Will they accept these as evidence vs the Chief Justice?
MANILA, Philippines – Will the impeachment court eat the fruits of a supposedly poisonous tree?
Senator-judges are expected to discuss during a closed-door meeting on Monday, February 20, whether to accept as evidence the bank records of Chief Justice Renato Corona, which were subpoenaed through a document alleged as either illegally obtained or fake.
The document is a customer identification and specimen signature card of PSBank containing information on Corona’s bank accounts, including a dollar account with an initial deposit of “$700K.” The prosecution attached it to its request to subpoena his bank records.
The subpoena resulted in the disclosure of Corona’s regular bank accounts in the Philippine Savings Bank, that had at least close to P20-M by end of December 2010. For the same year, the Chief Justice declared only P3.5-M in “cash and investments” in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.
On the basis of a second subpoena, the PSBank revealed Corona’s other accounts – 7 time deposits – that covered the period 2007-2011. He withdrew 3 of these on Dec. 12, 2011, the day he was impeached.
PSBank President Pascual Garcia III, who is expected to return to the witness stand on Monday, told the impeachment court last week that Corona had 2 other accounts in the bank; he promised to bring the documents with him on Monday.
The disclosures, as well as previous testimonies on Corona’s properties, form the backbone of the prosecution’s case that the Chief Justice betrayed public trust by failing to disclose his SALN acquiring unexplained wealth. This falls under Article 2 of the Articles of Impeachment, which they expect to close this week.
How the prosecution got hold of the document that was the basis for the first subpoena has been put to question, however. And this will be the subject of the senators’ Monday caucus.
During the caucus, they will take up the prosecution’s written explanation on how it obtained the document. They will also discuss the explanation of the defense panel on why they should not be punished for contempt for exposing an alleged P100-M Malacañang offer to senator-judges in exchange for a vote against Corona.
Under Republic Act 1405, all bank accounts are confidential, except in cases of impeachment, or when a depositor consents, and when an account is the subject of a pending case. RA 6426 or the law on foreign currency deposits is stricter—only the depositor’s written consent can break the confidentiality rule.
In a written explanation submitted to the Senate, the prosecutors argued that the court may admit even illegally acquired evidence because the bank secrecy laws do not have an “exclusionary rule,” citing the case of Ejercito v. Sandiganbayan.
Corona’s lawyers, however, invoked the legal principle of the fruit of the poisonous tree in saying that the impeachment court must not accept any evidence related to the document. They are also studying the possibility of filing charges against the prosecution for violating bank secrecy laws.
The prosecutors had said the document came from an anonymous “small lady” on February 2, a day before they attached it to their supplemental request.
But PSBank’s branch manager in Katipunan Ave., Anabelle Tiongson, testified last week that Quezon City (3rd district) Rep. Jorge Banal visited the bank with a copy of the document on January 31. Banal, a member of the Liberal Party, also said he got the document from an anonymous source, and did not disclose it to fellow members of the prosecution.
Aside from this, Tiongson and Garcia both said last week that the prosecution’s document is spurious. However, Garcia noted that most of the details in the document are authentic.
The prosecution doubted the bank officials’ claim that the document is fake, saying the impeachment court should compare it first to the original bank records.
In their Monday caucus, the senator-judges may also possibly discuss a resolution of the Supreme Court prohibiting the release of court records that the prosecution plans to use in several impeachment articles. – Rappler.com