts of the chief magistrate.
The prosecutors noted that Corona’s P12.02 million BPI checking account in 2010 meant that his undeclared bank deposits for that year totaled P31.74 million.
In his SALN for 2010, Corona declared three pricey condominium properties, namely: a penthouse unit at the Bellagio Tower in Taguig City which he and his wife bought in 2009; a unit at the Bonifacio Ridge, also in Taguig City, in 2004; and a unit at The Columns in Makati City in 2003.
However, the prosecution noted that Corona undervalued the three properties by P16.9 million in his SALN and only declared these in his 2010 filing.
BPI’s Dizon also revealed that the chief magistrate’s deposit of P153,395 in 2006 grew sharply to P5.07 million in 2007.
This amount, plus the P5.07 million cash deposit with PSBank, totaled P10.08 million as opposed to the P2.5 million Corona declared in his 2007 SALN.
Prosecutors also believe that even without Corona’s dollar deposit being presented to the impeachment court, he can still be convicted for failing to declare some of his wealth, House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said yesterday.
“We consider the evidence to be very strong to warrant conviction even without those dollar accounts being opened by the Senate impeachment court,” he told reporters. “The contents of CJ Corona’s peso accounts with PSBank and BPI would suffice. But the examination of his dollar accounts with PSBank could have been the coup de grace,” he said.
Gonzales was reacting to the SC’s temporary restraining order (TRO) on Thursday on the subpoena on Corona’s dollar accounts.
He said the 11-member House prosecution team led by Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. has shown in this week’s trial that Corona had nearly P20 million in two PSBank accounts and P12 million in BPI as of Dec. 31, 2010.
He said aside from failing to declare his bank deposits, Corona did not declare his P14.5-million Bellagio penthouse in Global City, Taguig, another condo unit in Bonifacio Ridge also in Global City and his condo at The Columns in Makati City in his SALN for the years they were acquired.
They were declared only in 2010, five to six years after the Bonifacio Ridge and The Columns condo units were purchased and a year after the Bellagio 1 penthouse was acquired, he added.
Gonzales also said the issue on the opening of Corona’s five dollar accounts with PSBank is still hanging despite the issuance of TRO by the SC.
“The Senate impeachment court will meet on Monday to decide whether to recognize or ignore the TRO, though it refrained from touching on the dollar accounts in Thursday’s hearing,” he said.
He said in case the impeachment tribunal votes to ignore the TRO, he doubted whether PSBank’s Garcia could be compelled to speak up on Corona’s dollar deposits.
“But I think the Chief Justice is really in a no-win situation on this issue. By running to the Supreme Court for a TRO and with his bank’s refusal to disclose any information, people now think he is hoarding a lot of dollars in those accounts,” he stressed.
The PSBank president said that unlike the Bank Secrecy Law covering peso deposits, the Foreign Currency Deposits Act prohibits the disclosure of any information even in an impeachment trial, unless the depositor gives his consent.
In a statement yesterday, PSBank said the SC issued the TRO after its lawyers filed a petition “to effectively seek guidance on whether the Bank and its officers would be legally justified in complying with the subpoena of the Impeachment Court without violating RA 6426 and Section 87 of the Manual of Regulations on Foreign Exchange Transactions.” – With Christina Mendez, Rhodina Villanueva