MANILA, Philippines (Feb 17, 2012) - A witness admitted yesterday to having seen a copy of Chief Justice Renato Corona's bank document in possession of hitherto unnamed member of the House of the Representatives even before Feb 2, 2012, the day when the prosecution claims they got possession of the controversial document from an unknown "little lady."
On Jan. 31, 2012, Quezon City Rep. Jorge “Bolet” Banal asked Philippine Savings Bank branch manager Annabelle Tiongson for help in authenticating a photocopy of what appeared to be a signature card for a dollar account in the bank belonging to one Renato Corona.
Tiongson disclosed this in her testimony yesterday before the Senate impeachment court. Banal, who was at the chamber yesterday as a member of the House prosecution team, confirmed Tiongson’s story and agreed to appear before the Senate on Monday to provide more details.
Banal admitted he asked the help of Tiongson with regard to the signature card that he said he found in his house gate source.
“On Tuesday, Jan. 31, I went to see her (Tiongson). What she said was true. I don’t know her personally,” he said.
Banal also explained how he received the documents on the evening of Jan. 30, “I just came home after unwinding with my colleagues at the secretariat when I saw a folded legal size photocopy of a signature card as I was entering the parking slot in our driveway in St. Ignatius village.”
“The $700k (amount) is handwritten,” he added.
The lawmaker also confirmed that he was covering the paper containing the amount, “I fear that the content is only P700 so I want to make sure (that it is in dollars). What she did not tell is that I also left my business card. She was very firm and very polite when she told me no. I just took a chance that she might help me,” Banal explained.
Banal also concurred that there are people helping them and apologized to the prosecution panel manager Rep. Joseph Abaya for not informing them about the documents.
“Yes, there were some (people) who are helping us (prosecution panel). I also received an anonymous letter pertaining (to) $300,000 a week or two (before the signature card surfaced).”
Banal explained that he had to verify it first since the document was just a photocopy.
Majority Leader Vicente Sotto said that since Banal was in the hall, he should be allowed to explain his side.
But considering the late hour, Sotto asked his colleagues to “practice restraint” and not ask questions.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile ruled that Banal should appear on Monday next week.
Before the trial adjourned, Banal walked in the session hall, prompting senator-judges to decide whether they will hear his testimony or not.
With the majority allowing him to take the witness stand, Banal went on to explain his side.
During the 19th day of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, Tiongson told the court that Banal has the signature cards of Corona’s dollar accounts.
Under questioning by Sen. Loren Legarda, the bank manager said that she learned about Banal’s possession of Corona’s signature cards when the lawmaker approached her in their branch last Jan. 31, two days before Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali allegedly received the same documents from an alleged “little lady” on Feb. 2.
Tiongson said after introducing himself as a congressman, Banal asked her if she can help him.
“He did not ask me to produce the documents. He just asked me to help him produce photocopies. He told me that he is a congressman. He asked that maybe, I could personally help him in my capacity (as manager of the PSBank Katipunan branch),” Tiongson explained.
Tiongson said she turned down Banal’s request, “I told him, I’m sorry. He told me that he just needed me to guide him on certain items in the documents that he was showing. He showed me a photocopy similar to one in Annex A (the documents that Umali allegedly got from an alleged little lady).”
Tiongson added that what Banal showed her turned out to be a specimen signature card.
“I was not able to see the whole of it because it was partly covered. He was covering it, your honor. He was just showing, I don’t know how many pages, I think two pages of white paper. He partly opened it,” she said.
At first, Tiongson said she did not clearly see the identification of the specimen signature cards.
“It was a signature card of our bank. I asked him where he got it and he said, he will tell me if I will help him. I asked him how did you get that. He said so many people are helping us. Looking at it closely, I saw that it is under the name of Chief Justice Corona,” she said.
Tiongson said, Banal also asked the dollar sign in the specimen signature card, “He asked me, what is this? Is this a dollar sign?”
Iloilo Congressman Niel Tupas, lead prosecution counsel, said Banal is an ex-officio member of the House Committee on Justice and a former deputy majority leader.
Tiongson said the incident took place before their bank president Pascual Garcia III asked them to forward all the documents of Corona’s accounts in PS Bank to the bank’s head office.
She also noted, upon Garcia’s instruction, she and the three persons who have access in the vault, where the confidential bank documents of the clients, including Corona’s, were kept, checked the vault to see if Corona’s documents are still there.
“We checked the record if they were there. We got the folder. It was after he (Banal) left that we check the folder, your honor,” Tiongson added.
Tiongson maintained that the documents in possession of Banal did not come from their bank when Enrile asked her if the documents may have been possibly leaked by someone from PS Bank.
“Not necessarily your honor. Because it can come from other sources. I told him I cannot help you,” Tiongson said.
On questioning by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Tiongson said she is familiar with Banal and know him personally.
“I met him in Xavierville. It was the inauguration of a covered court. Yes. My other colleagues told me that he is Councilor Banal. He said he is already a Congressman. No doubt, your honor,” Tiongson answered when asked if she personally know Banal’s face and how she recognized him.
Tiongson also said that Banal also introduced him as part of the secretariat.
She also asked Banal to give her the documents so that she can examine it but he did not want to show the whole copy.
Tiongson said she frustrated Banal.
With this revelation, Santiago requested for the immediate issuance of a subpoena against Banal to enable him to explain his side.
Enrile initially granted Santiago’s request to subpoena Banal, but some Senators cited an “inter-parliamentary courtesy” manifested that they first invite Banal, being a congressman, to explain his side.
For his part, Umali said he stand by his story that the documents he obtained and presented as Exhibit A before the impeachment court came from the alleged “little lady.”
Umali said he did not know about Banal’s possession of the same documents that he have.
“I stand by my story. I never got any information from Congressman Banal. We never talked about it. We don’t see each other often. I don’t know his calling. He will tell it directly to the court,” Umali said.
Umali said Tiongson’s testimony that Banal is in possession with the same documents that he had will not affect the prosecution’s case.
“He never brought it up with me. Not at all. The small lady gave it to me. Nobody told me, Bolet Banal did not tell me anything. We are not talking because we have different work in the impeachment. I am assigned on Article 8. We have our own job. I don’t know his story,” Umali said.
Tupas said he also don’t know that Banal has documents with him and what was his purpose.
“That is all I know. Congressman Bolet has different assignment. He is from Finance,” Tupas said.
During cross examination by defense Laywer Serafin Cuevas, Tiongson admitted that she has no personal knowledge of the transactions of Corona in his accounts in PS Bank.
Tiongson said that her knowledge on Corona’s accounts in their branch was based on the records of the bank.
“Yes, Sir,” Tiongson told Cuevas when the latter said that her statement before the court “is hearsay and not admissible in evidence.”
“Meaning you are not a participant in the correctness of the documents,” Cuevas said.
Tiongson said the bank has computer system which go to the server that contain details of all clients of the bank.
“The person who made the entries comes from the branch. The person who enter the transactions are the new accountspersonnel and the one processing the deposit is the teller. I was not there yet when the entry (on Corona’s accounts) was made,” Tiongson said. (From Phistar.com)