Senate admits Corona bank accounts

Ayee Macaraig
Impeachment court denies defense plea to disregard as evidence Corona's accounts in PSBank

NO QUESTION. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile says for now, there is no clear indication that government leaked Corona's bank accounts to the prosecution. Photo by Ayee Macaraig

[2ND UPDATE] MANILA, Philippines – The impeachment court on Tuesday, March 6, denied a defense motion to disregard as evidence the bank records of Chief Justice Renato Corona that were presented by the Philippine Savings Bank.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile explained that Corona’s counsels, in arguing for the suppression of the bank records, cited cases that would have been applicable if government agents were involved in the supposed leakage of a bank document. “There’s no clear showing that it was done by government.”

Enrile said the right against unreasonable searches and seizures only applies when the unwarranted search or arrest is done by the state or its agents. 

“As the facts indicate, there’s no question that these alleged bank deposit account numbers exist and if the release was done by private parties, these would not be covered by the Constitutional exclusion rules.”  

The presiding officer added that the laws dealing with peso deposits and foreign curency deposits do not include the exclusionary rule, “meaning provisions that expressly exclude or proscribe the admissibility of the records of bank deposits when they are illegally released to the public.” 

Enrile issued the announcement after a caucus of the senator-judges. He would not say if they held a voting on the matter. “It’s our consensus,” he said.

He said he will issue a lengthy, formal written decision. Watch his full explanation on the bank accounts below:

 

Evidence admissible 

Enrile said the ruling covers Corona’s peso and dollar accounts. The Senate president said the decision meant the impeachment court is accepting the records on the peso and dollar accounts that the prosecution offered as evidence last Friday, March 2. 

“Let the Supreme Court decide [on the petition of PSBank]. If they say, there’s a violation of RA 6426 (Foreign Currency Deposit Act), so be it but that violation does not imply or mean that the evidence that was released in violation of the law could not be admitted as an evidence.”  

Yet he clarified that the Senate will still consider the defense team’s comment to the prosecution’s offer of evidence. The defense was given until Wednesday, March 7, to submit its comment. 

“Well, then that will be taken into account, we will issue another ruling on Monday for the entire [offer and comment]. We are just denying the motion to suppress.”

Last week, the prosecution rested its case, unable to present the dollar accounts of Corona based on an earlier Supreme Court ruling barring the disclosure. Prosecutors said they reserved their right to present the dollar accounts if the Supreme Court lifts the temporary restraining order. 

The High Tribunal has yet to rule on this matter with finality. The prosecution is hoping that the justices would change their minds and vote in favor of presenting the dollar accounts to the court.

What about BSP examiner? 

The Senate made the ruling as the committee on banks is investigating the alleged leak of Corona’s PSBank dollar accounts from an audit of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

Last week, Enrile said he suspected that BSP examiner Jerry Leal was the source of the leak. 

Asked about Leal, Enrile now said, “My opinion is simply an opinion at that moment. We are still investigating it.” 

“We are going to decide this case on the basis of facts now present. In that case, at that point, if it (leak) was done by government agents, then they’ll have to suffer the penalties.” 

Enrile said the person responsible for the leak will have to go to jail if a case is filed against him or her. 

Admonish Aguirre

In their caucus on Tuesday, the senator-judges also decided to just admonish private prosecutor Vitaliano Aguirre, who was earlier cited in contempt of court for closing his ears while Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago was speaking last week. The admonition will be entered into the impeachment court’s records. 

Enrile said Santiago was not present when the decision was made. (On her Twitter account, Santiago wrote: “I believe that admonition was the correct penalty. Contempt is to maintain the dignity of the court. It is not punitive in nature.”)

Enrile added: “The caucus also decided that in view of the unusual circumstances … the impeachment court … would not impose a penalty with respect to loss of freedom on Atty. Aguirre but simply to admonish him to be more careful henceforth with his conduct as a member of the prosecution panel.”  

Enrile explained that the Senate chose to be leninent with Aguirre, who has already withdrawn his appearance as a private prosecutor. 

“I think it will be better to do it that way in order not to create any further friction in the course of the trial as well as to quiet the issue already.”  

Whole day hearings 

Enrile is likewise proposing a new schedule to fast-track the trial: Mondays to Thursdays, 9am-12 noon and 2-5pm. The presiding officer said he will consult both the defense and the prosecution this week to get their approval.

Enrile said the Senate will forego its legislative session to finish the trial soon. 

On February 28, the defense asked the impeachment court to disregard evidence related to Corona’s PSBank records.

In a 33-page motion to “suppress illegally obtained evidence,” defense lawyers said: “Chief Justice Renato C. Corona respectfully prays that the Honorable Impeachment Court suppress, exclude and expunge from the record all evidence thus far offered, received, marked and proposed in relation to the Subpoena dated February 2012 and 9 February 2012 addressed to Ms. Anabelle Tiongson, Branch Manager, PSBank Katipunan Branch, Katipunan Avenue, Loyola Heights, Quezon City.”

This covers PSBank accounts which showed that Corona had about P36-M in PSBank as of Dec 12, 2011, or the day he was impeached.

But the prosecution considers Corona’s PSBank accounts as strong evidence to prove Article 2 of the impeachment complaint, or the alleged failure of Corona to declare his Statement of Assets Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN). His combined PSBank accounts show that he had about P20-M as of Dec 31, 2010, but he declared only P3.5-M in his 2010 SALN.

The defense panel has invoked the constitutional guarantee against unlawful searches and seizure.

“The exclusion of evidence is the only manner by which the illegal introduction of evidence can be stopped from being used against the individual,” the motion said. – Rappler.com