Senate vote on bank accounts crucial

MANILA, Philippines - Will senator-jurors grant the prosecution's request to subpoena the bank accounts of Chief Justice Renato Corona?

This is going to be a crucial vote, prosecutor Reynaldo Umali told Rappler.

"We'll have to fight it out. It's all about the declaration and non-declaration of the Chief Justice of his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Networth (SALN)," Umali said.

The senators are expected to put it to a vote during their closed-door caucus on Monday, February 6. The defense panel has filed its opposition to the prosecution's request.

Through separate requests, the prosecution wanted to subpoena the Chief Justice's alleged accounts in PSBank and the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI).

The PSBank account was discovered because of an information that the Chief Justice won P1-M in the bank's raffle in March 2008.

On Thursday, lead prosecutor Niel Tupas Jr asked the impeachment court to act on the prosecution's requests to subpoena Corona's bank records. In response, presiding officer Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile asked the prosecution to be specific in its requests. The earlier requests did not specify the bank account numbers.

On Friday, the prosecution submitted a supplement to their request to comply (see documents below).

In the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada, the presiding officer then, former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr was less stringent in his requirements. He allowed the prosecution to summon bank records without requiring them to provide very specific information such as account numbers.

Money source

Prosecution spokesperson Romero "Miro" Quimbo in a press conference on Friday said there's clear evidence that the Chief Justice has more money than he declared in his SALN.

In his SALNs from 2002 to 2010, Corona declared a maximum of P3.5-M annual worth of "cash and investments."

"We wonder how he was able to pay off liabilities of P3-M for that year (2009) and then at the same time acquired the P14.5-M property,” Quimbo said, referring to payments to The Columns and Bellagio condominium units in Makati and Taguig cities, respectively.

The bank accounts are still part of the prosecution's evidence for Article 2 of the impeachment complaint, the failure of the Chief Justice to declare his SALN. The prosecution insists it's not enough that Corona filed his SALN. It also has to be truthful.

Much earlier in the trial, the prosecution wanted the impeachment court to subpoena 5 alleged accounts of the Chief Justice in BPI (2 accounts), Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC); Philippine National Bank; and Land Bank of the Philippines.

The request was withdrawn pending the Senate's decision on allowing evidence for ill-gotten wealth. The defense had argued that Article 2 of the impeachment complaint specifies non-disclosure of the requisite SALN, and makes no mention of ill-gotten or even unexplained wealth. Other lawyers, including Ateneo School of Government Dean Tony La Viña had said that the prosecution, by getting entangled with arguments on ill-gotten wealth, is committing a strategic blunder.

"The prosecution does not necessarily need prove ill-gotten or hidden wealth to convict the Chief Justice under Article 2 of the impeachment articles. In fact, as I have argued elsewhere, it is a mistake for the prosecution to proceed with such a theory of law which tends to criminalize the impeachment proceedings, raising the bar of the applicable rules of evidence and the standard of proof required for conviction," La Viña wrote in his commentary published by Rappler Friday, February 3. 

He added, "In my view, this is a flawed strategy that must be quickly abandoned. Indeed, this criminalization of impeachment approach, a product of the prosecution, has now led many senator-judges to assert that impeachable offenses must rise up to the level of high crimes." The prosecution, instead, "need only prove that CJ Corona, in fact, failed to file a true, genuine and accurate SALN in manifest violation of the special laws and the Constitution," La Viña said.

It is unclear if the prosecution will still request records from the other banks. - Rappler.com