Day 36 highlights of the Corona Impeachment trial: The double-edged sword of justice

by Wilfred Avila

At 2:00 pm of Monday, a brown envelope was delivered to the office of Senate President and Presiding Judge Juan Ponce Enrile. It contained purported “transaction records” of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s foreign and peso currency accounts.

“I put them in a brown envelope. I also wrote Senator Enrile. I said: ‘I got these documents anonymously. I’m not sure of their authenticity. I am submitting them to your office for your perusal,'” Keh told reporters. A staff received the records at 2 p.m., about the same time that the trial resumed after a long break.

Kaya Natin is a civil society organization advocating good governance. It backed the candidacy of President Benigno Aquino III in the 2010 presidential race and is one of the complainants in a recent forfeiture case filed against Corona with the Ombudsman.

The envelope contained about 50 pages of bank transaction records that was addressed to him. “When I opened it, I was surprised and shocked. I saw transactions records—the name of the bank, the name of the depositor Renato Corona, the deposits, the dates the account was opened, opening balance,” he said.

But what surprised Keh more were the euro accounts. “There were transaction records for two euro accounts. Because there were heavy withdrawals, I looked at the highest amounts,” he said.

On TV Patrol Monday night, reporter Henry Omaga-Diaz broke a story on Corona’s supposed dollar and euro accounts based on an interview with Keh. We raised our eyebrows from the sources of this news and the envelope itself. Henry Omaga Diaz works for ABS-CBN, partly owned by the president’s family and Keh, a known Aquino supporter!

The lights of the Senate Building had all been dimmed for the night after the hearing of Monday except for the blazing lights in one room on the second floor facing the entrance of the Senate Hall itself. That remained lighted well into the night. Locked up was a close huddle where the few learned men of the Defense Panel. It was Monday night, the first day of the resumption of the trials.

Even the nosy media had all but left. Present in the building were the maintenance people cleaning up for the following day’s marathon hearing. It is safe to say that the Monday trial was a disaster for the Defense Team. It was as if a chorus line of hecklers were lined up against them to suggest, nay insist, that the Chief Justice be called to the witness stand. All pretense at exercising Justice and fair play were thrown out of the non-existent windows of the Senate Hall.

The effect, was not difficult to imagine. The Defense Panel was practically forced into a position of tactical retreat if only to forward their cause once more. Even the soft-spoken Chief Justice was reported to have said some expletives in being forced into a situation he did not relish only because of his office as Chief Magistrate!

Hungry, tired, but certainly not defeated, the Defense team finally went home, separate in their own vehicles but together in their cause to have CJ Corona vindicated of all charges.

Meanwhile, the prosecution and all its allies were gloating to high heavens about their success in Monday’s hearing. They sang hosannahs to Presiding Judge Juan Ponce Enrile who mentioned, at one time, that the defense team was sadly mistaken if they thought that there was no prima facie evidence against the Chief Justice! Senator-Judge Jinggoy Estrada was not spared the hallelujahs!

It is against this backdrop where the curtains opened for Day 36 of the Impeachment Hearing against Chief Justice Renato Corona.

In a live television interview over the government channel, Atty. Tranquil of the Defense announced that the Defense Panel would explode a bomb in the hearing. We are later to find out that the bomb exploded would leave everyone wondering what would happen next. It certainly wasn’t a dud!

Senator-Judge Bongbong Marcos led the opening prayer. To this blogger, it was one of the most heartflet prayers since the beginning of the hearings. It really seemed like he was speaking with his God. It also felt like everyone else felt the prayers, pro or against Corona.

Senator-Judge Edgardo Angara commented on the motion of the Defense panel for his inhibition. It will be recalled that the defense filed a motion for his inclusion in the trials because of what they perceived as obvious bias of the Senator-Judge.

Angara took the occasion to celebrate publicly the victory of his 7-year old son who just won a tennis tournament. I’ll give that to a proud grandparent. Our congratulations too!

Then he went on a tirade against the motion that was filed. “No person will convince me to inhibit because this is a constitutional duty I will not abdicate, he stated. “The worst thing about this motion is the suspicion that my vote has already been bought. I had no hand in choosing my son to be prosecution spokesperson. Suspicion I will be biased is malicious,” he continued.

He stated that the Aurora project which the President inaugurated, with the Senator’s son present, will be funded wholly by the Korean govt. He claims that he got that project 3 years ago. He added that the petitioners have the gall and the audacity to suggest these projects are political favors for me. I reject that as illogical. In fact, the motion may be a diversionary tactic on their part but I won’t say that. I reject it the motion. It is an illogical conclusion intended to malign me, he continued to lambast.

My son did not benefit from the decision in any way. The only one who will benefit or suffer is the CJ. All of us here have parties. Many of us support government reform. Does that mean we are biased? There is no other interpretation in the actuation of the Defense except to destroy the credibility of this court.

Facing him were the other Senator-Judges who seemed to relish every word Angara uttered. One couldn’t control his laughter…..Drilon! It even seemed as if he were egging on others to join him in his personal joy. On the other side of the hall, the Defense Team were silent!

Angara warned against knocking down a pillar of democracy too that is Senate and said the motion may be meant to discredit the Impeachment Court itself! I take umbrage at this malicious paper. He went to say that Senator-Judge Joker Arroyo told him not to answer the motion filed by the Defense. he claims Arroyo told him that he was doing a constitutional duty. And this, he added, is from someone who supported the acquittal of the Chief Justice!

The reaction of Senator-Judge Arroyo was one of disdain that he was being outed by Senator-Judge Angara without his permission. A howl of laughter was heard from all over the Senate Hall. Parang sinabi ni Arroyong, huwag mo nga ako isali dyan. Hahahahahaha

Totally ignoring the statement of Angara, Justice Cuevas stood up to defend the Defense Panel’s need to call on more witnesses and denied this was part of delaying tactics by the Defense. “It cannot be said that we were just delaying the trial,” he said. He continued to say that the purpose of the number of witnesses was were no properties that were not filed in his assets and that they were registered to his name, all five of the properties.

It became obvious that the Defense team was now fast-tracking testimonies and merely asks for stipulation from the prosecution panel. The first witness of the day was called, Atty. Lusita Cristi, Clerk of Court of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 216. The Defense wanted to establish the death of Jose M. Baesa.

Atty. Cristi stated that she has been Clerk of Court for QC RTC Branch 216 since October of 1999.

Private Prosectutor stood up to to do the cross examination. She asked what the charges were against Jose Baesa. The witness replied that Jose Ma. Basa was found guilty of libel. Complainant was Mrs. Corona. She further clarified that there was a Motion for Reconsideration but that the Court denied it.

Defense Counsel dean Jose “Judd” Roy said that the relevance of the witness was to that shares of BGEI was acquired by an individual and has direct bearing on the impeachment case. Witness Christi said that the accused did not oppose/appeal the judgement therefore, the “decision was final.” The Defense terminated its direct questioning.

Prosecution through its Private Prosecutor Roxas proceeded with the cross examination and stated that the actual death of Jose Ma. Basa happened in August 2002. Paano magkakaroon ng proseso? Once the death of the accused happens, criminal, civil liability is extinguished under rules of court. She further claims that Jose Ma. Basa died during pendency of the motion for reconsideration. Alam yun ni Cristina Corona, she added.

Defense Atty. Roy stipulated that the witness was incompetent to answer questions in cross examination. Atty. Cristi said that the ‘Witness is a lawyer. A clerk of court!” Witness Roxas replied that the Order came on Sept 2, 2002. Death of Jose Ma. Basa was on Aug 29, 2002. The prosecution lawyer allowed the witness to go.

QC RTC Sheriff Joseph Visnar was called to the witness stand where he was to tackle on the subject of the writ of execution in cases of Mrs. Corona vs relatives. Witness Visnar has been sheriff for 16 years now.

Defense Counsel Judd Roy stipulated that 4,839 shares of Basa-Guidote were publicly auctioned off for the total amount of P28,000. BGEI shares were sold to Carla Castillo.

Prosecutor Winston Ginez cross examines QC RTC Branch 216 Sheriff Joseph Bisnar. The witness said that he did not know Jose Ma. Basa was already dead at the time of the writ of execution.

Prosecutor Ginez asked that if the auction sale ay noong 2003 pero gumawa kayo ng sheriff’s report, 2012. Ilang taon bago kayo nakagawa? The sheriff replied: “9 po.” Ginez furhter asked why it took the sheriff 9 years to make the report on the auction sale of BGEI shares, acquired by Carla Castillo. “Pwede kayo maging liable ng damages sa ginawa niyong pagbebenta ng shares na walang notice,” he added.

Asked why the witness delivered the notice to the Lepanto address, the witness replied that the lawyers of Cristina Corona told me that the BGEI address was in 901 Lepanto St, Sampaloc, Manila. Pesiding Judge Enrile interjected and said that they were interested in finding out was if there were machinations in the sale of the shares.

Bisnar emphatically said that he had no reason to doubt Mrs. Coro: Wala naman akong dahilan para di paniwalaan si Mrs. Corona. I never went to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Senator-Judge Lacson asked whether Corona was already in office at time of writ of execution. Prosecutor Ginez readily jumps to reply that the Chief Justice was already Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. A fifteen minute break in the trial was called.

The Defense Team held a press conference at the Press briefing room of the Senate during the suspension. Defense Spokesman Attorney Quicho said that if there was something confusing in the trial, it was the prosec’s cross-examination. He further stated that the questions were not relevant to the case. As if to underline Quicho’s statement, Atty. Tranquil Salvador of the Defense said that the case is not dead. baesa only died when the promulgation came out. Atty. Karen Jimeno explained the sale to Carla Castillo of the BGEI shares by stating that it was done in a public auction. The entire world could have bid in it. But this company is not listed, she added. This corp is not listed on the stock exchange. Family closed corporation ito. Walang masama na yung relative ay mag purchase doon. Public auction kasi, Jimeno underlined.

Defense Atty. Salvador said that the sheriff testified only to prove that there was a sale undertaken to Carla Castillo. 97% of BGEI is owned by Carla Castillo. Atty, Jimeno meanwhile acknowledges that the “intra-corporate” case filed by Basas and said that this was why the money from sale of the BGEI lot stil intact. When asked how the BGEI money got to the Chief Justice’s bank account? Atty. Salvador said that was not the purpose of the sheriff’s testimony and further asked media to wait for the right time to get their answer. Atty. Quicho rejoined by asking that theybe given the chance to form our defense.

The Impeachment Trial resumed with the sheriff saying that Mrs. Corona did not object to the P28K asking price in auction.

Presiding Judge Enrile asked that to satisfy P500,000 judgment, di ba dapat pinag-aralan mo ang tunay na presyo ng shares of stock? Ba’t di mo ginawa? The sheriff immediately replied that, “Ang pagkaintindi ko po since Assistant Corporate Secretary si Mrs Corona, naniwala po ako sa kanya.” Carla-Castillo paid P28K in cash. Sila-sila na po ang nag-usap. Di ko alam sng relationship nila.” Enrile added that ang source of info mo ang may-ari ng shares of stock ay si Mrs.Corona? The Sheriff replied in the affirmative. Enrile prodded on and asked what her basis was/ The Sheriff simply stated, I don’t know.

Prosecutor Ginez stated that he wanted to point out that Cristina Corona was assuming inconsistent statements when it’s to her favor. Sheriff Bisnar replied that hindi na po ako kumuha ng fee doon sa auction sale. Di ko na po naisip ang ganun when asked what his fee was for the transaction. Bisnar added that it was after the auction sale that he learned that Corona was a Justice.

And this is where the big bombshell that was expected since the early morning exploded to reverberate all over the Senate Hall and around the nation!

Defense Attorney Judd Roy manifested that at the time the cash advance of P11M was made, shares were not yet sold to Carla Corona. Senator-Judge Estrada mentioned the $10M in his gentle recommendation for the CJ to testify. This is not in the complaint, he underlined. “If court is inclined that we address the $10M, we will willingly confront the issue he stated, also ever so gently. We prepared a request for subpoena be issued to Harvey Keh, Ruperto Alerosa, Risa Hontiveros, Albert Concepcion, Walden Bello and we also request that a subpoena be issued to Hon. Conchita Carpio Morales, the Ombudsman!

Enrile then stated that he would forego parliamentary courtesy in issuing subpoenas for Congressman Bello and ombudsman Morales but would the Defense present the Chief Justice at the trial on the other hand. I found this a totally hilarious quid-pro-quo. He has asked for the second day in a row.

In a most unexpected way and again ever so coyly, Atty. Roy (I didn’t think he was capable of theatrics himself. Hahahaha) replied that once these witnesses testify, the Defense would submit evidence to contradict through testimony of the CHIEF JUSTICE himself! Ka-Boom, Ka-boom, ka-boom. The decision that was the result of a long midnight meeting and a lot of stress for the Chief Justice was out in the open.

We are ready to face this issue head on. If CJ testifies, questions on PSBank can be propounded. The Chief Justice assessed evidence against him. Unless this particular matter ($10M) is not raised, he feels no need for him to testify, added Atty. Judd Roy! I wish to assure you of the forthright intentions of the Chief.

It was clear by the reaction of all the Senator-Judges that they did not expect this at all. Some even tried to hide it but failed to do so. Their glee was just too clear on their faces. It will be recalled that this was the moment everyone wanted from the very beginning. They bamboozled the Chief Justice, castigated him, called him names and crucified him in the Senate Hall and on media. It was never ending. Now, their bluff has been called.

In a later interview, Defense lead counsel Serafin Cuevas said Chief Justice Renato Corona is hurting from the way the impeachment trial has progressed. He’s in fact “losing his sobriety” over the matter.

“Emotionally involved siya. Kada pinag-usapan namin dyan, medyo he is losing his sobriety. Parang masama ang loob niya. Sa magaspang na pangungusap, nililibak na raw siya. Hindi lang siya pati kanyang buong pamilya. I could feel it. He is misty-eyed. He is also human,” he said. (He feels bad. He feels that he and his family are being put down.)

Cuevas said Corona has no choice but to testify especially with new allegations that he has US$10 million or almost half-billion pesos in various bank accounts. “Parang ang pakiramdam ko wala nang remedyo kundi ito na lang. Hindi siya tumestigo, sesentensyahan siya. Tumestigo na siya para mapaliwanag,” Cuevas said. (I feel there is no other remedy but for him to testify. Even if he doesn’t, they will judge him anyway. He might as well testify and explain his side.)

The defense maintains the money doesn’t exist. “Sabi ko nga sa kanya, ‘This is your golden opportunity to prove that you deserve to be a chief justice. Kung hindi mo kayang idepensa sarili mo, paano mo idedepensa ang judges?” Cuevas said. (If you can’t defend youself, how can you defend other judges?)

Continuing with his own inimitable style, Presiding Judge Juan Ponce Enrile said that he was glad that the defense was now cooperating with the Senator-Judges. Sus gid ginoo, parang sarzuela ito ah. Natatawa lang ako sa mga pangyayari habang luhaan naman ang kabilang panig.

Atyy, Judd Roy definitely found his pace. He said that ang instruction sa akin na ang pambabatikos na ginagawa sa kanya sa labas ay gusto na niyang harapin under oath.

One of those caught laughing end enjoying himself was Senator-Judge Jinggoy Estrada who told Atty. Roy that, “You can assure CJ will be treated property.” Of that, I am sure….very sure! Now, define properly for me, please.

Atty. Roy added that the defense would ask the subpeonaed witnesses to appear as hostile witnesses regarding the accounts of CJ. He also reiterated that they would present the Chief Justice, DEFINITELY.

Lead Prosecutor Congressman Tupas manifested that they reserve the right to file a comment on the request to subpoena the Ombudsman and others but were happy with defense manifestation.

Presiding Judge Enrile said that the prosecution should ask from Harvey Keh since he did not want to be a party to any illegal act. Does this remind everyone of the “Mall Lady and the Congressman that found an enevelope in his garage?

Pushing the envelope further, Atty. Roy said that they may not even need to present the other witnesses in view of sentiments expressed yesterday. He then proceeds to ask for a stay in the hearings for 48-hiurs. Enrile grants the 48-hour break.,

Senator-Judge Francis Pangilinan proposed to extend the trial hours and brings up the previous proposal to hold marathon hearings until 10pm. he furhter asked for a caucus on timetable to make up for the lost trial days. Enrile replied that the Senate would hold a caucus on Monday morning.

Senator-Judge Koko Pimentel then stood up and said that he was reconsidering his vote on respecting the TRO given the time passed. I’m now voting to open the Corona dollar accounts, he states.

Atty. Judd Roy stated on the comment of Pimentel about the CJ signing a waiver on the TRO that they would not go that far We do not have to go that far. There is, after all, a strong possibility that he will disclose everything!

Enrile then asked whether the Defense could choose a few of those mentioned to testify to shorten the hours of examining witnesses. Roy replied by stating that there may be no need for all of them but never gave an inch. The hearing was adjourned to resume on Monday, May 14, 2012. The saga continues.

The reberveration of this explosion will be heard for a long time. That it is the turning point in this hearing cannot be denied. The fallout will be considerable. Will it be the Prsident’s credibility or the Chief Justice’s postion.

As far as the President’s credibility is concerned, that is already being questioned as it is by a lot of people barely two years into his administration.

As far as the Chief Justice’s position is concerned, it won’t matter much. The thing here is that he represents the Judiciary as a whole and his being convicted here (if he does) will spell the death knell of our judicial and democratic ways. This is the very first time a Chief Magistrate of the land has been called to task by an Impeachment Court by the wishes of the Chief Executive, the same man who will appoint the next Cheif Justice. This then is THE DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD OF JUSTICE!

Photos from