MANILA, Philippines – Chief Justice Renato Corona has promised to testify before the Senate impeachment court, but only if Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and the complainants who filed a case on his alleged $10-million bank deposits would also be summoned.
This developed as Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile yesterday granted the request of the defense panel for a 48-hour suspension of proceedings to allow them to prepare for the trial.
“Anyway, there is a promise here for the CJ to testify… We may ask him to tell the bank to release his foreign currency bank accounts, so we will wait until that time,” Enrile said.
Defense lawyer Ramon Esguerra said Corona yesterday finally decided to appear before the impeachment court after going over the documents presented to the Office of the Ombudsman on the alleged dollar deposits.
“He was able to see the copies of what came from Harvey Keh of the alleged bank transactions or the summary of bank transactions and he saw them to be all fabrications,” Esguerra said.
The defense panel has a pending motion for the impeachment court to summon Keh, Gibby Gorres, former party-list representative Risa Hontiveros, Albert Concepcion, Rep. Walden Bello, Ernest Calayag, Moises Albiento, Tristan Zinampan and Emmanuel Chu Santos regarding their allegations about Corona’s $10 million in bank deposits.
Esguerra gave assurance that the Chief Justice would disclose and explain all the details of his bank accounts when he takes the witness stand.
“He can explain. At that point there was nothing to explain because they were not able to say anything other than being able to portray him as hiding something. But there was nothing to prove except the existence of the accounts supposedly, which is the subject of the TRO (temporary restraining order),” Esguerra said.
“Yes (he will answer everything). Nobody can believe it but that’s the way we were instructed. Only death can separate him from revealing the truth,” he added.
Defense lawyer Jose Roy III also cited the “gentle recommendation” of Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada last Monday for the Chief Justice to testify.
“The defense is not going to skirt this issue… If the honorable court is inclined that we should address this issue, if the honorable court is inclined to make this form part of any basis (for the) verdict rendered here, we will willingly confront the issue,” he said.
“We are happy now that you are cooperating,” Enrile said of Corona’s decision to testify.
Enrile said the move would allow the court to determine whether Corona had assets which were not actually included in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), the subject of Article 2 of the impeachment complaint.
“We are not categorizing any asset as an illegally acquired asset, but it is still an asset that must be included in the SALN if it exists. The issue whether it is illegal or legal is of no moment. It is a question if that asset exists, and if it does exist, was that included in the SALN,” Enrile said.
“If it is $10 million and it’s proven to be there, or $1, then it’s a function of this court whether it constitutes a violation of Section 17 first sentence under Article XI,” he added.
Enrile said he would issue the subpoena against Morales and company as soon as the court receives a formal request.
Estrada said he is also “very happy” with Corona’s decision.
“We will be asking him a lot of things including the alleged $10-million deposit in a certain bank,” Estrada said.
A number of dollar accounts allegedly owned by Corona at Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) were not opened in court because of the TRO issued by the Supreme Court.
The TRO was issued in response to a petition filed by PSBank president Pascual Garcia III, who cited Republic Act 6426 or the Foreign Currency Deposit Act, which provides for absolute confidentiality of dollar deposits.
Prosecution welcomes move
Prosecution spokesman Rep. Erin Tañada also welcomed the move of the defense, adding that they are “prepared to meet them head on.”
Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo stressed that only Corona can explain the circumstances in his SALN.
“At this point in time, the stocks are just so much against them that they want a way to get out of this situation,” Quimbo said, noting that the defense is unable to present enough evidence to clear the Chief Justice.
The prosecution panel earlier said it would be to their advantage if Corona would not appear before the impeachment court.
“It (Corona not testifying) is favorable to the prosecution because the impression to us is the defense panel is concealing something,” Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara said.
Quimbo added it would be difficult to acquit the Chief Justice if he does not show up in the impeachment hearing.
Senators have also urged Corona to testify, saying this would allow him to answer the allegations against him.
Quality of defense witnesses
Meanwhile, Sen. Panfilo Lacson echoed the disappointment of Enrile and Estrada on the quality of witnesses being presented by the defense panel.
Lacson said the 18 witnesses that the defense had so far presented were not able to disprove the allegations of the prosecution panel, particularly those related to Article 2 of the Articles of Impeachment against Corona.
“So if I may give the defense team an unsolicited piece of advice, it would be better for them to convince their client to take the witness stand,” Lacson said.
“If he (Corona) satisfactorily explains the discrepancies, as alleged, in his SALN, we have no reason to convict. But if he does not explain anything or fails to explain reasonably or satisfactorily, then we can have no reason to acquit,” he added.
“We understand the (concern) of the defense, that once he takes the stand, anything goes. But without an explanation coming from him, how could we justify to our own consciences to acquit a person who did not even bother to provide an explanation,” he added.