Day 12 Highlights: The Day the Bank Doors were opened and no one cried Illegal!

by Wilfred Avila

The expectation was high. The air was almost too hot in the senate hall. Everyone expected fireworks on the 12th day of the hearings as the 4th week of the trials unfolded.

BIR Commissioner Kim Henares arrived at the front door of the Senate building to be met by a phalanx of media men where she coyly answered questions that showed her total disdain for the Chief Justice. It was very obvious where her bread was being buttered from Day One.

The prosecution and defense panels started entering the hall at roughly around 1:45 pm. Like the star of the day and oblivious to his own problems of being accused of owning a 45M mansion at Xavierville, Lead Prosecutor Niel Tupaz, strutted in last for the Prosecution Panel. Everyone looked at him as if to say, “Ikaw rin pala may tinatagong baho.” Not that he cared at all. He was full of smiles.

The lead Defense counsel arrived in his immaculate white suit soon after. There is really something about this man that reminds you of the old school of legal work. Low key and charming to all, he was the picture of a perfect gentleman. In my attempt to be fair and objective, I wish I could say the same for the lead prosecutor. I can’t!

The Senator-Judges came into the hall at 2:08 pm. The gavel sounded to resume the hearings at 2:10 pm. All of them tried to show the face of fairness. They did not succeed to those in the know. The hall fell silent as the prayer was led by Senator-Judge Panfilo Lacson. He promised it would be short, it was!

The lead prosecutor called in the first witness for the resumption of the trial, BIR Commissioner Kim Henares. Trying to do a fast one, Atty. Lim of the Proseuction tried to do another examination of Henares until the Presiding Judge, Juan Ponce
Enrile, promptly stopped him and clarified that it was the defense who was to question her on cross. Lim started to scream his answer but was reminded by JPE to lower his voice in so many words.

Lim argued some unintelligible answer and in his frustration JPE allowed them to go on reminding the defense that they will have their turn in any case to debunk the whole exchange. One will notice that when the presiding Judge rules on any given thing, even adversely, Cuevas immediately submits knowing full well that his day has not yet arrived. More of the gentleman in him.

The hottest exchange began when Cuevas got his turn. Asking as to the timing of the investigation of CJ’s SALN and ITR, Henares tried hard to refuse the answer by coyly saying that it was confidential since it was still under investigation. The question was really to prove whether there was a system in place to harass the CJ by initiating multiple cases against him in different venues. The question was, “Did you send an invitation to the CJ and inform him of this investigation?”

The presiding-Judge stepped in by asking direct questions addressed to her. Did you send a notice to the CJ regarding this invitation. Again, he was refused on confidentiality.

JPE demanded an answer. He got it.
Henares: “YES!”
JPE:”When did you start the investigation?”
Genaresr: “Immediately after I attended the hearing last here.”
JPE: “Why.”
Henares: “I was just doing my job.”

Such dedication to duty and with such impeccable timing, if you ask me! After a few more exchanges, she was finally released feeling happy with herself.

After Henares’ testimony a 15 minute break was called. That was the longest 15-minute break ever. It lasted for over 1 hour and half. The networks were all caught flat-footed on how to cover up the time in their coverage of the hearings. Everyone knew what was going on in what turned into a caucus for the Senator-Judges. The bank accounts of the Chief Justice was being discussed.

Meanwhile, on the various networks, more supposed learned people were filling in the time. No one, not even the Prosecution nor the Defense panel, could venture a guess as to the outcome of the caucus. The audience was quite and no complaints were heard for the length of time the Judges were absent from the hall. Only one person was strutting around like a busy-body, Niel Tupaz!

After an hour or so, Majority Floor Leader Tito Sotto stepped out alone and spoke with both the Prosecution and Defense Panel. You could see the tension in the air. This was very telling. All eyes were on them for hints of what was being discussed. The body language from both sides changed immediately. The cocky Tupaz could not control himself. The Defense were quiet and focused. It was as if Tupaz knew what the verdict would be. As soon as Sotto left the hall, Tupaz became cockier started walking the entire length of the hall and seeming to be on cloud nine talking to people who did not even want to talk to him. I noticed Kit Tatad berating him jokingly which he also took jokingly. Hahahahaha. On the
other hand, Cuevas was poker faced as usual.

After 30-minutes, the senators filed out and the Presiding Judge ordered the Majority leader to read in “Toto” the decision of the Judges on the Bank account. That was ominous enough!

The Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, ordered two Philippine banks to produce the alleged bank records of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona.

The decision by the majority of the senator-judges, grants the request of the prosecution for the Court to subpeona officials and bank documents from the Bank of the Philippine Islands and the PSBank. 16 Senator-Judges voted for the opening of the bank accounts, said Senator-Judge Trillanes later in a TV interview.

Last Friday, February 3, the prosecution submitted a supplemental request to the Senate impeachment court which attached certain bank records, particularly an alleged US$700,000 account of Corona with PBBank Katipunan branch in Quezon City. (That’s equivalent to about P30 million at current exchange rates of around P43 to a dollar.)

The $700,000 deposited in account number 08919100037-3 is supposedly just one of 14 accounts that the Chief Justice and his wife Cristina individually and jointly own with daughter Carla Castillo and her husband Constantino III. The Court ordered the banks to present the documents on Wednesday, February 8.

Sotto said the Senate majority believes that while bank secrecy laws protect the individual from bank scrutiny, impeachment provides valid exemption to confidentiality even for foreign bank accounts.

The prosecution panel may have obtained subpoenas for the bank records of the impeached head magistrate, but it appears to be on shaky ground in pursuing the conviction in the of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona even as the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, granted the prosecution’s request for the banks to submit the bank documents, including his alleged foreign currency account.

The court’s appreciation of the said documents, alongside the testimonies of banks executives who have likewise been called by the Senate to testify, will come in as evidence only after the senator-judges have ruled its admissibility, presiding officer Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, said.

The Senate chief’s clarification came in the light of concerns raised by Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero on the public disclosure of the said documents, some of which had been attached to the prosecution’s petition to summon Corona’s bank records filed last Friday. Whoever released the said documents may have violated some laws and such frailty may only leave the efforts of the impeachment court as a futile exercise, Escudero said.

“I would like to explain that the resolution of this court was simply to authorize the issuance of a subpoena and whether those evidence subpoenaed are admissible evidence, given the fact that they apparently appear in violation of existing law is a question that must be resolved in due course. I hope that is understood. We are not prejudging the admissibility or non-admissibility of this evidence and this issue will come up at that point when the subpoenaed material and testimonies are offered in evidence,” Enrile said, after Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III read the seven-page resolution carrying the vote of the majority senator-judges on the prosecution’s motion.

“And all of these incidental issues will be opened for scrutiny at a proper time. The law, RA 6426 (Foreign Currency Deposit Act of the Philippines) is a very strict law, far stricter than RA 1405 (Anti-Money Laundering Act or AMLA). It imposes a penalty for its violation and nobody is immune from that penalty whether you’re a member of the court, whether you are a member of the legislature, Executive department, whether you are public or private person. That is the mandate of Section 10 of RA 6426, whether the appearance of this document is in violation of RA 6426 will impair its admissibility as an evidence is something that to be resolved at a later date. This court cannot at the moment resolve that issue. So ordered,” Enrile said.

The ruling stated that responsible officers of the Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) and Bank of the Philippine Island (BPI), will be called to testify and produce before the impeachment court certain documents on alleged bank accounts of Corona.

“After an examination of the documents sought to be produced in both requests, this Court is of the strong view that the production of documents pertaining to the bank accounts of Chief Justice Corona should be closely related to the filing of his SALn inasmuch as the funds in the said bank accounts may be considered as his personal properties which are required to be properly and truthfully declared in the SALn.

“The Court has had to consider whether or not the issuance of the subpoena would violate existing laws on secrecy of bank deposits,” Sotto said in reading the said ruling. “However, it appears that for foreign currency bank accounts, the disclosure may be made only upon written permission of the depositor pursuant to Section 8, of RA 6426.

Sotto however read into the record that that the High Court had, on several instances, relaxed the rule on the absolute confidential nature of bank deposits, even foreign currency deposit accounts, adding that the majority views the impeachment proceedings a valid exception to the general rule on confidentiality of information on bank accounts even for foreign currency bank accounts.

Corona’s counsels hastily noted to the court that they will not leave the issue unopposed, given it’s apparent unlawfulness which he said are not among the provisions for exemptions under the laws cited by Enrile. Although initially, Cuevas sought a reconsideration of the ruling, he was told by the presiding officer that the defense can resort to other legal means since a modification of any decision by the tribunal, under the rules governing the impeachment proceedings, can only be raised by any of the senator-judge and not the lawyers of the parties in the case.

“I just want to emphasize the point that the nature of the proceedings is not conclusive as to bar a bank depositor from claiming the privilege under the bank (secrecy law),” he added. Enrile stated that it is the right of any person party to a case like this to explore all legal remedies.

The defense submitted.

Inquiring on the circumstances of the prosecution’s information on the said bank accounts, the attachments they included when they filed their petition, Escudero was told by Reps. Niel Tupas Jr. and Reynaldo Umali that a supposed anonymous tipster yielded the said documents to them last Thursday at the Senate.

Tupas said Umali handed over to him the documents, around 7:30 p.m. last Thursday in a meeting in one of the hotels located along Roxas Blvd. Umali, when sought for further explanation, claimed that a “short lady” allegedly approached him while he was on his way out of the Senate that same day, around 2:30 p.m. and gave him an envelope that turned out to have contained the said documents.

Asked by Enrile, Umali said he could no longer recall the situation then as to the exact circumstances. “Where was the envelope given?” Enrile inquired.

“I can’t exactly recall because there were several documents handed to me,” he said, adding that the source could have been one of the “concerned citizens.”

“Where did you see that short lady?” the presiding officer asked in pursuing the matter.

“It could have been your honor in the secretariat or on the way out before I rode my vehicle going to the DPWH,” Umali said, then in an apparent slip of the tongue, mentioned that the source whom he identified as a “he” just passed on the envelope
to him.

“You did not know this lady?” asked Enrile.
“Not at all your honor,” said Umali.

Wow! The tale of the envelope rises again. Everyone was laughing in disbelief.

Even Senator-Judge Panfulo Lacson was grinning as if to say, “You sly devil, you think you got us huh? I’m better at lying than you will ever be!” hahahahahaha.

The submission of the checks and the appearances of the bank managers were scheduled for this coming Wednesday. As the Court adjourned, no one was really sure if there was going to be a trial today! Hahahahahaha.

Meanwhile, in their Press Conference after, the defense scoffed at the explanation of prosecutor Rep Reynaldo Umali on how his panel received a copy of Corona’s bank records. The prosecution said they were handed to them by an “anonymous source,” whom Umali described as a “small lady.” The tip led them to ask the court to subpoena the original bank accounts.

Corona’s lawyers are still unsure as to what their next move will be. They have yet to discuss what to do with the resolution, and what to do with the mysterious woman if she is ever identified.

Salvador said Corona has the right to know why his records were released.

“May karapatan rin naman siguro ang Chief Justice na malaman bakit nagkaganoon,” said Salvador. “Kasi po siya ay nagtiwala sa isang institution.” (The Chief Justice has the right to know why things turned out that way. It’s because he trusted an institution.) In a fit of obvious frustration, Roy likened the hearing to a fairy tale. “Last week we saw Pinocchio lying on the stand. This week we have Snow White where the little old lady gave an apple, and now we have Shrek telling us the story on the stand.”

To the defense, it is clear that the prosecution is again trying to discuss Article 2.4 which delves on Corona’s alleged ill-gotten wealth. This has been taken out by the court, after the defense argued it is completely irrelevant to the case and is not specified in the impleachment complaint.

“Sabi nga ng Senado, hindi ito dapat inquisitorial,” said defense spokesperson Tranquil Salvador III. “Kailangan patotohan. Kailangan patunayan ninyo bakit inisyu iyon?” (As the Senate said, this should not be inquisitorial. They should prove it. They should be able to prove why a subpoena should be issued.) Salvador said they are also concerned about propaganda and are “unhappy” that a motion for reconsideration will not be entertained.

Nakakapagtaka lang, alam naman natin na ang PSBank ay isang subsidiary ng Metrobank. BUT with very strict conditions. The thing is, prior to the subpoena, may naglabas na “maliit na babae” ng bank records ni CJ at binigay sa prosec. Eh last week palang, the prosec was already leaking out to media about PSBank.

As the hearing was drawing to a close, laughter broke out again in the Senate Hall. Tupaz asked for additional private prosecutors again. Hahahahaha. This drew an immediate reaction from Cuevas!

CUEVAS: “An avalanche of prosecutors may need an additional 10M in appropriation to take care of them ” More laughter.
JPE: “The defense must be flattered. A phalanx of prosecutors is a raid against the defense!” Even more laughter.

Pushing each other right at the podium to reply, Prosecutor Farinas won out against Tupaz. This was the moment he was waiting for since day one of the hearings. He later quipped in a TV interview that he was now happy and didn’t have to speak ever again in the trial.

He said: “Under the law, public officials and employees shall not solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, any gift, gratuity, favor, entertainment, loan or anything of monetary value from any person in the course of their official duties or in connection with any operation being regulated by, or any transaction which may be affected by the functions of their office.”

Farinas claimed he had been telling Corona that it was inappropriate for him to accept the services of top lawyers from big law firms for free, especially firms which have pending cases before the Supreme Court and all other courts.

JPE replied that “Everyone has a right to be defended in any court.”

One thing is very obvious in all of these. Day 12 proved it! The inept Prosecution is busier thinking of dirty tactics and publicity than anything legal to stand on to support their Impeachment Verified Complaint! In the end, it showed that the complaint was truly UNVERIFIED!

reposted with permission.