Corona signs waiver opening all bank accounts but…
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Chief Justice Renato Corona has signed a waiver authorizing banks to disclose his peso and dollar accounts, but said will submit it on one condition: all lawmakers who signed the impeachment complaint against him, and Senator Franklin Drilon must submit their own waivers too.
While delivering his opening statement before the impeachment court on Tuesday, May 22, Corona said, "I will submit my waiver to authorities until all 189 have submitted waivers. If they don't, I will ask my lawyers to rest my defense since nothing has been proven against me."
"I am no thief, I am no criminal, I have done no wrong. But dear senators, I am also no fool," he said after signing the waiver.
Republic Act 6426 or the Foreign Currency Deposit Unit (FCDU) Act prohibits banks to disclose details of any foreign-denominated account except upon the written permission of the depositor, in this case, Corona.
The chief justice then walked out of the session hall, ignoring Presiding Senator-Judge Juan Ponce Enrile's repeated calls for him to return.
"If you are going to disrespect this court, this court will [make] a decision on this case right now," Enrile said while ordering the defense to bring their client back to the hall.
Only 4 dollar accounts
Before the high drama, Corona denied the allegations against his wealth.
He said he doesn't have 82 but 4 dollar accounts; not 31 but 3 peso accounts; not 45 but only 5 properties.
Of these assets, the dollar accounts were the most contentious issue since he claimed these are absolutely confidential under the FCDU law. Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales had earlier testified about Corona's alleged multi-million transactions in 82 dollar accounts monitored and reported by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC). Morales alleged that the transactions have resulted in an ending balance of around $10 million to $12 million.
Morales' testimony was a "malicious lie meant to ruin my reputation," Corona said in Filipino.
"I don't know anyone who has 82 bank accounts. Maybe Ombudsman Morales knows someone with 82 bank accounts that's why the figure got stuck in her head," he added, chiding his former Supreme Court colleague for a "misleading representation" of the AMLC report.
Besides, he said the AMLC report "is not authenticated....[there was] no investigation, no court order, no notice. It came from a polluted source."
He then asked Morales: "Does your conscience still allow you to sleep after all your lies?"
He said Morales knew the ending balance of his accounts, but chose not to reveal them "because it will debunk her testimony that I had $12 million."
Corona said he and his wife started to invest their savings in dollar accounts in the 1960's.
"I have not stolen a single cent from government," he said.
Non-disclosure in SALN
Corona, meanwhile, is also citing the FCDU law as defense for not disclosing his dollar holdings in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).
"I have never declared these accounts in my SALN because there is no legal duty to do so. The situation is not my doing. It has been in place for a time," he said.
Unlike the Bank Secrecy Act, which provides several exemptions in disclosing bank account details such as in cases of impeachment or upon a competent court order, the FCDU allows only one exemption: the written consent of the depositor.
Section 8 of the FCDU law reads: "All foreign currency deposits authorized under this Act are hereby declared as and considered of an absolutely confidential nature and, except upon the written permission of the depositor, 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 legislative, or any other entity whether public or private."
"Even the Supreme Court confirms secrecy is absolute. I cannot be penalized for abiding and relying on letter by law. Not every omission, not every inaccuracy is an impeachable offense," Corona told the court.
"In this case, the prosecution in fact admitted that an omission or inaccurate declaration in the SALN, while it may constitute perjury, it is not a high crime," he added.
Not all agree with the chief justice, however. Earlier, Senator Francis "Chiz" Escudero said the FCDU does not prohibit public officials from declaring their dollar deposits.
He said the SALN law, which requires officials to declare all their assets, came after the FCDU. He said there's a way to abide by the SALN law while keeping confidentiality of dollar accounts: converting them into pesos.
"Otherwise, those who want to rob may convert the money into euros, dollars. You can't open it, they are not required to declare it in their SALNs. I don't think that was the intention of Congress when it passed the SALN law or the FCDU law," he said in an interview with ANC. - Rappler.com