By Jess Diaz
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – The prosecution panel has expressed confidence that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has the goods to pin down Chief Justice Renato Corona on his purported $10-million bank accounts.
“That is my impression. She must have based her request for the Chief Justice to answer allegations against him about his dollar accounts on some credible documents, other than the complaints filed by some concerned citizens,” prosecution spokesman Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada said yesterday.
The Ombudsman is scheduled to testify before the Senate impeachment court this week.
A reliable source who asked not to be named said Morales is expected to talk about 80 dollar accounts with millions of dollars held in about four banks apart from Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank), with over 400 transactions recorded between 2003 and 2011.
Morales and other complainants have been subpoenaed as “hostile witnesses” upon the request of Corona’s lawyers.
Earlier, the Ombudsman, invoking the power to conduct an investigation even against impeachable officials, directed Corona to disprove the bank records that were turned over by Harvey Keh and other complainants, including Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello and his predecessor, former Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel.
“She has that authority under the Ombudsman Law. Besides, the annual statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) that the Chief Justice signed includes a waiver on the examination of his bank
deposits. The waiver is a feature of the SALN,” he said.
Another prosecution spokesman, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara said the issue of the $10-million alleged foreign currency deposits would bolster the prosecution panel’s assertion that Corona failed to declare some of his cash assets in his previous SALNs.
“The prosecution is cautiously awaiting the reception of evidence from the Ombudsman on such accounts. Do they exist and contain such a large amount of money? If indeed, they are shown to exist, we believe they would bring to a finish this long drawn out trial,” Angara added.
In most of his SALNs until 2010, Corona’s total net worth was placed at P23 million at the highest.
“The CJ could not possibly have a valid or plausible defense should there be $10 million in his account, given that he only declared P23 million at the most in his SALN,” he noted.
“No good faith defense would hold and it would be clear that this was undeclared, and possibly ill-gotten,” Angara added.
Malacañang also echoed the belief of the prosecution that Morales can pin down the chief magistrate on corruption charges.
“We know that the Ombudsman is very, very careful in her findings,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda explained yesterday.
“So when she said that there’s a $10-million deposit (in Corona’s accounts), we would ascribe a lot of iota of truth there,” he added.
Lacierda acknowledged, however, that they still have no idea whether the Ombudsman knows it to be accurate.
“We don’t know what information, what’s the basis of the information she has. It will be divulged once she (Morales) is summoned by the Senate,” he said.
Senator-judges, Palace welcomes CJ, Ombudsman’s testimonies
Meanwhile, Senators Francis Escudero, Francis Pangilinan and majority leader Vicente Sotto III are expecting both Ombudsman Morales and the Chief Justice to be able to explain the alleged $10-million charge.
“They will be asked to substantiate the $10-million charge,” Escudero said.
Sotto noted that Morales’ appearance would be “interesting” while Corona’s move to testify before the impeachment court was “most important.”
“We don’t really know what and who the defense will present tomorrow. But the Ombudsman will be a very interesting witness,” Sotto said.
Sen. Pangilinan expects that Corona will be able to shed light on the discrepancies in his SALN, and the various revelations within and outside the impeachment court.
“He (Corona) should shed light in the discrepancies between his assets and the net worth he reported in his SALN totaling P22 million and the real and personal properties that have been shown to exist under his name including his five dollar accounts in PSBank, the millions of pesos in other accounts and real properties with purchase prices exceeding his total net worth in his SALN,” Pangilinan said.
The senators will hold a caucus this morning to discuss how to go about the decision of Corona to appear before the court and the presentation of Morales as a hostile witness.
Also pending before the chamber is a petition filed by the defense, calling for Senator-judge Edgardo Angara to inhibit from the trial.
Angara had formally manifested that he will not inhibit, citing his constitutional duty to act as judge in the impeachment court.
The Palace also welcomed the decision of Corona to take the witness stand.
“We certainly welcome the decision of the defense and also the Chief Justice to decide to testify before the Impeachment Court,” Lacierda said in a press briefing.
“The truth will come out, one way or the other. We have always maintained that the only person who can testify to the truthfulness of the SALN, to the truthfulness of all his assets would be the Chief Justice,” he said.
“And so by coming forth, he will be able to shed light on what he truly has in his possession – the assets; meaning, the cash, foreign currency deposits, as well as the real properties,” Lacierda said.
“This is something that everybody is looking forward to – even the senator judges, even all of us, even the media is also looking forward to it. So as to what the substance of the testimony is, it will always be subject to cross-examination,” he added.
According to Lacierda, Corona’s testimony will be a weaving details of the whole story, where the big picture will eventually be revealed, since the impeachment trial is covered live by media.
He said it would also be up to the senator-judges to decide whether they would reverse their previous ruling that prevented scrutiny of Corona’s dollar accounts, in compliance with a Supreme Court order that invoked total confidentiality of such accounts.
“We will leave it with the senators to decide if they will reconsider their vote on the dollar deposits,” Lacierda said, noting that Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) president Pascual Garcia’s testimony confirmed the existence of dollar accounts, without mentioning any amount.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said they expect Corona to make good his promise to take the witness stand and tell the truth about his dollar accounts.
Malacañang has called on Corona to tell the whole truth when he takes the witness stand before the Senate impeachment court.
Valte said they expect Corona to reveal everything over lingering questions on the alleged dollar deposits.
“Pawang katotohanan lamang (Only the truth),” was the phrase Valte said, when asked of expectations. She refused though to speculate whether a Corona testimony would be the game changer in the impeachment trial.
“It’s too early to judge whether his testimony would be substantial or a waste of time. Let’s just wait for his testimony, and what will be his answer to questions regarding his dollar accounts by the senator-judges,” Valte said.
Corona needs knockout evidence to win
Comparing the five-month old impeachment trial of the Chief Justice to a boxing match, prosecution spokesman and Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo said that Corona needs a knockout punch of evidence to emerge victorious.
“His testimony will make or break for the defense, but not for the prosecution because we already have an overwhelming case to produce a conviction,” Quimbo told The STAR.
Last week, Corona’s lawyers moved that Corona will personally testify at his own trial on the condition that he be allowed to face his accusers on the recent issue of $10-million in foreign currency deposits, which was being investigated by the Office of the Ombudsman.
With the trial in the homestretch, Quimbo maintained that Corona and his defense team have failed to rebut evidence on Article 2, which is the strongest among the remaining three Articles of Impeachment that Corona is now facing at the Senate.
Article 2 delves on Corona’s betrayal of public trust and/or culpable violation of the Constitution for non-disclosure of his SALNs, and alleged failure to declare some properties and bank accounts in the SALN from 2003 to 2010.
“Akin to boxing, we are in the last round. Realizing that they are losing heavily in the scorecard of all the judges, they need a knockout to win. That’s what they hope CJ will do. We doubt that he’ll be able to do that,” the Marikina representative added. – With Delon Porcalla, Christina Mendez
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Will CJ trial shift to Aquino on trial?
By Ira Pedrasa
Being hostile to the hostile witness
MANILA, Philippines – The name of President Benigno Aquino III has several times been dragged into the trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, but with an ally taking to the witness stand, he may yet be in for the roasting.
The testimony of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales is also mostly awaited, other than that of Corona himself. Analysts also see an “open season” of questioning when she takes the witness stand as a “hostile witness.”
Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) spokesperson and Northern Luzon chapter governor Dennis Habawel told ABS-CBNnews.com that it would be a fair question if the defense would pose one or two to Carpio Morales.
Aquino, since day one, has mouthed his reverence for Carpio Morales. He broke traditions when he chose her for the oath-taking. He would later choose Carpio Morales from three other aspirants for the Ombudsman post, a choice that everyone saw coming.
“Based on the answers of the Chief Justice (to the verified complaint), he mentioned the reasons why he was impeached, so that’s material. It’s a fair question and it’s up to Ombudsman if she will say yes or no,” Habawel said.
In his answer filed back in December, Corona said the filing of the impeachment complaint was the handiwork of the Liberal Party, led by Aquino himself. He said the complaint was borne out of the “the “bias against [Corona] and the predisposition to destroy him by associating him with the unpopular former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and by misinterpreting his concurrence to certain Supreme Court decisions as protecting former President Arroyo.”
Corona pounced on this in subsequent incidents, even connecting his trial to Aquino’s dismay over the Supreme Court’s decision to distribute Hacienda Luisita owned by the President’s relatives.
Aquino and his allies were also not wanting on this matter. The trial has taken a personality outside the Senate court until Aquino’s communication group decided to impose a self-gag rule.
The trial took a different turn last week when the Senate dismissed one after the other the witnesses provided by the defense.
Finally, on Tuesday, the defense shocked everyone by having the Ombudsman and four others subpoenaed on an issue they earlier said they would rather ignore.
Defense lawyer Judd Roy said Corona would also appear before the court to rebut the allegations that he has $10 million, as earlier indicated by the Ombudsman in an order. Roy said that if the issue on $10 million is raised before the court, Corona will be “compelled to confront directly the accusations.”
“The way I understand it, there were allegations made outside of court, such as the $10 million…which has entered into the consciousness even of the senator-judges. So papaano mo nga naman masasagot if the prosecution brought the allegations outside the court,” Habawel said.
He said it is just a “fair strategy” that the defense brought the issue of the $10 million inside the court’s jurisdiction.
For former Senator Aquilino Pimentel, the character of a hostile witness “may cause problems for the prosecution kung alam ng defense i-exploit ang kanyang pag-witness.”
Rules of court
Section 10, Rule 132 of the Rules of Court dictates that the examining party can pose leading and misleading questions from a hostile witness. Leading questions, of course, suggests to a witness that a statement is true.
Habawel explained that getting a hostile witness is a right afforded to the defendant, in a way that his or her credibility is destroyed “so that whatever she says can’t be used by the prosecution.”
In the impeachment trial of Corona, Carpio Morales will have to prove that her allegations of $10 million are true.
“If the Ombudsman fails to support her allegations, these become incredible,” he added.
University of Sto. Tomas Faculty of Civil Law Dean Nilo Divina also said the summoning of Carpio Morales is also meant to “destroy the credibility of the prosecution.”
He said the game plan of the defense could be one of “public sympathy.”
Divina also said the Ombudsman can always deny any leading statements made by the defense, but she has to substantiate her answer in some way.
Like all the others, he said the Ombudsman also has the right against self-incrimination.
Asked if she can keep secret some of the goings-on at the Office of the Ombudsman vis-à-vis the probe against Corona, Pimentel, for his part, said: “I doubt it. She can be compelled to reveal everything unless covered by privilege communication.”
Habawel agreed, noting that the subpoena can be a telling piece of communication. The subpoena orders them to bring the original and certified true copies of the complaints against Corona, and of the documents where they based the allegation that Corona keeps $10 million in different bank accounts.
He also said Carpio Morales can have her own counsels to back her up. He added senator-judges can also jump in when the going gets tough.
Ombudsman and her evidence
“But she should have assured herself before she issued the order,” Habawel noted.
Some of the petitioners in the complaint filed before the Ombudsman earlier admitted they did not allege the $10 million. The petitioners, including Aquino ally and former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros, were also called as hostile witnesses.
Asked for the basis of her order, Carpio Morales had said: “We just walked through all the reports gathered from the media and we thought the impeachment is already going on, it was the best time to initiate investigation when we received the complaints.”
She said her office is mandated under the law to evaluate the complaints “and if there are enough leads and there’s a reasonable ground – there is the word reasonable and I again emphasize it – to believe that investigation is warranted, then the Ombudsman is mandated to request or direct the impeachable official to answer within 72 hours. It’s in the law. It’s not my choice.”