MANILA, Philippines – Chief Justice Renato Corona will be a “virtual sitting duck” in intense cross examination when he takes the stand during his own impeachment trial on Tuesday, May 22.
Bayan Muna Rep and one of the prosecutors, Neri Colmenares, said Corona’s defense is riddled with inconsistencies – from absolute denial of dollar accounts exposed by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales to admission of owning a supposedly lesser amount.
Defense counsels said on Friday, May 18, that Corona’s 82 dollar accounts, made public by the Ombudsman during her testimony, is actually only 3 or 4. Morales based her presentation on a report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council, which also showed the Chief Justice had US$12 million in “fresh deposits,” referring to funds that did not move or transfer accounts.
The defense dismissed the report, however, as “grossly exaggerated” and “unreliable,” saying the number 82 might refer to transactions, not accounts.
Corona’s testimony, according to his lawyers, will show the large discrepancy between figures presented by the Ombudsman and the actual amount of his dollar deposits.
Colmenares however said that Corona forgets “that whether it’s $10 million or $1-M, it must be declared in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN).” He added, “We will cross him on his loose statements in his media-hopping interviews.”
‘No moral fitness’
Senator-judge Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, for his part, said the Chief Justice’s position that dollar accounts, including income from dollar investments, are exempt from SALN and tax requirements, has no basis in law.
In a statement, Pangilinan said that Corona “has no moral fitness to remain as chief justice since all tax evaders charged before the Supreme Court (SC) will question the basis of decisions sending them to prison.” It would be ironic for a chief justice, who himself did not pay income tax, to be a party to an SC decision that sent these evaders to jail.
“If Chief Justice Corona refuses on the witness stand to have his dollar accounts opened for the scrutiny of the senator-judges, we will be left with no choice but to set aside the previous vote to respect the Supreme Court TRO on these accounts and compel PSBank to open up these accounts in the trial,” Pangilinan said.
The defense has argued that following the country’s bank secrecy laws, specifically the foreign currency deposits act, banks are bound to keep information about foreign currency deposits confidential. RA 6426 says that “in no instance shall…foreign currency deposits be examined, inquired or looked into by any person, government official, bureau or office whether judicial or administrative or private.”
Pangilinan lamented the resort by the defense to a TRO that prevented information about Corona’s dollar accounts being disclosed.
“The verdict in this trial rests primarily on determining whether or not these dollar accounts exist. It is the duty of the impeachment court to seek the truth even if it means disregarding a TRO by the Supreme Court…This TRO has become a tool used by the respondent to suppress the truth. The impeachment court has the sole power to try and decide impeachment cases, and this TRO violates the Constitution because it severely hampers our ability to try the case.”
“Hawak, ika nga, sa leeg o sa ilong ng SC ang impeachment court sa TRO na ito,” Pangilinan’s statement said. (The impeachment court will be held hostage by the SC through this TRO.) – Rappler.com