Defense: Corona handled Ombudsman order on his own

Natashya Gutierrez
The lawyers of Chief Justice Renato Corona were not notified of the order, but said they expected the letter which they dismiss as black propaganda

OUT OF THE LOOP. Defense counsels of Chief Justice Renato Corona did not know about the order of the Ombudsman requesting Corona to explain his assets.

MANILA, Philippines – When Chief Justice Renato Corona received an order from the Office of the Ombudsman asking him to explain his assets including at least US $10-million in dollar deposits on April 23, he took it to be merely black propaganda against him.

He did not respond to the request of the office that asked for a reply within 72 hours.

And neither did he tell his counsels, who are defending him in his impeachment trial.

When asked whether the defense panel knew about the letter, Ramon Esguerra, one of Corona’s counsels, told Rappler that they were not notified by the chief justice.

“He dealt with it on his own,” said Esguerra. “He did not refer to any one of us.”

‘Propaganda’

When Esguerra was asked by the Inquirer — which obtained a copy of the letter — regarding the Ombudsman’s request, he texted Corona the questions, not having known of the order himself. (Learn more: How the Ombudsman got access to Corona’s dollars).

Corona texted back with the 4-point response printed in the newspaper’s story.

Esguerra did say however, that they “somehow expected” the Ombudsman’s order, emphasizing the timing of the release. He pointed to the Supreme Court’s final decision on Hacienda Luisita that was made just last week, and the resumption of the trial on May 7.

Corona has maintained that the trial against him is a product of President Benigno Aquino’s ire against him for his siding with the farmers of Luisita instead of the Cojuangcos, who own the 4,915.75 -hectare sugar estate in Tarlac. The Cojuangcos are Aquino’s maternal relatives.

“How can the letter not be suspect?,” Esguerra said in a text message to Rappler. “What is telling is that the complaints made no mention of $10-M but appear to be merely a mirror of accusations in the current impeachment.”

Defense counsel Judd Roy brushed the letter off as well, calling the Ombudsman’s action “retaliatory,” with the purpose of riling anti-Corona groups before the trial resumes.

Defense spokesperson Tranquil Salvador added that the order for Corona to explain his supposed $10-M is meant to push the chief justice to take the witness stand — even if these funds and accounts, he said, do not actually exist.

No jurisdiction?

Salvador emphasized that the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction at this time, since proceedings against Corona — who is still technically in office — are still ongoing and within the jurisdiction of the Senate as an impeachment court.

Esguerra pointed out that any legal action will have to wait until the verdict in the current impeachment is made.

Under the law, the Ombudsman cannot file a case before the Sandiganbayan while an impeachable official is still in office, according to a lawyer who previously worked in the Office of Ombudsman. He did say though that the anti-graft body may send its findings to the House of Representatives “to cause an impeachment complaint.”

Along this thread, Esguerra said the only reason he could see on why the investigation is underway right now is that Corona’s detractors are clearly laying the groundwork for another impeachment trial in the future, this time based on alleged ill-gotten wealth since it has been barred in the current trial.

Trend

This is not the first time that Corona’s counsels have not been notified about details related to the trial. They have been caught off-guard in several other circumstances since the trial against the chief magistrate started January 16.

On Day 15 of the impeachment trial, lead counsel Serafin Cuevas requested the court to subpoena Corona’s 2005-2010 statements of account from the BPI Ayala branch after BPI Ayala branch manager Leonora Dizon testified on their existence. The move excited the prosecution, as it would give them access to the bank information as well.

Once the request was approved by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile however, the defense quickly backtracked on the request.

Cuevas said he he had received a call from the Chief Justice saying he had the bank statements for their perusal — suggesting Cuevas had not known about the statements in the first place.

Asked if the lead counsel had seen the bank statements earlier, Roy replied, “I guess what he wants to know is what the bank has.”

About a month later, another incident that caught the defense by surprise occured yet again.

On March 7, Corona granted several TV and radio interviews throughout the day, starting in the morning and ending at night. The series of interviews included his first TV appearances since the start of the impeachment trial.

Corona’s lawyers were just as surprised as the nation by the sudden media blitz, having only been notified by Corona’s plans to speak to the media the night before, on March 6. – Rappler.com