Nation



BY ANTONIO SIEGFRID O. ALEGADO, Reporter


Chief Justice to testify as last witness in impeachment trial




Posted on May 17, 2012


CHIEF JUSTICE Renato C. Corona will testify in his own impeachment trial when proceedings at the Senate, sitting as impeachment court, resume on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a report from the Office of the Ombudsman’s field investigation office showed that Mr. Corona may have over P677 million in "unexplained wealth" from 2001 to 2003.

At yesterday’s trial, lead defense counsel and former justice Serafin R. Cuevas said his panel will dispense with the other witnesses in the trial, since their testimonies will "no longer be corroborative."

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who is presiding judge, then ruled that the trial resume on Tuesday to give time for the defense team to prepare Mr. Corona and study further a report of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) earlier presented by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales.

Asked why the defense team dispensed its other witnesses including Justice Secretary Leila M. de Lima, defense spokesperson and lawyer Tranquil G.S. Salvador III said they "believe that the evidence that they have presented is sufficient, so far."

"Besides, even if we present witnesses, people would still say it is only the Chief Justice who can clarify his name," he said in a briefing after the trial.

Despite saying that Mr. Corona may "have no choice but to answer questions," Mr. Cuevas stressed in an ambush interview that their panel "has [still] not made a decision" whether they will present any bank records.

"UNEXPLAINED WEALTH"

In a related development, a 20-page report of the Ombudsman’s special panel of investigators alleged the Chief Justice has P677.373 million in "unexplained wealth."

The figure was reached by adding the following:

• The net increase in Mr. Corona’s net worth based on his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth or SALN (P8,970,980);

• The supposed discrepancy in the head magistrate’s alleged bank deposits to what is declared in his SALN (P36,770,878.35);

• Mr. Corona’s bank transactions involving dollar accounts from April 14, 2003 to Dec. 22, 2011 ($10 million or P420 million); and

• Mr. Corona’s peso bank transactions dated April 16, 2003 to Feb. 9, 2012 (P242 million).

From the total of these amounts, the special panel subtracted the combined income of the Chief Justice and his wife, Cristina R. Corona, which they said amounted P30,369,120.13.

The report was prepared by Joselito P. Fangon, Christopher S. Soguilon, Rholie C. Besoña, R. Epicurus Charlo S. Salcedo and Moses L. Buzmion after Mr. Carpio-Morales’ order to look into Mr. Corona’s purported bank accounts in response to a complaint filed before the office.

Copies of which were given to the members of the media yesterday by House Speaker Feliciano R. Belmonte, Jr. (4th district, Quezon City).

Mr. Belmonte said he received his copy of the report from the Ombudsman on May 11.

"[T]he acquisition of wealth by Subject [Mr.] Corona appears to be grossly disproportionate to his known income as a public officer," the report read.

The "findings should be considered by the House of Representatives and the Senate," it added.

Ms. Carpio-Morales on Monday said that another impeachment complaint may be filed against Mr. Corona in December should the latter be acquitted.

The chief graft buster had also presented before the impeachment court an AMLC report supposedly detailing movements of Mr. Corona’s alleged dollar accounts.

But the document’s admissibility as evidence is still in question, as the chief graft buster could not ascertain the veracity of the report.

Ms. Carpio-Morales had admitted before the court, that neither her team nor she looked into specific bank records.

The defense team, however, is confident that Mr. Corona will be able to address this issue. "You can’t prevent the Chief Justice from discussing this (bank accounts)," Mr. Cuevas said in the interview.

Mr. Corona should be the defense’s last witness, but the Senate is still set to decide on Monday whether to subpoena bank managers where the head magistrate purportedly kept dollar accounts.

KEH TESTIFIES

Earlier at the trial, Harvey S. Keh, civil society group Kaya Natin lead convener, was ordered to "show cause" why he should not be cited in contempt for bringing supposed copies of Mr. Corona’s bank records at the height of the trial.

"I am ordering you to show cause why you should not be cited for contempt by this impeachment court," Mr. Enrile ordered.

Mr. Enrile said he felt Mr. Keh was trying to influence the impeachment court by bringing unverified documents from an anonymous court.

In his testimony, Mr. Keh admitted that he personally delivered the documents to the Senate President’s office.

Mr. Keh, who is one of the complainants who asked the Ombudsman to investigate Mr. Corona’s alleged unexplained wealth, had revealed to the media anonymous information that Corona owned $2 million in foreign currency accounts in several banks.

Former Anakbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and a certain Emmanuel T. Santos, who were also complainants, were also presented as witnesses.

Their testimonies showed that they too could not vouch for the truthfulness of documents they attached to their respective complaints.

For his scheduled appearance on Tuesday, Mr. Corona is expected to testify against the veracity of the AMLC report presented by Ms. Carpio-Morales last Monday.

Based on the AMLC report, Mr. Corona allegedly has 82 different dollar-denominated accounts deposited in nine banks.

The nine banks are Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI)-Acropolis Branch, BPI Tandang Sora, BPI San Francisco del Monte, BPI Management Investment Corp., Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank)-Cainta Branch, PSBank Katipunan, Allied Banking Corp.-Kamias Branch, Deutsche Bank AG, and Citibank NA.