MANILA, Philippines – Presiding Officer and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has claimed full responsibility for the impeachment court’s issuance of a bank subpoena on the basis of “fake” attachments submitted by the prosecution. But he also conceded it is now up to the Supreme Court to determine whether or not such action is legal.
A manager of the Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) has described as “fake” the peso and dollar bank documents that the prosecution attached in its request to subpoena PSBank, and which the impeachment court had granted.
The documents contained bank account numbers that were eventually confirmed by PSBank president Pascual Garcia III to be under the name of Corona. While Garcia testified that the peso accounts had close to P20-M, he refused to comment on Corona’s dollar accounts.
He also told the impeachment court last week that the prosecution documents contained “material differences” if compared with original PSBank copies.
On Day 17 of the impeachment trial on Tuesday, senator-judge Miriam Defensor-Santiago berated the prosecution for submitting documents that they have not validated and were provided by an anonymous source.
In ordinary courts, “you would be cited for contempt…or disbarred,” she said. “These are very strange, bizarre documents.”
Santiago also said that the prosecution, whether or not they knew the documents were fake, should be held criminally liable.
At this point, Enrile took full responsibility for the issuance of the subpoena.
“This presiding officer assumes full responsibility for issuing that subpoena and is ready to defend his position in any court of law,” Enrile said. “It was my decision as presiding officer and I am personally bound to assume the consequences of my action as presiding officer.”
But he also presented his own legal opinion in the event that this issue is brought beyond the level of the impeachment court. “Whether or not in the end this court abused its discretion or committed a grave abuse of discretion amounting to excess of jurisdiction will be decided, has to be decided by the Supreme Court.”
Enrile said that as far as he is concerned, “the final arbiter and interpreter of the Constitution…or what the law ought to be” is the Supreme Court. “Not the executive. Not Congress. But only the Supreme Court.” (Read his full statement here)
Enrile added: “And so it is my bounded duty as the presiding officer of this impeachment court to respect the authority, the power of the Supreme Court to review acts of this impeachment court, in interlocutory matters, meaning, matters bearing on the manner which this court will conduct the trial of this particular impeachment case.”
On this matter, Sen. Franklin Drilon stood up to register his disagreement with Enrile. Instead of debating him in open court, though, Drilon said he would write a legal memorandum on it.
In an interview after the trial, Drilon had this to say: “My argument is that whether it is interlocutory matters or on the decision on the main case, these both are rooted on the question of whether or not the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over the impeachment court. And if it has no jurisdiction over the impeachment court, it has no authority to rule on the interlocutory orders because the power of the Senate as an impeachment court is to try and decide cases, not only to decide but to try and decide cases.”
Drilon asserted that the Senate is “supreme in its power during impeachment trial.”
Impeachment is the only check on an abusive constitutional official, he noted. “So the question is, if they abuse their prerogative, what is the check? The check as provided by our constitutional fathers is the impeachment trial.”
Another senator, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed concern over Enrile’s stand, coming as it does at a time when the bank accounts of Corona are being scrutinized.
If, for example, the impeachment court allows the bank records to be admitted as evidence and the defense disagrees on grounds that they are inadmissible because they were illegally obtained, the latter could go to the Supreme Court to seek relief. There would be no stopping the High Court from suppressing such evidence, especially given Enrile’s stand that the High Court can review Senate decisions prior to final verdict, according to the senator.
Interlocutory matters may refer to all impeachment court decisions prior to its final judgment on the case, he added.
Prosecutor Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara said the prosecution would probably “try to clarify that ruling.” He explained: “The Constitution says the sole power to try and decide impeachment cases is with the Senate sitting as an impeachment court.”
Prosecutor Rep. Giogidi Aggabao said Enrile’s statement meant “that every order that they [defense] don’t like, every order that is not favorable to them, that means they can go up to the Supreme Court to have it reviewed.”
“That is not good,” he told Rappler. “It opens the avenues for delay on the part of the defense,” Aggabao added.
A private lawyer, speaking on condition of anonymity because she is not authorized by her firm to speak about the impeachment, also shared the same concern. “He is in effect conceding that the Supreme Court is higher than the impeachment court. He is weakening impeachment as a mechanism for public accountability.”
The discussion on the legitimacy and admissibility of subpoenas was a result of Annabelle Tiongson’s testimony on Monday, February 13. Tiongson, the bank manager of PSBank Katipunan, denied the leaked document came from their branch and testified that the prosecution’s copy was fake.
She has been ordered by the court to compare the original copy from PS Bank to the documents submitted by the prosecution, that became the basis of the subpoenas issued by the court. She is expected to verify under oath tomorrow the authenticity of the document.
The prosecution, on the other hand, has stood by their story on how they obtained the documents.
Prosecutor Rep. Reynaldo Umali said the envelope containing the documents were handed to him by a “small lady” but a report examining CCTV videos from the Senate building where he allegedly was when he received the envelope, said there was no such incident recorded on their cameras.
The prosecution was ordered by the court to submit their explanation this afternoon on their allegedly “fake” document.
Prosecutors insisted the document was attached in “good faith,” and although they never claimed the documents were genuine, said it was reliable in terms of the bank account numbers it provided.
Bank of the Philippine Islands Ayala branch manager Leonora Dizon is also expected to return on Wednesday, February 15, after she did not bring the documents asked of her.
The court ordered that she bring the monthly statements of Corona’s BPI checking account as originally requested by lead counsel Serafin Cuevas.
The defense team later filed a memorandum withdrawing the request but Enrile upheld the subpoena.
The prosecution hopes to finish Article 2 tomorrow and start Article 3 by Thursday, February 16. – with reports from Natashya Gutierrez, Ayee Macaraig and Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler.com