The defense’s roller coaster day

Natashya Gutierrez

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When their opportunity comes later in the trial, the defense says they will be able to explain the Coronas' millions

MANILA, Philippines – The defense counsels of Chief Justice Renato Corona were filled with hope right before the beginning of Day 14 of the impeachment trial.

Around 1 pm Wednesday, February 9, the defense filed an urgent petition for certiorari to stop the subpoena of Corona’s bank accounts by the prosecution. They also asked for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to stop the proceedings before the impeachment court, saying the verified complaint of the prosecution is defective.

“Recourse to the Supreme Court seems to be the only thing we look forward to at this time,” said defense counsel Judd Roy III.

The defense’s optimism however, did not last long.

Presiding officer Juan Ponce-Enrile, despite the defense’s pending petition with the Supreme Court, allowed PSBank president Pascual Garcia to testify and present the documents sought by the court in relation to Corona’s bank accounts. Garcia, however, brought with him documents relating only to Corona’s peso account deposits.

PSBank also filed a TRO with the Supreme Court on Wednesday, asking the High Court to protect the bank from the subpoena issued by the impeachment court.

Despite the submitted motions, Enrile ordered the impeachment court to proceed with the trial, pending the decision by the Supreme Court. The High Tribunal is expected to tackle the motions during Thursday’s en banc.

Enrile ruled in favor of continuation of the impeachment trial, saying that the Senate has the sole power over impeachment proceedings.

Defense: We can explain

On the witness stand, Garcia presented the Chief Justice’s local currency accounts which showed funds up to P20-M as of 2010. Garcia did not bring with him documents pertaining to 5 of 10 of Corona’s bank accounts — specifically his foreign currency accounts. Philippine law prohibits inquiry into foreign currency deposit accounts without the written consent of the depositor.

Corona declared P3.5-M under ‘cash and investments’ in his 2010 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).

The defense was hard-pressed to explain the amount.

Gusto ko lang muna i-correct yang P20-M. Wala tayong nakitang P20-M. Hindi yan na-elicit, hindi yan sinabi ng testigo. Malamang conclusion yan ng nagco-compute,” defense spokesperson Rico Quicho said. “Siguro kailangan maging mapanuri muna tayo, bago natin ilatag ang mga amounts. Hintayin muna natin matapos…na mapakinggan ang panig namin.” (“We want to correct that P20-M. We didn’t see anything referring to P20-M. That amount was not elicited from the witness. Perhaps that’s a conclusion by those who computed. Maybe we need to be more critical first before we declare the amounts. Let’s wait for this to end… to hear our side.”)

The P20-M amount came from adding the over P12-M and P7-M from two different accounts owned by Corona as testified by the witness.

Defense spokesperson Karen Jimeno also gave assurances there is an explanation for the amount Corona declared on his 2010 SALN but said she could not speak about it, as they are not allowed to talk about the merits of the case. She reminded the public not to jump to conclusions.

Defense panel member Ramon Esguerra said it was too early in the day to draw conclusions. “When our opportunity comes later in the trial, we will be able to show the provenance of the deposits both from the sale of two lots and the savings of the family. We are not even counting the cash assets of Mrs Corona’s family corporation,” he said in a text message.

He added, “Our petition with the SC and and the one on PSBank are not rendered moot by these bank balances. What it has shown is that for the most part in the relevant periods, the accounts have zero balances. This, to us, is a big indicium of the grand fishing expedition of the prosecution!”

Illegal source

Quicho also rejected Garcia’s testimony, saying it should not be used to convict the Chief Justice because it was acquired illegally.

Ang paglatag kanina ng mga dokumento at ang pagtestigo ng presidente ng PSBank, ito ay tinututulan pa rin namin,” said Quicho. “Sapagkat dapat nating malaman na meron po kaming inakyat sa Korte Suprema sapagkat kami ay naniniwala na ang pagkuha ng dokumento from an illegal source should not be admitted as evidence.” (We are still opposing the presentation of these documents awhile ago and the testimony of the president of PSBank. We should remember that we have petitions we submitted to the Supreme Court since we believe that documents obtained from an illegal source should not be admitted as evidence.)

The defense emphasized they respect the impeachment court but will wait for the decision of the Supreme Court on their petitions. If the Court denies their motions, they said they will continue with the trial and fight for the right of the Chief Justice.

But for now, they have chosen to keep quiet. –

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Natashya Gutierrez

Natashya is President of Rappler. Among the pioneers of Rappler, she is an award-winning multimedia journalist and was also former editor-in-chief of Vice News Asia-Pacific. Gutierrez was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders for 2023.