Day 15 highlights: The truth and nothing but the truth (February 9, 2012)

by Wilfred Avila
Originally posted at Noisy Minority Faceobook

It took sometime for me to post this because I am truly tired of all this. While it may be a circus for others, others still are hungry for news on the daily events. I owe you all an apology specially my friends from around the world.

Just as everyone else was preparing to revisit the Senate Hall for the resumption of the trial, a few earlier events were happening simultaneously. One was an eye-opener while the other was another ho-hum event.

At the Supreme Court, some 5,000 (radio-tv and newspapers say 7,000) people filled both lanes of Padre Faura in Manila, where the High Court is located. Superintendent Ricardo Layug, chief of the Manila Police District Station 5 confirmed the number as red-shirted court employees gathered in the SC grounds to show sympathy with Corona supporters coming from the Iglesia ni Cristo and many other social networking groups. Traffic was a standstill.

In response, a teary-eyed Corona emerged from the balcony of the building, minutes before his fellow justices tackle his petition to stop his impeachment trial. On Wednesday, Corona said the complaint was not properly verified as his lawyers cited numerous public admissions that some congressmen admitted that they failed to read the complaint.

On the other side of town, a 10×10 truck complete with sound system was blaring at the GSIS entrance. It was loaded with a Girl who was screaming her head out. They had a very large crowd, really very large! About 50 people (certainly not more than 100!).

I really wanted to be at the SC. My heart and soul were with you guys. I was laughing my head off. The comparison was absolutely pathetic. As far as I understood it, the Akbayan rally was suppose to be at the SC. I wonder what changed their mind.

Meanwhile the Supreme Court met en banc to decide on the motions for TRO to stop the impeachment trial. The decision was held in abeyance to give the Senate 10 days to comment on the petition. Truly exciting days ahead.

The session started at 2:08 pm. 17 senators were present.

Senator-Judge and Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III said that PSBank president Pascual Garcia III has submitted his explanation for not bringing the documents related to CJ Corona’s foreign currency deposits. This was ordered submitted earlier by the Presiding Judge Juan Ponce Enrile. Garcia explained that PSBank has appealed to the Supreme Court for a TRO against the opening of the Dollar Accounts of CJ Corona. The court will tackle it in caucus on Monday.

Defense counsel Serafin Cuevas took very strong exception to the statement made by Senator-Judge Teofisto Guingona, who said that the impeachment court is higher than the Supreme Court. Senator-Judge Franklin Drilon quickly jumped to his feet to interject and suggest that they file a memorandum on the issue. What a way to stop the Defense from giving manifestations publicly!

Presiding officer, Senator-Judge Juan Ponce Enrile, explains that the decisions made by the impeachment court are rendered by the entire body, not by any individual Senator-Judges.

Cuevas pursued his point and argued that Guingona cited no jurisprudence in saying that impeachment court is higher than the SC.

Guingona refuted this and said that he did not say the impeachment court is above the Supreme Court; he only said, according to him, the 2 bodies are not co-equal. Almost in the same breath he underlines that his view that the impeachment court is “supreme” remains!

Senator-Judge Francis Pangilinan meanwhile argues, no SC ruling will be foursquare applicable or even enforceable. “We are treading on virgin terrain,” he said. He also reminded everyone in court that what they say in court will be quoted in the future, and that their rulings will serve as precedent. That should set the tone for the legacy of all the Senator-Judges!

Without stopping to be recognized, Prosecutor and Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas jumped up and spoke on Article 4 on the SC status quo ante order vs the impeachment case against former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. He argued that the framers of the Constitution removed the power of impeachment from the judiciary. He also argued that the SC is trying to meddle in matters given to the legislative branch by the Constitution. He underlines that the defense is trying the case in 2 courts (SC, impeachment court). he added that “ang SC ay hindi puwedeng mag-decide sa impeachment kasi sila mismo ay impeachable officers.”

On a happy moment, Fariñas apologized for his Tagalog, saying that he is more comfortable in English and Ilocano. Enrile replied that it was fine with him since he is also was an Ilokano. However, the truth is neither of them are allowed to speak in any other language except English and Tagalog according to the rules of the court. Enrile assured everyone however that the court will be fair and will decide on the case as a whole and not by parts as feared by the Defense.

Senator-Judge Sotto immediately interjected a one-liner that would have made Eat-Bulaga proud of him and that tickled the entire floor specially the judges. “I move we terminate the privilege hour and proceed with the trial.

Enrile jokingly replied “Privilege hour terminated!”

Prosecutor-Cong, Neil Tupaz reuested to terminate testimony of PSBank president Pascual Garcia III and resume asking him questions on Monday, but Senator-Judge Franklin Drilon wanted to ask him clarificatory questions. Garcia was called back to the stand.

In a series of questions, Drilon tried to pin down the witness by asking pointed questions related to the account of the CJ at PSBank. Garcia stood his ground by saying that he could not discuss this since a petition filed by the bank at the Supreme Court was still pending.

Seemingly irritated, Enrile asked why PSBank Katipunan branch manager Annabel Tiongson, who was the one subpoenaed by the court, did not appear. He replied that the branch manager was bothered and terrified over potential criminal liability of testiying on bank documents.

It was then that Senator-Judge Jinggoy Estrada queried him: “Is the PSBank Katipunan branch manager a “little lady?”

Garcia replied that, “from my perspective, she’s not little, she’s tall.” (Estrada was alluding to the “little lady” that a prosecutor said was the source of the alleged PSBank documents it received.) This was a tense moment since everyone was waiting for the missing “little lady’s” name.

Defense spokesman, Atty. Rico Quicho, said that this was only to show that getting “evidences” were illegal and the information facing the Senate were all wrong. he continued saying that, “evidences from illegal sources should not be given any weight by the Tribunal.

Another Defense Spokeman, Atty. Tranquil Salvador, threatened to now seriously look into the leak regarding the bank records of the Chief Magistrate and make them answerable to R.A. 1405 or Bank Secrecy Law.

It will be recalled that earlier the Presiding- Judge confirmed that the leakage of the bank documents of CJ Corona is already being investigated by the Central Bank of the Philippines. This was when he also warned the Prosecution Panel on the dangers of providing the Court with false documents and that heavy penalties faced them.

Totally amused, Enrile said, “It is impossible to think that the said documents fell from heaven” if not directly from the PSBank, particularly the Katipunan branch where the Chief Justice had accounts.

But the witness said that there were differences in the entries submitted to the Court and those of the originals still in PSBank. This would seem like an unfolding story.

Senator-Judge Franklin Drilon asked about one of the accounts presented by Garcia on Day 14. Garcia refused to answer how much the opening balance of the 3rd account under CJ Corona’s name was. So, immediately, Drilon demanded that a subpoena be issued for more information on the Corona accounts. Estrada moved to subpoena instead the bank manager, since Garcia won’t answer the questions.

Senator-Judge Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. took the podium and said that the impeachment court agreed in a caucus that they shall keep all questions limited to the year-end balances, so court subpoena covered only year-end balances. He claimed confusion on whether the parameters have now been expanded the scope of the subpeona. Enrile emphatically agrees. Seemingly not having heard the young Marcos, Drilon then continues to ask for a subpoena to be issued for the opening balance of the Corona accounts.

Senator-Judges Alan Peter Cayetano, Drlon and Osmena take turns in forcing the witness to divulge more information on the account of the CJ specially the Dollar accounts. Garcia maintained his position that he can’t answer any of their questions.

Perfectly cornered by the Senator-Judges who have turned Prosecutors, Cuevas asked the court if senator-judges are allowed to exceed the 2-minute rule in questioning, and continued to clarify whether the senator-judges can, in fact, “cross-examine” witnesses. Enrile says that based on precedence, the presiding officer cannot control how the senator-judges should ask questions. It would seem that Cuevas has his hands full with 100 prosecutors plus 24 sitting Senator-Judges.

Senator-Judge Estrada asked about the “leaked’ bank documents allegedly pertaining to CJ’s dollar accounts. Garcia explodes a bombshell! he said that they believe the document attached by the prosecution to request for subpoena did not come from their bank. Court asks who can verify the document.

Enrile presses Garcia on the source of the copies of the alleged bank documents. Garcia maintains, the documents did not come from PSBank. Enrile then asks if accounts named by the prosecution exists in PSBank records. Garcia nervously answered in the affirmative.

Enrile then asked Garcia to explain how prosecution got the account numbers, if not from the bank. He reiterates that the information did not come from them. Enrile plods on and states what was obvious to all, it can only be concluded that the leak came from Katipunan branch. Garcia, as relentlessly, insisted that it did not.

It was then that Senator-Judge Panfilo Lacson told the impeachment court that he received information that the Supreme Court had just issued a temporary restraining order on the release of information of foreign currency accounts being subpoenaed by the impeachment court. Upon hearing this, Presiding-Judge Enrile ruled that in deference to the SC, the court will heed. Garcia was excused until the Monday hearing.

The Prosecution then called their next witness, Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) Ayala Avenue branch manager Leonora Dizon. Private prosecutor Arthur Lim took the the cudgels of prosecutor’s role. Dizon presented bank accounts in the name of CJ Corona. She stated that from 2005 to 2010, the said bank account’s balance changed, from Php 678,000 to more than Php 12 million as of 2010. She ended by saying that the accounts were still active.

Defense Lead Attorney started to cross-examine Dizon. He asked whether the ending balances could be the result of various transactions. Dizon replies in the affirmative. Cuevas then asked for subpoenas to be issued to get copies of the statements of account from 2005 to 2010 of the Corona account. Enrile grants Cuevas request, and then orders both sides to go together to the bank to get the statements. The Defense reneged on this later stating that they seem to have the records with the Chief Justice.

So many other Senator-Judges asked more clarificatory questions of the witness but it became obvious they wanted to score points for the Prosecution Panel who did nothing the whole day but watch the proceedings other than to present the last witness. All the Defense could do was listen to the Senator-Judges badger the witness to revealing more and more information that the actual prosecution Panel was unable or incapable of asking.

Meanwhile, the Constitutionalist, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J. said that ““All it means is that the constitution has placed in the SC the power to determine with finality the meaning of the law. It means the superiority of the Constitution and it just so happens that in the constitutional structure of our government, there is separation of responsibilities!” Apparently, this was said while the hearing was going on.

Whatever it is, the cards are stacked against a formidable background of inquisitors and evidences, true or not. the thing to remember, though, is that this is far from over. The defense has yet to began to present their side. That and that is the only time we should make our decisions likewise.

This has gone beyond the hall of the Senate but to every Filipino who believes in ferreting out the truth and nothing but the TRUTH!