100 solons show up in Senate, skip House plenary
MANILA, Philippines - At a time when the prosecution panel is in hot water over its questionable copies of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s bank records, 100 congressmen, based on majority floor leader Rep. Neptali Gonzales's count, went to the Senate impeachment court to give them moral support.
The effect? Only 25 lawmakers were present in the plenary at the House of Representatives, prompting the House leadership to immediately suspend the session.
It was upon the order of House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte. "It's only the second time that I myself requested that more than the usual contingent come around," Belmonte said.
Quezon City Rep. Jorge "Bolet" Banal, a member of the House impeachment secretariat, sparked a controversy last week when PSBank Katipunan branch manager Anabelle Tiongson revealed that Banal went to her branch on January 31 to ask about Corona's bank records. It appears that Banal had copies of Corona's bank records two days before Rep. Reynaldo Umali said a "little lady" gave him the documents.
Tiongson’s revelation shows that the prosecution panel was already in possession of Corona’s bank records even before the “little lady” gave them to prosecutor Reynaldo Umali. Banal claimed he didn’t share his document with the prosecution panel because he couldn’t verify its authenticity.
Banal was expected to return to the court on Monday, February 20, to explain, but he was not called back.
The prosecution panel’s “fake” bank records took another twist on Monday.
Monday's testimony by PSBank president Pascual Garcia III dragged the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) into the controversy.
Last week, PSBank Katipunan branch manager Anabelle Tiongson mentioned BSP’s audit of her branch. Presiding Officer Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile pursued questions on Monday when Garcia took the witness stand.
Enrile asked who, outside of bank officials, had seen the specimen signature cards of Corona. In reply, Garcia said BSP audit officers who visited their branch in 2010 also saw the documents.
Nevertheless, Garcia maintained that the prosecution’s copy of Corona’s bank records are “fake.” He cited markings, highlights and underlines in the prosecution’s copy that are not present in the original document
Several senator-jurors have declared that they believe the prosecution’s copy is genuine.
The questionable copy of Corona's bank records, which the prosecution panel attached to its supplemental request, led to the disclosure of Corona's 20 peso and dollar accounts with PSBank.
Subsequent records showed that on Dec. 31, 2010, Corona had about P20-M balance in at least 2 peso accounts. It shows discrepancy with Corona's 2010 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth where he only declared P3.5-M in "cash and investments."
It was disclosed that Corona closed 3 time-peso deposits on Dec. 12, 2011 or the day he was impeached. He transferred these - totalling nearly P37-M - to a checking account also in PSBank.
The defense panel claimed Garcia's testimony bolstered their position that the bank records should be inadmissible as evidence because it was illegally acquired.
The prosecution panel is saying the defense is wrong.
The two camps are citing two different Supreme Court rulings.
The prosecution is citing Ejercito v. Sandiganbayan, which says that illegally acquired evidence is not necessarily inadmissible.
But defense counsel Tranquil Salvador III is citing Stonehill v. Diokno, which disallows the admission of illegally acquired evidence.
Rep. Sonny Angara says Stonehill v. Diokno pertains to illegal searches, which does not apply to prosecution's bank records.
Rep. Romero Quimbo said the prosecution panel is not bothered by Monday's revelations. He said it’s up to the bank to prove that the BSP or the AMLC leaked the document.
“If there has been any leak, it has been brought about by the bank. But that’s not the important issue. There is evidence already presented separate from the leak bank documents,” said Quimbo.
It contradicts the stand of the defense panel’s spokespersons. They say it is the burden of the prosecution to prove that their copy of the bank records was not illegally acquired.
Prosecutor Rodolfo Fariñas added: "How can you prove that (illegally acquired)? Matagal yun. You cannot prove it here. Impeachment court ito e."
On Day 20, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago indirectly lambasted Banal when she said the “lawmaker” was also a “lawbreaker.”
But Belmonte said: "Congressman Banal is a side issue that we should set aside so that we can get on to the heart of this case which is the impeachment of the Chief Justice.... Anything that sidetracks from that is not good," - Rappler.com