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Denials, legal antics expected at Corona's testimony tomorrow

MANILA, Philippines - Chief Justice Renato Corona shall be hard put to explain his alleged undeclared assets, when he takes the witness stand in his Senate impeachment trial tomorrow, the prosecution said yesterday.

“His defense is now riddled with so many inconsistencies that he’s a virtual sitting duck in intense cross-examination by the prosecution,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, a member of the prosecution panel.

While the Chief Justice has denied he kept $12 million in 82 accounts in five banks as testified to by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales last week, Colmenares said his lawyers claimed over the weekend that he actually had only three or four accounts holding a much smaller amount.

“CJ Corona forgets that whether it’s $12 million or $1 million or less, it must be declared in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth. His dollar deposits were not reported in his SALN,” he said.

Colmenares said Corona’s assertion that his dollar deposits and income from such accounts are exempted from his SALN declaration and from taxation “has no basis in law.”

“He has lost the moral fitness to remain as Chief Justice and should be removed from office,” he added.

Prosecution spokesman Rep. Miro Quimbo of Marikina said Corona has no choice but to issue a waiver on the verification of his bank deposits to allow the impeachment court to check his bank accounts.

“The fact that he has chosen to sit on the witness stand leaves him no choice but to issue the waiver. He cannot do it half baked. He has committed to the process. He must accept all the consequences that come with it. For a testimony to be trustworthy, it must contain complete facts, not half-truths,” he said.

He said the Chief Justice has to confront the issue about his tens of millions in peso and dollar deposits squarely “in the face of overwhelming documentary evidence coming from the Ombudsman and from Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) and Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI).” “He cannot simply make a denial. He cannot hide behind the Supreme Court (SC) TRO (temporary restraining order) or the Foreign Currency Deposit Act,” Quimbo added, referring to the restraining order the SC had issued in the early stage of the trial stopping the Senate from examining Corona’s dollar deposits in PSBank.

Another prosecution spokesman, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, said Corona would be hard put explaining his nondisclosure in his SALN of his “confirmed” peso and dollar deposits and at least four condominium units. “Officers of PSBank and BPI have testified that the Chief Justice had more than P31 million in three accounts in their banks as of Dec. 31, 2010. These deposits were not declared in his 2010 SALN,” he said. Aside from the peso accounts, Angara said three dollar accounts with PSBank, which bank president Pascual Garcia III, had confirmed, matched those reflected in the documents presented by the Ombudsman.

He said the dollar accounts held more than $1 million.

Angara added Corona did not declare four condominium units in his SALNs for the years during which they were acquired.

Malacañang also reminded Corona to be truthful in his scheduled testimony before the Senate impeachment court tomorrow.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Corona is expected to explain in detail how he was able to amass such huge amounts while in government.

Lacierda reminded the chief magistrate that it was he himself who promised that he would take the stand in due time, and explain all the monies that had been disclosed in the impeachment trial, including the purported $10 million. “Show the naked truth. That’s the only thing, the simple request of the Filipino people,” he said. Lacierda said Corona should also specify the various accounts that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales had testified to, where she sourced the details from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

“The whole Philippines is ready to hear his testimony and also the prosecution and the senator-judges are also ready to hear his testimony and ask further questions on his testimony,” Lacierda said.

He also warned the defense team against using legal technicalities.

Lacierda also repeated the argument that there is “no distinction” between peso and dollar deposits in SALNs, since both enjoy bank secrecy laws, even if dollar deposits have absolute confidentiality.

“The law does not distinguish whether your cash is in peso or in dollars. They are all considered as assets and being assets, all of them should be declared under the SALN,” he said.

‘Three critical segments’ Colmenares, on the other hand, also stressed that aside from answering questions about his wealth, Corona must address the issue of his alleged partiality with former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Colmenares said the Chief Justice must explain the alleged irregularities in the issuance by the SC of its Nov. 15, 2011 TRO allowing Arroyo and her husband to leave the country.

He said the supposed irregularities were mentioned in the dissenting opinion of Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Colmenares said Corona made it appear that the TRO was immediately effective and the Arroyos could immediately fly out of the country despite their non-compliance with all its three conditions.

Arroyo and her husband actually went to the airport and tried to board planes for Singapore and Hong Kong, but immigration officers, upon orders from Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, barred them from leaving. Quimbo, meanwhile, revealed the prosecution is preparing for “three critical segments” in the homestretch of the impeachment trial: Corona’s testimony tomorrow, presentation of rebuttal evidence, if needed, and the closing arguments.

“On cross-examination, without disrespecting the Chief Justice, we will attempt to unravel his testimony using documents he himself signed or prepared, statements he personally made and actions he voluntarily performed,” he said.

Quimbo said the prosecution expects Corona’s testimony to be “full of denials as well as stories that attempt to explain his repeated nondisclosure of condominium units and bank accounts.”

“He will try to avoid the issue of wealth accumulation. At the end of his testimony, we are confident that his assertions will not overcome the overwhelming documentary evidence we have presented against him,” he stressed.

For his part, Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada gave assurance that the prosecution would not embarrass Corona during cross-examination.

“He will embarrass himself if he does not tell the truth and if he resorts to legal technicalities,” he said.