#CoronaTrial Day 18 Highlights : The clock has stopped and the days grow longer

by Wilfred Avila
Originally posted at the Noisy Minority Facebook Page

The hangover from a festive Valentine’s Day celebration seemed heavy in the air. There was no real excitement in the air as the trial was about to unfold.

Even the pre-trial press conferences were not held by either the Prosecution and the Defense. Even the press people seemed to say, “Let’s get this going and be done with it!”

Feisty Senator-Judge Miriam Defensor-Santiago was there but kept absolutely quiet and left after about two hours. She must not have recovered from the rise in her blood pressure still.

Prosecution spokesman Rep. Miro Quimbo arrived and seemed to be the only one perky enough to engage anyone in back slapping and joking. No one clapped his back nor joked with him. His one day rest seemed to do him well.

In fact, he learned a new trick overnight. On TV interviews with the spokesmen of the Defense, he would even speak while the Defense spokesmen were speaking to drown them out. It was absolutely annoying. I won’t even bring up the breeding card!

He kept saying that the defense was now playing the Mistrial card because the defense was now empty of excuses. I found this funny because the defense never brought up the fact of the fake documents but the Prosecution witnesses themselves did.

Also as a lawyer, he should have known that a Mistrial is always an option when the Defense sees that the whole case is based on lies, innuendos, fabrications, kasinugalingan, bogus and fake evidences as basis for the complaint! Ano ba yan? Elementary Watson!

Surprise, surprise, surprise. No trucks of lechon or caterers came by the front of the Senate Building today. Was there too much cholesterol intake the day before? Hahahahaha

Prosecutor Rep. Umali was furious and marched the halls of the press area and tells everyone willing to listen to him that he was going to sue Garcia and Tiongson for defamation of character and for saying that his documents were fake! So, tell me … no, tell us, Rep. Umali, if you remember all the details on how you got the envelope containing the Corona accounts, how come you cannot remember the one thing that is most important? Who is the “Little Lady?” I am sure even your family wants to know!

The Impeachment trial started at 2:08 pm. 19 Senator-Judges were reported present. Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III immediately reported that the prosecution has submitted the explanation on the “leaked” bank documents pertaining to the Chief Justice’s accounts. The Senate will hold a caucus on Monday to discuss this.

Meanwhile, Presiding Officer, Sen. President Juan Ponce Enrile, ruled with finality to deny the motion of Defense to kill the subpoena for PSBank Katipunan branch manager Annabelle Tiongson.

Senator-Judge Loren Legarda asked Enrile as to how the impeachment court would tackle the suspected leaked documents? She cited statements from Malacañang (Sec. Lacierda announced this earlier) which said the documents are authentic. She wanted a clarification on the matter. (I am still bothered by her eyebrows to this day. They look glued to her forehead. Also, if she stopped texting and eating peanuts everytime the cameras caught her, maybe, just maybe she would understand where the trial was going.)

Enrile clarified that it was his position to await the Supreme Court’s final ruling on the dollar accounts. “Let us wait for offer of evidence,” he ruled.

Senator-Judge Pia Cayetano stood up to take the podium. She said that she had a continuing concern on the treatment of the alleged fake bank documents. She also added that she wanted to correct the statement of prosecutor Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas that there was no opposition to the subpoena. She reminds the court that Senator-Judge Francis Escudero stood up to raise a point.

Enrile declared that the matter on the documents will be held in abeyance until it is taken up in caucus. He underlined that the prosecution should have scrutinized the documents before presenting it to court. They “can’t pass the buck” to the court, he continued, and it is the obligation of the parties to make sure subpoena requests are valid.

Lead prosecutor Rep. Niel Tupas cited court transcripts ordering Tiongson to bring the documents for comparison. Enrile however argued that the documents in question were foreign currency accounts covered by a temporary restraining order. The witness confirmed under oath that the document is fake, and it stands, he added. Tupas argued that Tiongson only said it “seems” fake. Enrile ends the discussion by stating that the TRO should be respected and bangs the gavel!

Lead Defense lawyer Serafin Cuevas said that it was not true that the defense did not object to subpoenaing the bank documents, as Rep. Fariñas said. He also reminded prosecution that evidence brought in court isn’t immediately admitted as evidence.

Riled, Enrile declared that: “This (discussion on the documents, subpoena) is elementary to any lawyer who has been in a courtroom… I feel ashamed to educate lawyers here.

The Prosecution went back to the business at hand and presented their first witness for the day, BPI Ayala Avenue branch manager Leonora Dizon and reported that she had given birth earlier and that they would present an alternative witness. Cuevas rejoined that both sides were through with Dizon, but Enrile reminded all that the witness was recalled because some Senator-Judges wanted to ask her some more questions.

Senator-Judge Franklin Drilon said that it was Cuevas who asked to see the monthly documents to see the breakdown of the deposits. Enrile reiterated that members of the court may ask questions of anyone it saw fit. Cuevas countered by saying that they already made a motion to withdraw the documents, since their client already had them.

Enrile orders the prosecution to call witness Dizon, but prosecution reiterated that the witness already gave birth. They will then present a representative.

Overheard over a microphone left open.
Enrile: Where’s the witness?
Cuevas: Nanganak na raw.
Laughter in the court.
Enrile: “There’s a force majeure on the appearance of the witness.”

Drilon agreed and said that they can accept the representative as witness, as long as the person can testify to the documents. He continued that they needed the documents and not the witness.

Prosecution recalled PSBank Katipunan branch manager Tiongson back to the witness stand for more questions. Senator-Judge Francis Pangilinan inquired if PSBank President Pascual Garcia III was back, since he was also subpoenaed to testify today. PSBank counsel, Puno, answered that they would present their president Pascual Garcia III instead of Tiongson since he is “more competent” to testify as per subpoena.

Tiongson is back on the witness stand. Senator-Judge Jinggoy Estrada asked questions to Tiongson. He asked her a series of questions that would prove that she personally knew Tupaz and his family. She denied that she knew anyone from the Tupaz family.

Presiding Judge Enrile together with Estrada asked Tiongson if she had the logbook that records all access to the specimen cards at their branch. Tiongson said she did not, but Enrile insisted since he recalled that she was ordered to do so. He did not accept the excuse of the witness and instructed her to bring it in the next hearing.

Senator-Judge Estrada then asked about the “K” in the “700K” inscription. Tiongson replied that it could mean a lot of things.

He then demanded to know if she stood by her earlier statement that the documents were fake. She reiterated her statement and said that it was, indeed, a fake. Estrada asked that if the subpoena is based on existing bank accounts, how can these documents be fake? She suggested that the account numbers could have different sources.

Estrada, however, said that he believed the documents from the prosecution were a faithful reproduction of the original. Enrile then interjected a question: “who did the “faking” then?” Tiongson nervously said that she did not know who faked the document, not her branch. Drilon then asked her what the differences were, but she couldn’t recall the differences. She only insisted that there were missing and/or altered entries.

Cuevas immediately stands up and said that he was “worried, apprehensive” that the matter referred to foreign currency accounts. Estrada was quickly retorted that the questions were regarding the peso accounts.

Enrile clarified to the court that the record shows he never ordered Tiongson to bring the logbook. Estrada moved to order the witness to bring the logbook. This motion was approved.

Drilon asked where the specimen signatures were and Tiongson replied that upon the advice of counsel, she could not bring the specimen signatures of officers on dates requested because they were in dollar accounts. Drilon reiterated his request and says that they would like to show this was not a fake document (Amendment A of the subpoena). Enrile then ordered the identification
of signatures opposite ALL the documents related to the peso accounts.

Cuevas raised a major point: “Who wil offer the evidence requested by Drilon?” Enrile clarified that it was for the information of the court.

Senator-Judge Panfilo Lacson wanted elucidation about regular court proceedings on whether a trial court judge can ask clarificatory questions and can it be admitted as evidence by the court? Enrile replied that it was up to the impeachment court, not the Supreme Court, to consider what evidence to admit. Guilt or innocence is beyond appeal, he said. Enrile repeated that interlocutory matters can be decided by the SC, but the impeachment trial cannot be questioned in any court. Enrile said that his understanding is that Estrada was testing the credibility of the witness. Cuevas then withdrew his manifestation and agreed that if the purpose was to determine the falsity or leakage of the document, then they had no objection.

Senator-Judge Lacson asked Tiongson: Which one is fake: The form or the entries? Tiongson replied that it was “the whole thing.” Drilon demanded the witness to bring the documents on peso accounts to compare with documents from the prosecution, and cover all the data pertaining to dollar accounts. Tiongson emphatically said that she could not since the documents were in the possession of their main office already.

Enrile then ordered PSBank President Garcia to the witness stand.

Tupas took the podium and challenged the statement of Senator-Judge Estrada linking him and his family to Tiongson. no one seemed to pay attention to what he said.

Drilon then asked Garcia to bring the original signature cards so it could be compared with those from the prosecution.

Garcia maintained that the documents were also related to dollar accounts and covered by the TRO. Enrile asked the prosecution to identify documents related to peso accounts.

Garcia said the Annex A attached to the subpoena is about a dollar account and couldn’t speak further on it. Enrile asked Garcia on whether the bank had this kind of record? Garcia replied that there were discrepancies and not in any of our original records.

Enrile grilled Garcia on the document, but the bank official remained steadfast in his assertions. After some minutes of questioning by Enrile himself, Garcia said that the documents are related to dollar accounts and that the document in court is spurious. He mentions the validity of the TRO again!

Drilon was obviously losing his cool and boomed that it was the previous witness who brought this controversy about by saying the documents were fake. He added that they were testing the credibility of the witness.

Enrile then orders Garcia to cover up details about the dollar accounts and only show the peso accounts. “Hindi namin kasalanan ito, kasalanan ng bangko. Pinag-halo-halo niyo ang peso at dollar accounts,” Enrile emphatically said.

Senator-Judge Joker Arroyo said that if the document were a forgery, how can the court proceed with the issue? “A forgery is a forgery. It has no value.”

Enrile explained that by establishing the authenticity of the document, it will establish the credibility of the witness.

Arroyo then asked on what would happen if the documents were found to be fake? Enrile clarified that the court would determine if falsification was substantial to exclude evidence, and those who faked it would be made responsible. Prosecution would also have to explain. To end the whole matter, Enrile finally ordered that the original specimen cards be brought to court and with the dollar accounts clearly covered.

Senator-Judge Francis Escudero reminded the prosecution that Garcia and Tiongson were their witnesses. He also asked if the court could move on from the said topic and proceed to prosecution presenting their actual case.

Clarificatory questions were asked by Senator-Judge Francis Pangilinan. He asks about who had actual access to the information on time deposit accounts. He further asked who, other than the bank officers, examiners from the Anti-Money Laundering Council and the Bangko Sentral, could see it the accounts during inspections.

Senator-Judge Estrada made a statement, referring to earlier statement by Tupas. He underlined that he had no intention of maligning the Iloilo representative’s name, saying furhter he just wanted to show the relationship of Tiongson to the Tupas family. Tupas stood to clarify that he just made the statement to show that his family are not related to Tiongson.

Senator-Judge Alan Peter Cayetano said he sympathized with Garcia and the banking industry. Then asked Garcia: What’s your understanding of the secrecy on peso accounts? Garcia says he understands a subpoena is needed to produce the records.

Cayetano then cited the example of Clarissa Ocampo, who presented information during the Estrada impeachment court despite absence of subpoena. He then said that the law says one can present information to the impeach court even if there is no subpoena, based on law.

As if to underline what he said, Cayetano asked on what if the impeachment court asks for it, you can’t do anything, and that there will be no criminal liability (as per the Ocampo precedent). Prosecution quickly agreed with Cayetano’s position, but defense said that the nature of the case does not exempt anyone from criminal liability. He also cited that the Estrada case was plunder.

More questions were asked of Tiongson by Senator-Judge Sergio Osmena III and reminded Tiongson to bring the papers required in the next hearing!

As in Day One, the hearing went nowhere in Day 18! This is certainly a historic trial where one man is continuously attacked with no period in sight for him to defend himself. It would seem as if the clock has stopped for all and the days grow longer.