MANILA, Philippines (Mar 06 2012) - In what could be one of the biggest setbacks for the defense, the Senate impeachment court denied yesterday the motion of the camp of Chief Justice Renato Corona to suppress the use of his bank records as evidence in his impeachment trial.
Senate President and impeachment court presiding officer Juan Ponce Enrile said this was the consensus among the senator-judges during their caucus yesterday.
“The court has arrived at a decision and ruling that it will deny the motion to suppress, and accept the evidence for consideration of the court in connection with Article 2 of the Articles of Impeachment,” Enrile said, adding "we shall accept the offer of evidence on this matter."
The bank documents show Corona’s peso accounts with the Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) branch on Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City. The defense panel led by former justice Serafin Cuevas argued that the bank records had been illegally obtained and thus should not be used as evidence against the Chief Justice.
Based on what has been presented in court, there is a disparity between Corona’s peso accounts with PSBank and his declared bank deposits in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).
Article 2 of the Articles of Impeachment alleges that the Chief Justice lied about his assets in his SALN.
The prosecution argued that the “fruit of the poisonous tree” principle invoked by the defense in blocking the presentation of Corona’s bank records applies only to illegal searches and seizures conducted by the state or its instrumentalities.
“In the case of these particular matters where bank accounts of the respondent Chief Justice were revealed, disclosed to the public, there’s no showing that it was done by the government,” Enrile said.
“There’s no clear showing that it was done by the government and so far, as the facts indicate, there’s no question that these alleged bank deposit account numbers exist,” he added.
Enrile also noted that Republic Act 1405 or the bank secrecy law and Republic Act 6426 or the foreign currency deposit act have no exclusion provisions, “meaning a provision that expressly exclude of or proscribe the admissibility of the records of bank deposits when they are illegally released to the public.”
PSBank was able to secure a Supreme Court temporary restraining order (TRO) on the examination by the impeachment court of Corona’s foreign currency deposit accounts.
The documents attached by the prosecution in the supplemental request for subpoena included the customer identification and specimen signature cards of Corona with PSBank, which lists various account numbers supposedly held by the Chief Justice.
The impeachment court voted to respect the TRO of the Supreme Court. But it filed a comment, through the Office of the Solicitor General, calling for the dismissal of the petition of PSBank.
While the prosecution panel has formally ended its presentation of evidence, it has informed the court that it is reserving its right to present evidence related to the foreign currency deposits in the future.
The prosecution hopes that the Supreme Court would eventually rule in its favor and allow the opening of the foreign currency accounts of the Chief Justice.
It was not clear if Enrile was amenable to the prosecution’s plan to present evidence later if necessary.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said that the matter had already been settled and that the prosecution would be allowed to do so.
Lacson said Enrile had already issued a ruling allowing the prosecution to end its presentation of evidence – but with reservation to present new ones on the dollar accounts if and when the need arises.
“This issue is unique because there is a pending TRO. The main case has not been resolved,” Lacson said.
“If the TRO is lifted then there will be no hindrance to the presentation of the dollar accounts,” he added.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago defended the decision of her colleagues to deny the motion of the defense panel.
“The general rule is in case of doubt, just admit the evidence. Normally you have to specify what is the purpose of admission. Normally the judge says, just for simplicity’s sake, admitted for whatever it is worth. It does not necessarily mean that the case will turn on the admission of a particular piece of evidence,” Santiago said.
But she stressed each of the 23 senator-judges will have his or her own standard of proof come voting time.
“It depends on the standard of proof. We have left the standard of proof to every single senator. When you choose your standard of proof, in effect you are already imposing judgment on the accused,” she said.
She said her decision would be based on “overwhelming preponderance of evidence.”
“In my case I will adopt the proposal of Prof. Charles Black of Yale University who wrote ‘Impeachment: A Handbook.’ His recommendation is overwhelming preponderance of evidence. It is very complicated because we might be operating on different standards of proof,” she said.
“If you say that the standard of proof is proof beyond reasonable doubt, it will be hard to convict because there will always be doubt. If it is substantial evidence, in all likelihood the prosecution will win because you just present a little bit of evidence that is already substantial,” Santiago pointed out.
“What I want to do is propose that, in any impeachment proceeding, there should first be a seminar by UP College of Law or a similarly reputable law schools like Ateneo or San Beda for all the senators and maybe even the House of Representatives,” she said.
Santiago noted that under the law, the presumption is that the accused is innocent.
“In effect, the prosecution has to work against that presumption. Remember the rule that he who alleges must prove his allegations. To allege is not to prove. You have to prove everything that you are saying,” Santiago said.
“Whereas the job of the defense is to say ‘no’ the burden of proof is on the prosecution, and the rule is that the prosecution cannot depend on the weakness of the proof of the defense,” she added.
Santiago said Corona’s lawyers should concentrate on presenting a more credible defense for their client.
“All the rules are in favor of the accused because our Constitution is very conscious of our Bill of Rights. In fact, the Bill of Rights is really the starting point for the entire concept of the Constitution. In the case of the defense, all they have to do is concentrate on the fact that the evidence is equivocal with respect to their client,” she said.
The defense panel has until today to file its response to the formal offer of evidence of the prosecution.
It is expected to inform the Senate which of the exhibits offered by the prosecution it would accept and which it would object to.
The Senate would then make a ruling on what would eventually be admitted as evidence.
Prosecutors have expressed elation over the decision of the Senate impeachment court to accept Corona’s PSBank records as evidence.
Lead prosecutor Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas described the decision of the senator-judges as “a very welcome development.”
“We are moving closer to our objectives, which are the search for truth and to exact public accountability,” Tupas said in a text message to reporters. “This is a good sign for the prosecution as we prepare for the defense’s presentation of evidence.”
Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, spokesman for the prosecution panel, said the admission of evidence “is another nail added to the coffin of betrayal of public trust.”
Marikina City Rep. Romero Quimbo, however, said it would be presumptuous to conclude that Corona would be convicted based on the impeachment court’s decision.
“We’re looking forward to the 16 votes – that’s the one we’re excited about,” Quimbo said.
He also said the prosecution panel would accept the decision of the Senate to lengthen the trial proceedings.
Tañada warned the defense lawyers might again run to the Supreme Court to contest the decision of the senator-judges.
“That’s (running to the SC) what they always do. It would not be a surprise to us that they would do the same to question the decision of the impeachment tribunal,” he said.
“Now the Chief Justice would have to explain why he had more than P19 million in two PSBank accounts as of Dec. 31, 2010, in addition to more than P12 million in one account with Bank of the Philippine Islands,” Quimbo said.
“He also has to explain why he did not declare his combined bank deposits of more than P31 million in his 2010 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, in which he reported ‘cash and investments’ amounting only to P3.5 million” he said.
He said the prosecution did not offer as evidence the photocopies of bank records it received from an anonymous source and whose authenticity Corona’s lawyers have questioned.
“What we offered as evidence were the testimonies of PSBank officers and the documents they presented,” he pointed out.
Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, who is helping Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya manage Corona’s prosecution, said he and the rest of the 188 Corona impeachers welcome the Senate impeachment court’s decision.
“Those bank records are not the fruits of a poisonous tree as the defense claims. There is no poisonous tree and there is no poisonous fruit,” he said.
He said PSBank president Pascual Garcia III has testified that the information contained in the prosecution’s photocopies of Corona’s bank records was “mostly accurate” and that photocopies and the originals kept by the bank were “similar” documents.
He pointed out that the impeachment court’s decision to accept the bank records as evidence “makes it more imperative for CJ Corona to testify when his trial resumes next week. Only he can explain those bank deposits,” he said. (From Philstar.com)