Friday, 10 February 2012 11:48
A storm is brewing at the Senate impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona. In a move to prove charges of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust against Corona, the House of Representatives’ prosecution team subpoenaed his bank records, which makes sense if conviction is to be secured. It did not then come as a surprise that Corona’s defense team opposed every attempt to delve into Corona’s bank records, particularly his secret dollar account, which many believe is the repository of his alleged ill-gotten wealth.
The prosecution claimed that Corona and his wife Cristina’s account won P1 million in Philippine Savings Bank’s “Monthly Millions” raffle draw and that the couple “had time deposits, money market placements, and dollar accounts in the bank.” But the defense team’s spokesman, Tranquil Salvador III, said, “Why should the Chief Justice be faulted if he really won the raffle? If he’s just lucky, is it a sin? I don’t think there’s a problem with that or if any law was violated.”
I agree that Salvador was right in that sense. But would he agree that for the Coronas to qualify for the P1-million monthly raffle, they should have had a huge deposit in that bank?
So, how much moolah do the Coronas have stashed in the banks?
*Secret dollar account
What prompted the prosecution team to request the impeachment court to subpoena Corona’s bank records was when one of the prosecutors received documents provided by an “anonymous source” that showed Corona had opened a bank account in 2008 for more than $700,000 (approximately P34 million).
Last February 6, Day 12 of the impeachment trial, the senator-judges decided by majority vote to allow the impeachment court to subpoena Corona’s bank records and bank officials over the opposition of Corona’s defense panel.
Indeed, opening Corona’s bank records would be like opening Pandora’s box; it could be damaging to Corona’s defense. It is for this reason that the defense panel vehemently opposed the testimony of bank officials and the admission of Corona’s bank records as evidence. If his bank records – particularly his secret dollar account -- reveal a huge amount of cash deposits that he did not declare in his Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALNs), he would have difficulty vindicating himself.
*Corona seeks TRO
Last February 8, in a desperate attempt to suppress damaging evidence against him, Corona filed before the Supreme Court an urgent petition for certiorari and prohibition with prayer for immediate issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and writ of preliminary injunction. Also, Corona’s defense team filed a letter before the Senate impeachment court, which asked to defer or delay the enforcement of the subpoena until after the Supreme Court has acted on Corona’s petition. Corona’s defense team also requested the impeachment court “to defer the enforcement of the subpoenas it issued to the Philippine Savings Bank and the Bank of the Philippine Islands.” The impeachment court immediately denied the defense’s two motions; thus, allowing Pascual Garcia III, President of Philippine Savings Bank, to be put on the witness stand.
Garcia, who was subpoenaed to bring 10 specific bank records of Corona, presented only five accounts, which showed that as of December 31, 2010 he had a total deposit of P19,728,555.39. He did not bring the other five accounts, which were dollar accounts, claiming that he was prohibited to disclose them under Republic Act 6426 (Foreign Currency Deposit Act). However, even without the dollar accounts, his disclosed bank deposits appear to far exceed the net worth he stated in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) for the year 2010. This is the “smoking gun” that proves that he lied in his SALNs, the gist of Article 2 of the impeachment complaint.
*Discrepancies in net worth
Two days prior to the testimony of Garcia, Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) Commissioner Kim Henares was cross-examined by Corona’s lead defense lawyer, Serafin Cuevas, who asked her if she found any discrepancies in Corona’s SALNs. She answered in the affirmative and indicated that as a result of the discrepancies the BIR is now investigating the Coronas for tax liability.
This prompted the prosecution to re-direct Henares. Over the objection of Cuevas, Henares said that nine properties and several others were not included in Corona’s SALNs. She testified that in 2003, Corona stated his net worth at P7 million instead of P14 million; P7 million in 2004 instead of P21 million; P8.3 million in 2006 instead of P31.224 million; P11 million in 2007 instead of P24 million; P12 million in 2008 instead of P25 million; and P14.5 million in 2009 instead of P52 million. In 2010, his net worth went down when the Coronas sold their La Vista property to their daughter for P18 million.
*Betrayal of public trust
With the testimony of Henares, the prosecution team breached Corona’s first line of defense. While Corona is far from defeated, Corona’s defense is weakened. However, to convince the senator-judges that Corona’s actions constitute betrayal of public trust, the prosecution team must prove without a shadow of a doubt that Corona indeed committed these impeachable acts.
Although Enrile had manifested from the get-go that the impeachment complaint was neither a criminal nor civil case wherein conviction beyond “reasonable doubt” is required in criminal cases and “preponderance of evidence” in civil cases, “clear and convincing” evidence is all that is needed to convict the respondent in an impeachment trial. However, it is not going to be an easy task.
In a few days, the Supreme Court would rule on Corona’s petition for certiorari and prohibition with prayer for immediate issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and writ of preliminary injunction. If the high court rules in his favor, it could trigger a constitutional crisis. Would the Senate impeachment court subordinate itself to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and not to the sovereignty of the people for which it was created?
The people are watching the development with anticipation.
By Perry Diaz
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