MANILA, Philippines – The prosecution panel is expected to stress tomorrow that Chief Justice Renato Corona withdrew at least $3.25 million deposits from Dec. 12, 2011, the day he was impeached, to Dec. 22, 2011, contrary to what he claimed on Friday that he held only $2.4 million deposits.
The withdrawal records form part of the 17-page report of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) on Corona’s peso and dollar accounts which Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales earlier presented to the impeachment court.
Corona’s dollar withdrawal records from Dec. 12 to Dec. 22, 2011 are as follows: $135,359 on Dec. 12 from PSBank-Katipunan; $418,193 on Dec. 12 from the Bank of the Philippine Islands-San Francisco del Monte; $401,658 million on Dec. 13 from Allied Bank-Kamias; $769,681 on Dec. 15 from PSBank-Katipunan; $487,998 on Dec. 19 from Allied Bank-Kamias; $687,433 on Dec. 19 from BPI Investment Management Inc.; and $350,000 on Dec. 22 from PSBank.
Documents also showed that the $487,998 he withdrew on Dec. 19 was either in the form of a manager’s check or telegraphic transfer, while the $350,000, which he withdrew on Dec. 22 was transmitted to an account outside the country.
An analysis of the 17-page AMLC report being prepared by the prosecution team during the weekend, which was presented to The STAR, also showed that Corona’s dollars started growing only in 2004, contrary to the chief magistrate’s claims that he had been accumulating dollars for the past 35 years.
The prosecution team’s analysis, conducted with the help of auditors tapped by the panel, showed that the excess of Corona’s dollar deposits over withdrawals – or the amount of dollars he held at the end of each year – amounted to only $60,105 in 2004 but climbed to $859,369 in 2005 and to $1.110 million in 2006.
From 2007 to 2011, the excess of fund inflows over outflows at the end of each year continued to increase.
Corona had $1.4 million at the end of 2007; $1.8 in 2008; $2.998 million in 2009; $2.662 million in 2010 and $1.043 million in 2011.
This would total to $11.9 million, the documents also showed.
The number could even be higher because the AMLA only has access to transactions in excess of $10,000.
During his testimony at the impeachment court on Friday, Corona called Morales’ testimony as a “web of lies” and strongly denied the Ombudsman’s claim that he held $10 million to $12 million in dollar deposits.
“It was more or less $2.4 million. That’s what we bought over the years,” Corona said, responding to a question by Senate Minority Leader Alan Cayetano.
During his testimony, Corona also said he started investing in foreign exchange in the 1960s when the exchange rate was P2 to $1.
However, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the peso-dollar exchange rate hovered at around P3.90 to the dollar from 1963 to 1969 and not P2 to $1.
“The peso-dollar exchange rate hovered tightly at around P3.90 from 1963 to 1969 before devaluing to an average of P6.02 to the dollar in the 1970s,” according to data from the BSP, casting doubt on Corona’s claims on the build-up of the value of his dollar accounts.
Good faith won’t get CJ acquitted
As this developed, the prosecution said Corona’s claim of good faith in not declaring millions of bank deposits in his asset statements would not get him acquitted.
“CJ Corona’s defense is good faith, but we have shown that there was no good faith as there was concealment of enormous amount of wealth,” lead prosecutor Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. of Iloilo said.
He said the Constitution, which requires public officers to declare all their wealth in their statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), should prevail over a law on foreign currency deposits, Republic Act 6426.
Corona justified his nondisclosure of his dollar deposits allegedly amounting to $2.4 million (more than P100 million) by claiming that RA 6426 exempts public officials and employees from reporting their foreign currency savings in their SALN.
Prosecution spokesman Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara of Aurora said the Chief Justice “admitted his offense” by confessing before the impeachment court that he has $2.4 million and P80 million in the bank and that he did not declare such deposits in his SALN.
“His admissions strengthened the prosecution’s case by filling out the details of what he failed to disclose in his SALN,” he said.
He said the impeachment court and the public would not buy Corona’s “alibi” that the law exempts public officers from disclosing their dollar deposits.
“Does he think the public is that gullible? He is the chief justice, he must be the best person to know the law,” he stressed.
He pointed out that aside from the 1987 Constitution, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standard for Public Officials and Employees, a “later law” than the Marcos-era statute on foreign currency deposits, also requires government personnel to declare all their wealth.
Angara also said Corona’s defense of good faith is difficult to believe, recalling that early in the trial, the prosecution has shown a “pattern of concealment” of assets on the part of the Chief Justice.
“He was five years to six years late in including condominium units in Makati and Taguig in his SALN. For instance, he declared his Ayala Avenue, Makati condo only in his 2010 SALN, although this was fully paid for in November 2004,” he said.
Corona’s defense lawyers justified the “belated” disclosure by presenting witnesses who testified that Cristina Corona had complaints about the condominium units that took years to resolve.
The Chief Justice also did not tell the impeachment court why he was late in reporting at least four condominium units.
Chief prosecution spokesman Rep. Miro Quimbo of Marikina said Corona’s explanations on his nondisclosure of his bank deposits were “hard to believe and quite absurd.”
“How can he justify $2.4 million and P80 million in his name and only declare P3.5 million? He was holding P76.5 million for his children and family? That’s absurd,” Quimbo pointed out.
Another prosecution lawyer, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, said Corona sealed his fate with his admission that he did not declare his dollar and peso deposits in his SALN.
He said the Chief Justice tried to salvage the situation by presenting an unconditional waiver on the secrecy of his bank accounts.
He said the provision of the law on foreign currency deposits prohibiting the disclosure of such assets is addressed to the bank, not the depositor.
RA versus Constitution
Meanwhile, Malacañang said it would await the decision of the Senate on the impeachment case before moving to amend or not the Foreign Currency Deposits Act (FCDA) since many lawyers were of the opinion that it did not have any conflict with the Constitution.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Corona finally admitted what the impeachment court had wanted to find out by disclosing he owned $2.4 million in dollar deposits and P80 million in peso deposits acquired over many years.
He said while the Chief Justice used RA 6426 as justification to withhold information about his dollar accounts, he claimed his peso deposits were co-mingled and thus these need not be declared.
Lacierda said Corona reported in his 2010 SALN only P3.5 million in cash.
“The issues have been joined. Mr. Corona has become the best witness for the prosecution. He has proven, by his demeanor and his very own statements, the validity of the charges against him, and provided evidence more than sufficient to determine his fate,” he said.
Lacierda said that Corona, by his testimony, has proposed that a 1974 law is supreme over the requirements of the 1987 Constitution.
“He has made his legal legacy a ‘Get Out of Jail Free Card’ for all officials who are plunderers and crooks. They will merely have to park their ill-gotten funds in foreign currency accounts to immunize themselves from the effects of our anti-graft laws,” he said.
Palace deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said it would be best to wait for the result of the impeachment proceedings since many lawyers were of the opinion that Corona was wrong in assuming that a law could prevail over the Constitution in not declaring dollar accounts.
She said the principle of hierarchy of laws was clear even to first year law students.
She said the public must remember that FCDA was directed to the banks and not to depositors.
“The exception given was permission from the depositors. So obviously, it does not bar the depositor from talking about his own deposits. Because the exception is explicit – it empowers the depositor to sign a waiver to talk about his own deposits – so that law is not directed to the depositor himself but to the banks that handle and take care of the deposits,” she said.
Valte added there would only be different interpretations of the law if it was vague, but not “when it is as clear as the sunshine.”
“There is no need for interpretation. That is also a basic rule in the subject that we have called statutory construction,” she said.
The historic impeachment trial is now nearing its homestretch and is expected to resume on Monday with closing arguments to be presented by the prosecution and the defense panels.
The senator-judges are expected to vote either on Monday or Tuesday.