MANILA, Philippines – “Proceed, proceed, proceed!” With a bang of his gavel, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile utters these words as he presides over the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona. But with the Supreme Court stopping the disclosure of the dollar accounts of its leader, will the Senate carry on and insist on opening the foreign deposits?
This is the question hanging over the impeachment court. Enrile decided to heed the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order upon receiving the news on Thursday, February 9, but his is not the last word on the issue.
“In deference to the Supreme Court, the interpreter of the Constitution and the guardian of the basic rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, this chair would suggest and recommend to this impeaching court and the two sides of the case … to take heed, and let us discuss other issues other than foreign currency deposits because of the presence of a TRO by the Supreme Court and we will discuss that in due time,” Enrile said during the trial.
The due time Enrile is referring to is the Senate caucus on Monday, February 13. Reacting to the TRO, senators raised questions that will be tackled in the caucus:
Does SC have jurisdiction to interfere?
In an interview after the trial, Sen. Francis Pangilinan criticized the TRO, saying the SC has no power to interfere with the work of the impeachment court.
“Sila’y Supreme Court, kami’y impeachment court. Hindi kami nakikialam sa mga desisyon nila. Hindi rin sila dapat nakikialam sa mga desisyon namin.” (They’re the Supreme Court and we’re the impeachment court. We don’t interfere with their decisions. They also shouldn’t meddle with ours.)
Pangilinan insists the Senate has the exclusive power over the impeachment trial.
“Our ruling was set aside and undermined. How can we do our work properly when our hands are tied?”
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano also told reporters that the question of jurisdiction will be the main focus of the caucus. He said he will have to study the TRO before taking a stand.
“My question is what is the Supreme Court’s basis for saying that it’s their decision, not the interpretation of the impeachment court over the laws on foreign deposits that must be followed when we are talking about impeachment?”
Cayetano said defying the TRO is an option if the Senate believes the SC does not have jurisdiction over the issue.
Many senators refused to comment pending a decision reached in caucus.
Are foreign deposits crucial to the trial?
Cayetano said the senators will also have to determine whether or not the TRO on the dollar accounts will hamper the Senate’s efforts to try the case.
“We will have to see if it affects our right to try the case. Remember, the Supreme Court did not issue a TRO on the impeachment trial. That would have had graver effects because it’s a question of the impeachment process itself,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
In the trial on Thursday, PSBank President Pascual Garcia III confirmed that the dollar accounts the prosecution specified in its request for a subpoena existed in the bank’s records. Garcia, however, refused to answer questions on the accounts citing laws protecting the confidentiality of foreign deposits.
Yet the prosecution said the dollar accounts are not crucial in establishing Corona’s guilt.
Should the Senate ignore Corona’s dollar accounts?
Cayetano also pointed out that the dilemma of the court is balancing the interests of the banking industry and the campaign against corruption.
Cayetano said actions of the Senate may affect the confidence of depositors and foreigners investing money in the Philippines.
“But there can be another interpretation. Others can say, ‘Just transfer the money you stole from public funds to a dollar account so it won’t be opened.’ These are the policy directions that directly affect the decision we will make.”
He added, “We know that corruption is one of the biggest problems of our country so you can’t just ignore the dollar accounts confirmed today, and there’s an order of the impeachment court to open these.” – Rappler.com