THE IMPEACHMENT TRIALS – DAY 37, May 14, 2012
IT WAS HELL!
by Wilfred Avila
Today’s hearing was a virtual hell for the Defense Panel and painted as the Devil incarnate was the Chief Justice, Renato Corona!
Day 37 of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona began with a bold assertion by Defense lawyers that he would squarely face charges that he kept $10 million in secret accounts. By day’s end, however, the Defense team appeared shell-shocked, after its hostile witness, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, shared with the court highlights of the chief magistrate’s dollar stash. Her source: a report by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) presented via a Powerpoint presentation.
Day 37 will also be remembered, meanwhile, for being the first time that defense lead counsel Cuevas, regarded as the “lion” of the impeachment court because of his skills, seemed to have found a match, at least in feistiness, in Ombudsman Carpio-Morales, who at times sounded testy and replied to Cuevas with another question.
For the very first time in all of its 37 days of hearings, all 23 Senator-Judges were present in the Senate Hall as the trial commenced at 2:08 pm. There was great expectancy in the hall as everyone looked forward to the testimony of Ombudsman Carpio on the US$10,000,000.00 account supposedly kept by the Chief Magistrate!
Prior to the start of the trial, the Senators gathered in caucus and decided to defer their vote on the TRO concerning the alleged dollar accounts of the Chief Justice. There was also no decision made on whether the hearings were to last until 10pm everyday as proposed by Senator-Judge Pangilinan. Thank God for small favors!
Seen at the Senate Hall were Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro who claimed he was there to support the Ombudsman Also seen were Harvey Keh, a summoned witness, and Former Representative Risa Hontiveros, another witness and who earlier said that she had nothing to add to the hearings. The regulars former Senators Maceda and Tatad, Ekky cardena, Bel Cunanan, Baby Nebrida, Leslie Bocobo, Camille Zamora, Zen Danga and Francis were also seen in the hall.
Earlier, Ombudsman Morales wrote to the court requesting to take witness the stand first. Majority Floor leader Vicente Sotto II, asked the pleasure of the Court but Defense Lead Counsel Cuevas demurred saying they had other witnesses that were ready but that the Ombudsman would be called the same day.
Presiding Judge Enrile emphatically said that, “She’s no less than the Ombudsman, one of highest functionaries of govt. She has the power to probe. We should hear her first. That was that! As the proceedings continued, Ombudsman Morales was called to the witness stand by the Lead Defense Counsel Justice Cuevas. Actually, she came in earlier but was forced to go out again since she hadn’t been called in yet.
Defense Counsel Cuevas said that Morales’ testimony was to prove there is no basis whatsoever that Corona has bank accounts in the amount of $10M. He added that the probe being undertaken by the Ombudsman’s Office was illegal! he adds that they consider Morales a hostile witness.
Enrile demanded that Cuevas justify why the Ombudsman is a hostile witness. He continued that the Ombudsman was not a hostile party in this case.
Cuevas stated that the Ombudsman’s vote-when she was member of the SC-disapproving of CJ’s midnight appointment as basis for declaring her a hostile witness.
Lead Private Prosecutor Mario Bautista objected to the Defense’s motion to declare Ombudsman a hostile witness. This was sustained by Enrile.
Cuevas proceeded to ask Morales about PNoy’s opinion vs Corona’s appointment as CJ. Enrile, seeming impatient demanded that Cuevas go straight to the point. Cuevas pointed out that PNoy took his oath before the Ombudsman. Morales countered that it was a fact.
Bautista objected again saying that Cuevas’ questions were irrelevant. He further asked what the connection was between the Ombudsman and the President?
Cuevas replied that the Defense wanted to show how hostile the President was.” He further went on to the subject of Morales’ letter to the Chief Justice regarding the alleged #10M account.
Morales stated that she went over the complaint vs the CJ and sought additional information from various agencies and referred the complaints to AMLC. She added that she wrote the AMLC seeking determination of truth of the report. She claimed that she got a recommendation that she should write the CJ instead. We were doing a case build-up. In other words, a fact-finding investigation.
Morales clarified that she was already investigating the CJ when she wrote that letter. We wanted him to enlighten us because I sought help of AMLC, she continued. Purpose of the probe was to determine if there was unexplained wealth or things to that effect violating the Anti-Graft Act, she said.
It was then that Cuevas moved again to declare Morales as hostile witness, citing Ombudsman’s probe into CJ. Morales countered by stating that it was her mandate. It does not make me an adverse person, she continued. Lead Private Prosecutor Mario Bautista continued his objections against declaring the Ombudsman a hostile witness.
Morales said that she was able to get data showing that at least [evidence] was material and relevant to the complaints filed by the 3 complainants.
Bautista objected and said that the mere fact of investigation does not render Morales a hostile witness merely by doing her job.
In an emotional outburst, the Lead Counsel perorated on why Morales should, in fact, be declared a hostile witness. Finally Enrile declared the Ombudsman as a hostile witness against a possible reversal of his decision by the Court, he claimed.
Cuevas, noting the testy and seeming taunting replies of the witness said that there was already a finding. How could anyone expect the Ombudsman to be neutral towards the Chief Justice?
Enrile ordered Cuevas not to argue with the witness. Morales, without pause continued that she was just following the mandate of the law. She continued that it was the lookout of the CJ if he does not like to answer. That’s CJ’s lookout, she emphasized.
She stated that it was her mandate, what they were doing is a case build-up which means they were merely doing an investigation. She then cited Section 26 of the Ombudsman Act as basis for her probe into Corona’s alleged unexplained wealth. As a challenge, she asked Cuevas whether he was assailing Article 26? Cuevas retorted that CJ Corona was compelled to answer, violating his right not to be a witness against himself.
Morales impatiently retorted that she sounded like a broken record. Sec 26 of the Ombudsman Act requires me to request the CJ to respond, she added. Knee-jerk reaction is to say that’s phony. Now you’re invoking… the Bill of Rights?, she laughed with a twinkle in her eye. This was fast becoming a show of legalese expertise.
Morales said she was not used to discussing millions of dollars. Cuevas countered that he was also not accustomed to millions. Dun lang ako sa 10 pesos. No one laughed in the court. Morales retorted that Cuevas was correct since no one mentioned anything about $10M in their complaints. She then said that she asked assistance of AMLC because she wanted to know if they had documents that had bearing on the complaint.
Enrile told the defense to go direct to the point. He then continued to read to Cuevas the powers of the Ombudsman, as stated in the Constitution. Cuevas stated that the AMLC could not just conduct an investigation and submit reports.
Enrile countered by stating that the Ombudsman already said she got the documents from the AMLC. We presume regularity of official conduct, he empirically added. If there was a violation by the AMLC, that’s another issue, he added.
Mario Bautista stood up to counter that he could not understand the line of questioning. It is the defense that called the Ombudsman to testify, emphasized. This is all irrelevant, your honor, he continued when Cuevas underlined that the complaints were based on newspaper reports and accounts.
Ombudsman Morales announced that she furnished the AMLC with copies of complaints thinking that it’s under its jurisdiction. Again she stated that she sounded like broken record. Furthermore, we got reports CJ has $10M, she added. That’s based on AMLC, not complaints, she underlined! I received the AMLC report prior to writing the CJ. I cannot write CJ about that if I didn’t gather it from the AMLC data, she claimed. I did not find it necessary to mention the source of information on the $10M, she stated. Corona could have asked for a bill of particulars. He could have said, ‘Can I be enlightened?’
It was now clear that there was a public perception contest going on. At every possible turn, Morales was taunting the Lead Counsel Justice Cuevas. It was also noteworthy that both were former members of the Bench. It was also obvious that Morales was playing to the Gallery and the media and supporting the cause of the Prosecution. It is also of interest that both Cuevas and Morales are close friend despite the theatrics.
Morales said that she did not source the information from the banks but from the AMLC. Are you saying accounts exist, she asked Cuevas to add insult to injury. This was when she started waving papers supposedly the 17-page report from AMLC!
She was to waive this report in the air for more effect only now. It would happen again and again! The media drank the courtroom drama in!
Senator Judge Senator Jinggoy Estrada stood up to request a copy of the AMLC report. Prosecution also asked for a copy. The Defense team was not to be left out. They also asked for a copy. A short five minutes later, the entire media, including those in the Press Briefing room, had copies of the voluminous report! WOW! Coyly, Morales said that she did not know whether the alleged $700,000 is included in this $10M.
Corona has $12 million in “fresh deposits” in various banks, Carpio-Morales said. This is aside from the $10 million Carpio-Morales said Corona had maintained in 82 accounts in five banks and where he had made deposits and withdrawals “on very significant dates,” including the 2004 and 2010 elections, and on December 11, 2011, the day he was impeached by the House of Representatives.
Cuevas reminded everyone that nothing in the impeachment complaint deals with $10M. Morales countered that she did not nitpick the impeachment articles. True, that! If it’s not in the impeachment complaint there is more reason for me to probe, possibly for impeachment in December, she answered. A heavy silence fell over the crowd of listeners. A foreboding that there was not going to be a let up on this affair whether the Chief Justice was acquitted or convicted! The determination of this administration, rightly or wrongly, seems too obvious!
Bautista asked pointedly that if the $10M is irrelevant, why did defense counsel ask to subpoena the Ombudsman and to bring the documents.
Enrile underlined that the Issue in Article 2 is inclusion, non-inclusion of assets, whether amount is 1 billion or 1 peso. Amount is immaterial. Amount is immaterial in Article 2, he continued.
Carpio-Morales said her information on the accounts did not come, as widely thought, from the complaint filed in her office by three personalities, but from a 17-page report of the Council, which under the law is required to observe strict confidentiality. An investigation by the Ombudsman is one of the rare exceptions when the AMLC must share information outside of its office regarding bank accounts protected by bank secrecy laws.
Senator-Judge Franklin Drilon pompously said that they were going around in circles. The Defense said, ‘We will willingly confront issue’, he reminded everyone while Juana Change sat in the gallery smiling an approval at her idol!
Cuevas concluded his direct examination of Morales. Seriously, it was not a good day for the Defense. Rather than clearing the issues concerned with the $10M, it confused everyone more. It shocked even the Defense Panel. I don’t think they expected this at all and neither did we!
It was then Private Prosecutor Mario Bautista’s turn to cross-examine the witness. He asked for a copy of the AMLC report followed shortly by the Defense Panel and the Senator-Judges.
Bautista looked at the 17-page document from AMLC. Morales coyly contributed that there were 4 other pages. The AMLC document showed 705 entries or bank transactions of Chief Justice Corona. Prosecutors now huddled around Prosecutor Mario Bautista looking over the document. It was then that the Prosecution asked for a 20-minute break to photocopy the AMLC report.
The Prosecution started the cross-examining of the Ombudsman shortly thereafter. Bautista asked Morales how she arrived at the figure of $10M. Morales said she grouped accounts under one column, looked at documents and dates. Corona had significant withdrawals in the 2004 and 2007 elections, and the week he was impeached, she underlined.
On the day of the Impeachment Trials, he allegedly withdrew $418,193.32. Amount was added to the BPI SF Del Monte account where $417,978.80 was placed in a trust fund. AMLC Executive Director Vicente Aquino gave me this report, she stated.
I sought assistance from the COA’s Grace-Tan and Heidi Mendoza. They came up with the analysis on the dollar accounts, she added.
Defense Lead Counsel Cuevas objected saying that the report was not tackled in direct examination therefore it should not be tackled in cross. Bautista replied that the Defense asked for these documents and wondered why they were now stopping this from coming out and wondered if it was because they knew it had an adverse entry.
Senator Judges Cayetano and Legarda supported Enrile’s decision to allow the Ombudsman to present the powerpoint on AMLC findings. Cuevas questioned Morales’ competence in discussing AMLC report.
Senator-Judge Marcos asked what the Ombudsman meant by transactional balance? Morales explained that it included inflow, outflow of funds and balance of transactions. She claimed further that her computation was arrived at with assistance of CPA lawyers is fresh deposits, accounts that never moved but remained in account amounted over $12M.
Senator Santiago moved to allow the Powerpoint presentation of the Ombudsman. There was an audible applause from the gallery. Forced to a vote by Senator-Judge Lacson, the Senators voted unanimously to allow Morales to show the Powerpoint presentation on AMLC findings.
In a bid to underline her testimony and after Senator-Judge Panfilo Lacson forced a vote and despite the objection of the defense, all 23 senators present allowed Carpio-Morales to make a Powerpoint presentation of Corona’s deposits. Even Senator-Judge Joker Arroyo, who timidly raised his hands at first to vote against it, voted for the presentation in the end.
Corona’s lead counsel, former SC Justice Serafin Cuevas, objected to the presentation, questioning Carpio-Morales’ competence to examine the AMLC report, but Senate President and Presiding Judge Juan Ponce-Enrile said the objection would be a proper subject when the defense undertakes the redirect on Carpio-Morales.
Morales’ PowerPoint presentation showed that Corona kept dollar accounts at BPI Acropolis, BPI Tandang Sora, BPI San Francisco del Monte, BPI Management Investment Corp., PSBank Cainta, PSBank Katipunan, Allied Bank Kamias, Deutsch Bank and Citibank.
Chief Justice Renato Corona has $12 million in “fresh deposits” in various banks, Conchita Carpio-Morales said as she testified at the magistrate’s impeachment trial. This is aside from the $10 million Carpio-Morales said Corona had maintained in 82 accounts in five banks and where he had made deposits and withdrawals “on very significant dates,”
including the 2004 and 2010 elections, and on December 11, 2011, the day he was impeached by the House of Representatives.
Morales, who appeared as a hostile witness for the defense, said the information she had on Corona’s dollar accounts came from a 17-page report of the Anti-Money Laundering Council that was made available to her office in the course of investigating complaints filed before her over Corona’s alleged ill-gotten wealth.
The powerpoint presentation that the senators, unanimously voting, allowed her to make was solely meant to help her explain what she gathered in her investigation. It has not been accepted as evidence by the court.
Morales then continued that Corona had multiple accounts spread in 5 banks. The Powerpoint presentation showed alleged 82 dollar accounts of the Chief Justice. She then talked about the “circuitous” bank transactions of Corona. The Ombudsman itemizes transactions of Corona’s dollar accounts.
It was then that Morales asked to be allowed to use a magnifying glass. Enrile smilingly replied that he was also using a magnifying glass. The gallery all laughed as the Presiding Judge showed off his own magnifying glass.
Enrile then talked about one bank account: 14 withdrawals, 17 deposits and asked about the ending balance. Morales replied that she doesn’t have the ending balance. It’s difficult to determine the balance, she added. She claimed that she prepared the Powerpoint with assistance of the COA.
First bank account: BPI Acropolis. 2nd one, this time: BPI Tandang Sora. There were deposits and withdrawals on the same date, Morales implied. After awhile, Morales, said that she thought she was done with the report. She suggested that Heidi Mendoza, COA commissioner, take over to explain Corona dollar accounts. This was allowed by the Presiding judge.
COA Commissioner Heidi Mendoza said the inflow into the Corona accounts included deposits, credit memos, fund transfer and internal remittances. The outflow included withdrawals, debit memos, purchases and outward remittances. “What AMLC (Anti-Money Laundering Council) reports are only transactions.
That means it’s possible that he has (a) beginning balance because you cannot withdraw something that is not available in the funds,” Mendoza said.Cuevas objected to Mendoza’s testimony and said it was Morales the panel asked to appear and not Mendoza. This was sustained by the presiding Judge and Mendoza was told to step down.
It was then Majority Floor leader Vicente Sotto said that it was the consensus of the court to continue the following day. Late in the night, the Chief Justice described the powerpoint presentation as “a lantern of lies” that he said he will disprove as a hoax, and dared her to resign after he is done unraveling her
In a statement, Corona said that the “The initial testimony of the Honorable Ombudsman is quite unfortunate, if not very malicious. I don’t know how she came up with her own mathematical equation.”. He described Carpio Morales’ presentation a “hodgepodge,” convoluting the amounts in his dollar accounts as well as the minds of the public.
“The number of accounts alone is at best ridiculous. Her PowerPoint diagram is a lantern of lies which only messed up her presentation, contrary to what some believe now as damning evidence,” Corona said. He said Carpio Morales does not know what she is talking about, as shown by her “chaotic” accounting.
“Either she does not know what she is talking about, or is purposely misleading the Impeachment Court and the public. Is she even privy to how the [Anti-Money Laundering Council] arrived at the bloated numbers?” he asked.
He added, “we will debunk all her bloated numbers. And once she is proven wrong, I urge her to immediately resign from her post for allowing herself to be used by this Administration and making a laughingstock of ‘government auditing’.”
Corona tagged Carpio Morales’ alleged evidence as another “LRA hoax,” referring to the bloated list that the Land Registration Authority (LRA) produced for the prosecution.
Meanwhile, Isabela Represenatative Giorgidi Aggabao, one of the prosecutors and an accountant, called Corona’s accounts “indescribable.”
Sought for reaction to Mendoza’s disclosure, lawyer Karen Jimeno, spokesperson of Corona’s defense team, said they would need to consult with Corona on the matter. “We are studying this. We might confront the Chief Justice with this document and ask him his side of the story,” Jimeno said.
Meanwhile, the Chief Justice is likely to file a complaint against AMLC officers and employees for violating his rights under the Foreign Currency Deposit Law, said lawyer Jimeno.
“Titingnan namin (We will see), if they (AMLaC) divulged (information on the alleged dollar accounts) in violation of the FCD (Foreign Currency Deposits) law, the only recourse Corona has is to file charges against those officials and employees who did so,” Jimeno said in an interview.
“AMLC has separate powers. But AMLC can be held liable if they divulge any information guaranteed secret under the FCD law. AMLC is only mandated for the purposes of anti-money laundering activities,” Jimeno explained.
While admitting that Morales’ presentation of the AMLC caught Corona’s defense panel unawares, Jimeno said they also see the disclosure as an opportunity to scrutinize the AMLAC report and find out where the allegations about the dollar accounts came from.
She added that Chief Justice Renato C. Corona is likely to file a complaint against officers and employees of the Anti-Money Laundering Council for violating his rights under the Foreign Currency Deposit Law.
“Titignan namin (We will see), if they (AMLC) divulged (information on the alleged dollar accounte) in violation of the FCD (Foreign Currency Deposits) law, the only recourse Corona has is to file charges against those officials and employees who did so,” Jimeno said in an interview.
“AMLC has separate powers. But AMLC can be held liable if they divulge any information guaranteed secret under the FCD law. AMLC is only mandated for the purposes of anti-money laundering activities,” Jimeno explained.
While admitting that Morales’ presentation of the AMLC caught Corona’s defense panel unawares, Jimeno said they also see the disclosure as an opportunity to scrutinize the AMLC report and find out where the allegations about the dollar accounts came from.
Jimeno called the disclosure of the AMLC alarming because it means agencies of the government can be used against one person, such as Corona.
“Nakababahala ito na nagagamit pala ang iba’t ibang ahensiya ng gobyerno (It is worrying that various agencies of government are used) against one person … As Justice Cuevas has said, dapat masunod ang tunay na proseso (due process has to be observed),” she said. “If they divulged the (information) to the public, the documents violated the rights of Corona,” she said.
Another defense lawyer doubted that the dollar accounts are what they seem. More likely, said Tranquil Salvador, these will end up like the “45 Corona properties” that the defense trumpeted at the start of the trial. It turned out later there was a misappreciation of the documents and there were only 11 properties.
“Malicious. A lantern of lies.” This was how Chief Justice Renato Corona described the testimony of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales on the 37th day of the trial. Corona also said he will debunk all of Morales’s allegations and dared her to resign if she’s proven wrong.
Corona’s statement, first published by ANC, the ABS-CBN News Channel, on its site says: “The initial testimony of the Honorable Ombudsman is quite unfortunate, if not very malicious.
“I don’t know how she came up with her own mathematical equation. She made a hodgepodge out of the accounts, making her numbers chaotic.
“The number of accounts alone is at best ridiculous. Her powerpoint diagram is a lantern of lies which only messed up her presentation, contrary to what some believe now as damning evidence. Either she does not know what she is talking about, or is purposely misleading the Impeachment Court and the public.
“Is she even privy to how the AMLC arrived at the bloated numbers? We will debunk all her bloated numbers.
“And once she is proven wrong, I urge her to immediately resign from her post for allowing herself to be used by this Administration and making a laughingstock of ‘government auditing.'”
There was a cloud of doubt that began to form in the minds of those who support Chief Justice Corona. Yet, it is obvious that they will forge on for they see the truth in the man. On the other side, there was an air of celebration that they were now making their case against the Chief Justice.
It would seem that this entire case is still unravelling as we write but it is also obvious that the Defense has a lot of work ahead of them. That Ombudman Morales was ready to face her inquisitors is obvious. On whether what she stated was inded fact, is another story.
Devil incarnate or not, the Chief Justice was not about to throw in the towel. He remains strong and steadfast in his resolve to fight this case to the end and …… win it!
Indeed this day was HELL for everyone concerned
Photos via @momblogger and senate.gov.ph. Some rights reserved.