Philippines-China relations

Will we see Corona’s dollar accounts?

Natashya Gutierrez
The Chief Justice has promised he would open his dollar accounts, prompting a senator to ask the SC to lift its TRO on these accounts

MANILA, Philippines – When he went on a media blitz Wednesday, March 7, impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona assured the public that he would open his foreign accounts in the Philippine Savings Bank.

Corona said he himself would explain the accounts and need not sign a waiver.

Di na kailangan i-waive eh.  Kasi ako na mismo magpapaliwanag eh.  Di ko naman maipapaliwanag yun ng hindi ko bubuksan eh (There’s no need for me to waive it. Because I myself will explain them. Obviously, I won’t be able to explain it if I don’t open it),” he told GMA 7.

This, despite the fact that his counsels have yet to decide whether they will put Corona on the stand or not.

His counsels also submitted a manifestation to the impeachment court, asking it to suspend the trial in the event that the prosecution would be allowed to present evidence on Corona’s dollar accounts.

Waiting for the SC

On February 9, the Supreme Court, voting 8-5, issued a temporary restraining order on the impeachment court’s subpoena covering the bank documents of Corona in PSBank.

The bank had earlier sought a TRO from the High Tribunal on grounds that releasing information about the dollar accounts of the Chief Justice would violate laws on the confidentiality of foreign currency deposits.

The TRO is scheduled to be discussed in the next Supreme Court en banc on March 20, but it’s not clear whether the justices would be voting on the matter that day.

The next en banc session is not until April 10.

The defense says it is better to wait for the Court’s final verdict.

In their motion before the impeachment court, counsels said that while the prosecution reserved their right to present evidence on Corona’s dollar accounts, it would be unfair for Corona to present his defense under uncertain circumstances.

“If the prosecution should wish to avail of an opportunity to present evidence on alleged dollar deposits, it falls upon [the prosecution] to await the resolution of the TRO and the trial may be suspended accordingly,” the defense said in its 5-page manifestation.

“For obvious reasons, (Corona) will not be able to rest his case until the issue on the reception of evidence is resolved, as he may need to respond or rebut any additional evidence that the prosecution may present.”

More accounts?

Defense spokesperson Tranquil Salvador III told Rappler that while they have filed a manifestation, it does not contradict the possibility of opening the dollar accounts.

“There is no conflict since the objection pertains to their terminating their presentation of evidence and resting their case with reservation,” he said. “The objection will not in any way prevent CJ if he decides to allow the opening of his dollar accounts.”

Defense counsel Ramon Esguerra also raised the possibility that Cristina Corona would be the one to open and explain the dollar accounts before the impeachment court, and not the Chief Justice himself.

The prosecution, however, is adamant about wanting Corona to take the stand especially after his media blitz, saying he should explain to the court what he has openly told the press.

It seems they have new information that Corona has other dollar accounts outside PSBank.

Senator-judges’ take

On Saturday, March 10, Sen. Franklin Drilon called on the Supreme Court to lift the TRO.

He cited Corona’s media interviews, saying the TRO has, in effect, become “moot and academic” in light of Corona’s willingness to divulge his accounts, and that examining the dollar accounts would no longer violate any laws.

Sen Francis Pangilinan also told Rappler in a text message that the impeachment court need not wait for the SC’s final decision on the dollar accounts, adding that as far as he’s concerned the senator-judges have the power to scrutinize them.

“If it comes to that point, even without a final decision by the SC, the impeachment court can, on the basis of having the sole power to try and decide impeachment cases, have PSBank turn over the dollar account documents under pain of contempt,” Pangilinan said.

In a March 6 caucus, senator-judges decided to admit Corona’s bank accounts – both peso and foreign – as evidence, despite defense objections that they should be inadmissible.

The defense maintains Corona’s bank accounts are irrelevant as they relate to Article 2.4 of the impeachment complaint – which deals with the Chief Justice’s alleged ill-gotten wealth – an article that has been disallowed by the impeachment court.

Corona’s counsels also argued that the bank records were illegally obtained and should thus be rejected as evidence.The impeachment court is expected to issue a final ruling on this Monday, March 12, when trial resumes. –