MANILA, Philippines (May 12, 2012) - A counsel for Chief Justice Renato Corona said that the chief magistrate shall be ready to answer questions on his alleged foreign currency deposits with the Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) once he testifies during his impeachment trial at the Senate.
Defense counsel Ramon Esguerra said Corona is preparing for the barrage of questions that may be asked of him once he sits in the witness stand, including the issue of his bank accounts.
“It’s an issue that must be addressed one way or another, (the Chief Justice) will be forced to answer that,” Esguerra said.
“Tali na kami dyan (we will be bound by his testimony),” he said.
The issue of the PSBank accounts was mentioned in the complaints filed by former party-list Rep. Risa Hontiveros, Harvey Keh and several others, so it cannot be skirted once the issue is raised inside the impeachment court, Esguerra explained.
The House prosecution panel suffered a setback in the early months of the trial after PSBank itself was able to secure an order barring the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, from looking into Corona’s alleged dollar accounts with its Katipunan branch in Quezon City.
At least five dollar accounts were mentioned in the trial during the testimony of PSBank president Pascual Garcia III.
On the issue of ownership of the PSBank accounts, Esguerra said Corona could give a categorical answer or maybe admit the bank accounts but the nature of the accounts should still be explained.
Esguerra ventured into the issue that the accounts might belong to Corona’s daughter, Carla, who has been declared majority owner of the Basa Guidote Enterprises Inc (BGEI) after she bought 4,839 shares in 2003. The shares represented 91-percent ownership of BGEI.
The BGEI was highlighted in Corona’s impeachment after the Chief Justice had placed it as a source of an P11-million “cash advance” from his wife’s family corporation in his 2003 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).
Esguerra refused to dwell on whether the cash in the PSBank accounts under Corona’s name were also held in trust for BGEI, in the same manner that the P34.7 million paid by the Manila government were “held in trust” by Corona’s wife Cristina for the expropriations of a BGEI property in Sampaloc, Manila.
As the defense panel readies Corona’s defense this weekend, Esguerra said the team is expecting another propaganda against the Chief Justice.
Esguerra merely shrugged off questions on the recent subtle attacks hurled by a senator-judge, who alleged that Corona’s supporters were behind a high profile demolition job against him.
“That’s nothing,” the lawyer said.
Defense spokesman Tranquil Salvador III said they are preparing to meet head on the “propaganda” and legal issues hurled against Corona before the impeachment court.
As this developed, defense spokesperson Karen Jimeno called on the senator-judges to maintain their impartiality over the impeachment case, especially after Corona had decided to testify in the next few days.
“We respect Sen. (Antonio) Trillanes, I hope he did not really say that,” Jimeno said when asked to react on statements of Trillanes expressing doubt on whether Corona would “bare all” on the witness stand.
“Senator-judges took the pledge to render impartial justice as such, (Trillanes) should first listen to the statements of witnesses and the evidence to be presented,” Jimeno said.
“Let’s not prejudge him,” she added.
Now that Corona has finally agreed to testify at his trial, Salvador lamented many sectors still doubted whether he would tell all.
“As it appears parang ngayon may duda pa rin sila sa amin (they are still doubting us),” Salvador said.
Salvador said the Chief Justice has been preparing with his defense team for all questions that may be asked once he testifies.
Jimeno and Salvador said it would be up to the members of the House prosecution team if they would raise their questions to Corona once he takes the witness stand.
“To be fair, this is still a trial, the prosecution has a right to cross-examine CJ Corona as a witness. For us, we don’t have any preference. It’s more of observation and respect their rights to do that. If they want to do that, they can ask questions,” Jimeno said.
“They always say that this is a quest for truth, that is also what we want to happen. So in order to satisfy their questions and doubts, then they should ask questions,” she added.
“I think, to my mind, the public will better appreciate if the public prosecutors themselves will examine… they have been harping on this for the longest time,” Salvador said.
The House prosecutors led by Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas, being the main accusers on the impeachment case, should face Corona once he testifies in court.
While the present administration wants to exact accountability on the part of Corona, Salvador and Jimeno said the same is expected from those who accuse the Chief Justice of wrongdoing, much less owning foreign currency accounts estimated at $10 million.
“I think we have to highlight accountability. It is not only to public office but also to private individuals like us. For those who make accusations, for those who make charges, we have to account,” Salvador said.
The defense team expressed concern that complainants Harvey Keh and Risa Hontiveros had issued statements effectively saying that they have insufficient evidence regarding the accusations.
The complaints have jumpstarted the probe of the Office of the Ombudsman under former justice Conchita Carpio-Morales.
“I don’t think that is the message that we want to teach our children, that if you say something, you should be able to face it and stand for what you believe is right,” Salvador said.
“That is why we requested a subpoena on why we wanted them to appear, they signed the statements, they made previous statements and in one instance, one of the complainants handed to the Senate president copies of the supposed documents of the Chief Justice,” he added.
It was Keh who had provided Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile a sealed enveloped supposedly containing the documents pertaining to their complaint against Corona and his supposed foreign currency deposits.
Corona’s lawyers moved last Tuesday for the impeachment court to issue a subpoena for Morales and the complainants on allegations that the Chief Justice has $10 million in bank deposits.
Once Morales and the complainants – including Hontiveros and Keh – have brought their documents on the details of the $10-million account, Corona’s lawyers manifested the Chief Justice will be confronting the issue head on inside the impeachment court.
Enrile had summoned Morales and the complainants to appear during the resumption of trial on Monday. (From Philstar.com)