Obey or junk TRO? Decision made today
SENATOR-JUDGES will hold a caucus at 11 a.m. today to discuss the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order on disclosing the foreign currency deposits of Chief Justice Renato Corona as the impeachment trial enters its fifth week.
The senators are being pressed to either respect the TRO, as urged by lawyers’ groups, or to defy it, as demanded by elements sympathetic to the administration.
The impeachment imbroglio turned ugly when the defense camp Sunday night accused President Aquino of arm-twisting senator-judges to defy the TRO.
Defense counsel Dennis Manalo said the President, through Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, contacted senator-judges and allegedly offered them P100 million each for “soft” projects in exchange for their vote to defy the TRO.
“Yesterday (Saturday), we received very reliable info that Executive Secretary Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa, acting in behalf of President Benigno Aquino III, is personally contacting and phoning senator-judges to persuade them to defy the Temporary Restraining Order issued by the Supreme Court in favor of Philippine Savings Bank,” Manalo said.
Manalo said Malacañang has released the fund from its savings supposedly intended for soft projects.
Asked who their source is, the defense panel refused to divulge any information, except to say it was a “big man” an obvious comic reference to the “small woman” who they said provided the House prosecutors with a list of Corona’s bank deposits with the PSB.
Ochoa Jr., in a statement, denied what he called as “unsubstantiated, unattributed allegations” by the Corona defense team.
“Citing rumors to prove baseless accusations to support their cause goes against the principles of decent and ethical lawyering. It is a desperate gimmick that does not belong in the proceedings of any court of law, especially an impeachment trial,” he said.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the defense team’s press conference showed that they prefer to use squid tactics.
“There is a lot of loose talk and idle –not to mention—malicious speculation going around. It is incumbent on people who should know better not to fall for every conspiracy theory whispered to you,” he said.
Sen. Ralph Recto said, “”I have not received a call from Executive Secretary Ochoa and I cannot be bribed.”
One of the defense lawyers said the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, could be cited for contempt should it defy a Supreme Court ruling last Thursday against the disclosure of Corona’s dollar accounts at the Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank).
Karen Jimeno, also spokesperson for the defense, said the impeachment court could also be criminally liable for violating the Bank Secrecy Law on foreign currency deposits.
Jimeno said it is the PSBank which is in position to comment on the TRO since it was issued in its favor and not in favor of Corona.
She said PSBank asked for a TRO since it is clear to them that under the Bank Secrecy Law on foreign deposits, the only exemption is when the depositor waives his or her right on bank secrecy.
Presiding judge and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile last Thursday subpoenaed PSBank Katipunan branch manager Annabelle Tiongson to appear in today’s hearings.
In the hearing last Thursday, PSBank president Pascual Garcia III refused to give details on foreign currency deposits “of anyone,” citing Republic Act 4626, or the Foreign Currency Deposit Act.
He also cast doubts on the authenticity of the bank documents presented by the prosecution supposedly showing the opening of Corona’s dollar accounts at the PSBank.
The defense camp also asked the High Court to issue a TRO also on the impeachment proceedings. The SC has yet to decide on the petition.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson branded as “pure rubbish and nothing more” the allegation of a P100-million offer to each senator-judge to take an anti-TRO stand.
“It is unfair and even contemptuous to preempt the senators who have yet to discuss the matter in a caucus tomorrow,” he said.
Meawnhile, there are talks of an impending coup to oust Enrile as presiding officer in the impeachment trial.
“Yes, I heard (the coup) rumors,” majority leader Tito Sotto III.
Sotto admitted he is clueless about the alleged plot. “I don’t know. Perhaps, they are not happy with the way the Corona trial is going. I have no details. Just rumors.”
Senator-judges Joker Arroyo and Miriam Santiago said the impeachment court should follow the TRO issued by the Supreme Court being the “final arbiter of law.”
Arroyo said the TRO, by its name is only temporary and enjoined the parties to just await the court’s final decision. “The SC cannot abdicate its constitutional duty to act on matters at hand.”
Santiago also warned of a constitutional crisis if the impeachment court refuses to heed the TRO.
She said the Senate’s defiance of the TRO would lead to a collision between the legislative and the judiciary.
“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,” she said.
Administration allies Senator-judges Franklin Drilon and Francis Pangilinan said the SC should not dictate on the impeachment court.
“Walang pwedeng mag-utos sa impeachment court,” Drilon said.
Pangilinan said “hindi dapat pagtakpan ng Supreme Court ang katiwalian (ni Corona).
The 1,345 member-Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), the largest association of Catholic schools, called on Corona to give his consent for the opening of his foreign currency deposits.
The largest association of Catholic schools, in a statement, said the issuance of the TRO is an “unfortunate event” and would affect the people’s trust in the judiciary.
“This is truly disconcerting inasmuch as the political process of impeachment is seen by many Filipinos as an avenue for authentic institutional reforms in the Judiciary. Instead, the impeachment trial of CJ Corona is being challenged as a violation of the theory of co-equal branch of government, more so when viewed in light of the prevailing criticism that the SC has stepped in on this issue to “protect” one of its own,” the CEAP statement said.
Among the CEAP’s member-schools is Corona’s alma mater of Ateneo de Manila University as well as the University of Santo Tomas where he has a doctorate in law.
“In the interest of truth and justice, CJ Corona should allow the disclosure of these foreign currency account deposits in order that the impeachment proceedings can fully and fairly take place,” CEAP said.
CEAP said that when Corona “conveniently hid” behind the protection of the TRO, it only resulted in more people questioning his moral integrity to lead the SC.
The 11-man prosecution panel said the uncovered undeclared local bank accounts of Corona worth P31.7 million should be enough to secure his conviction for Article II.
Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo, lead spokesman, said they are confident that Corona will be convicted.
“Even without the dollar deposits, we are already very confident that we have proven beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of the Chief Justice. We have been able to show that he failed to declare three condominiums for a number of years as well as deposits in 2010 alone. Article 2 is already a case closed as far as we are concerned,” he said.
Quimbo stressed that said properties 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.
The prosecution also stressed that Corona allegedly undervalued the three properties by P16.9 million in his SALN and only declared these in his 2010 filing. – With Ashzel Hachero, Wendell Vigilia, Evangeline de Vera, Regina Bengco and Jocelyn Montemayor