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Corona urged to sign waiver on dollars

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MANILA, Philippines - As doubts persist on Chief Justice Renato Corona’s readiness to bare everything in his appearance before the Senate impeachment court on Tuesday, senators may require him to issue a waiver allowing the court to examine his bank records or they may opt to disregard a Supreme Court temporary restraining order on the opening of some of his bank accounts.

Sen. Sergio Osmeña said Corona may be spared from intense grilling on the witness stand if he just agrees to sign a waiver allowing banks where he has accounts to release information to the Senate impeachment court.

“It would be the simplest way. Because the best evidence would be the bank document itself. No amount of explanation can be better than that,” Osmeña said.

“As a matter of fact, it would be bad for him if he says, ‘you cannot touch my bank account because that is protected by law.’ That is the worst admission that he can make that he is hiding something,” Osmeña added.

It was Sen. Panfilo Lacson who first dared the Chief Justice to issue a waiver on his dollar deposits, saying it would save precious time and effort.
With a waiver, the concerned banks would no longer have to worry about violating Republic Act 6426 or the Foreign Currency Deposit Act, which provide for an absolute confidentiality of dollar deposits. The only exception to the rule under the law is when the depositor himself agrees to provide his written consent to opening his accounts for scrutiny.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, for his part, said that if Corona refuses to have his dollar accounts opened for scrutiny by senator-judges, “we will be left with no choice but to set aside the previous vote to respect the Supreme Court TRO on these accounts and compel PS Bank to open up these accounts in the trial.”

“The verdict in this trial rests primarily on determining whether or not these dollar accounts exist. It is the duty of the impeachment court to seek the truth even if it means disregarding a TRO by the Supreme Court,” Pangilinan said. He lamented that the TRO has become a tool of the Corona camp to suppress the truth.
“The impeachment court has the sole power to try and decide impeachment cases and this TRO violates the Constitution because it severely hampers our ability to try the case,” Pangilinan said. The SC issued the TRO in the early days of the impeachment trial to prevent the senators from scrutinizing Corona’s accounts with PSBank. In the trial, PSBank president Pascual Garcia testified on the existence of Corona’s dollar accounts by refused to give details. The impeachment court later voted to abide by the TRO.

“The SC TRO, as feared, has become an unwarranted and unlawful encroachment on our sole power to try the case. If we continue to respect this TRO we are not only sharing a power that the Constitution says is ours alone, worse, we become obedient serviles of the Supreme Court and its Chief Justice, allowing them all to tell us how we are to try and decide impeachment cases,” Pangilinan added.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III earlier called on his colleagues to reconsider their previous decision to abide by the TRO following the defense’s decision to let Corona take the witness stand. Apart from finding out the truth regarding Corona’s dollar deposits, Pimentel said a bigger issue is the need for the Senate impeachment court to assert its power to compel the defense camp to submit the necessary documents to the court.

In last week’s impeachment trial, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales made a power point presentation of transactions involving more than $12 million in dollar accounts in five banks in the name of Corona. Morales’ presentation was based on documents she received from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

An analysis made jointly by the Office of the Ombudsman and the Commission on Audit showed that the total dollar deposits of the Chief Justice was somewhere between $10 million and $12 million.

Prosecutors said the amount formed part of Corona’s assets not declared in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth or SALN.
Even impeachment court presiding officer and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has repeatedly said that the issue boils down to whether the chief justice has declared all his assets in his SALN. Corona is also being accused of having undeclared real estate properties.
The lawyers of the Chief Justice, led by former justice Serafin Cuevas, vowed to present proof that he only had three or four accounts and not 82 as alleged by the Ombudsman.

They also questioned the authenticity of the documents submitted by the AMLC to the Ombudsman. On Friday however, Insurance Commission chairman and AMLC member Emmanuel Dooc attested to the authenticity of the documents presented by Morales. He said any of the AMLC officials, including the governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, would be able to authenticate the documents if asked to do so by the impeachment court.
Corona’s lawyers have also emphasized that the Chief Justice may always invoke his right against self-incrimination because it doesn’t mean that “all of his rights will be stripped once he takes the witness stand.” But defense lawyer Tranquil Salvador said that it would be up to the Chief Justice to decide whether to invoke such right.
Recovery from ‘setback’
Defense lawyers also said they have already recovered from “an initial setback” from Morales’ damaging testimony.
Lawyer Karen Jimeno told reporters at a news forum in Quezon City that they had never expected that the AMLAC would come into the picture when they presented the Ombudsman as a hostile witness for the defense.

“It was an initial setback but we have recovered,” Jimeno said. She also expressed doubts that the documents presented by Morales would be accepted as evidence even if they were labeled as exhibit. She said the documents lacked authentication and were obtained in an irregular manner. She also called the documents “hearsay evidence” not strong enough to stand scrutiny.

She said that even the Ombudsman herself admitted during the trial that she was not privy to the procedure used in preparing the documents.
Another defense lawyer Rico Quicho said that they have enlisted the help of some accountants in analyzing the document and that their findings might be presented when the chief Justice takes the witness stand on Tuesday.

He said Morales’ presentation of the documents is part of the prosecution’s “propaganda stunt” to condition the minds of the people that the Chief Justice is guilty as charged in the impeachment court. Quicho also said that they have already briefed Corona on the possible questions that he may have to answer, although it would still be up to him to decide whether to invoke his right against self-incrimination. Meanwhile, Corona and his family as well as some supporters, attended a special Mass yesterday at the Supreme Court grounds. Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. sponsored the Mass. With Perseus Echimnada, Sandy Araneta -

By Marvin Sy (Philstar News Service, www.philstar.com)




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