Congress to SC: Corona’s dollar accounts fair game

Supreme Court Justices are impeachable officials. They cannot have power over the only process that can make them accountable.

SENATOR-JUDGE. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile presides over the impeachment court. Photo by Joseph Vidal/PRIB/Senate Pool

MANILA, Philippines – The dollar accounts of Chief Justice Renato Corona are fair game because the Foreign Currency Deposits Act (FCDA) — which declares that foreign currency accounts are confidential — is not applicable to impeachable officers.

The Senate and the House prosecution panel raised this point in a joint comment they filed before the Supreme Court opposing Corona’s earlier plea to stop the ongoing impeachment trial.

The 41-page comment prepared by newly-appointed Solicitor-General Francis Jardeleza said the High Tribunal should dismiss Corona’s motion.

The Senate and the House prosecution argued that the High Court has no power to intervene in impeachment trials. They said this is clear in the 1987 Constitution.

They asked: How can justices objectively rule on the only process that could hold them accountable?

Only check

“Impeachment by legislature as representatives of the People is the only constitutional check on members of the Honorable Supreme Court under our constitutional system,” the joint motion said.

Corona’s dollar accounts are fair game, the comment added.

According to the comment, it doesn’t matter if the bank details were disclosed using illegally obtained information. Citing Ejercito v. Sandiganbayan, they said these details are admissible evidence.

Corona’s lawyers have asked the impeachment court to disregard all evidence submitted by the Philippine Savings Bank because the initial information on the bank accounts was allegedly illegally obtained.

If this is granted, defense counsels argued that they may not need to present evidence to counter the allegations against Corona.

PROSECUTION PANEL. Members of the prosecution prepare for the next round of the impeachment trial.

Exclusive power

The joint motion reiterated that Congress has the sole and exclusive power to initiate, try and decide all cases of impeachment.

The Constitution is clear, it said, that the only involvement of the Supreme Court in an impeachment trial is when a president is impeached. The Chief Justice will preside but will not participate in the voting.

“The impeachment process was never intended by Framers (of the 1987 Constitution) to be subject to judicial review.”

“Subjecting the impeachment process to judicial review by the Supreme Court will give its Members an unfair advantage over the other groups of impeachable officers. This absurd and expectedly self-defeating situation surely could not have been intended by the Framers of the Constitution.”

 “If the framers intended to confine impeachment proceedings to clear and simple judicial exercise, it could have easily done so. They, however, saw it fit to exclude the Judiciary from the adjudication of impeachments. This fact all the more underscores the nature of impeachment as a political, rather than judicial, process,” the joint motion said.

It also denied Corona’s allegation that the Senate impeachment court and the House of Representatives violated his rights.

WITNESS. PSBank's Pascual Garcia III defends the privacy of his bank's depositors. Photo by Albert Calvelo/PRIB/Senate Pool

The comment argued that the FCDA, which makes foreign currency deposits confidential, does not apply to Corona because he is an impeachable official.

“Corona’s foreign currency deposits ceased to be absolutely confidential from the very moment he became a public officer subject of an impeachment case,” it said.

The FCDA was meant for foreign depositors, it added. “It was never intended to protect local depositors.”

Republic Act (RA) 1405 or the Bank Secrecy Law—not FCDA—applies, it added. RA 1405 provides exceptions to confidentiality of “deposits of whatever nature.”

“The inquiry into CJ Corona’s foreign currency deposits may be made because the impeachment proceedings against him is an exception to the rule of absolute confidentiality,” the comment argued.

It also noted that Corona promised to open his bank accounts in “due time.” It argued that Corona is not permitted to dictate when he will publicly disclose his assets, liabilities and net worth.

Criminally liable

Congress also dismissed Corona’s arguments that the bank records are inadmissible because they are illegally obtained.

“Republic Act 1405 does not provide that an unlawful examination of bank accounts shall render the evidence obtained therefrom inadmissible in evidence. Such unlawful examination would only render the person responsible therefore criminally liable,” it said, citing Ejercito v Sandiganbayan.

The Prosecution panel rested its case on February 28, but reserved its right to present as evidence Corona’s dollar accounts. The prosecution panel submitted to the Senate a supposed photocopy of Corona’s specimen signature card for a dollar account that was opened with “$700K,” which is believed to mean US$700,000.

This amount is on top of Corona’s peso accounts, which had a total balance of at least P20-M as of Dec 31, 2010. In his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALN), Corona only declared P3.5-M in “cash and investments” for the same year. –





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