Chief Justice Renato Corona kept at least P24.6 million in five peso accounts with Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) between 2007 and 2010, the Senate impeachment court found out Wednesday in proceedings that lasted five hours, the longest that it conducted since the trial began on January 16.
Senator-judges and a private prosecutor of the House of Representatives obtained the information from the president of PSBank whom the Senate had ordered to present certifications of Corona’s deposits despite separate petitions that the bank and Corona filed in the Supreme Court earlier in the day to restrain the impeachment tribunal from doing so.
PSBank president Pascual Garcia III, however, only produced the certifications for five peso accounts covering the ending balances for the years 2007-2010.
Garcia recognized that the subpoena issued by the Senate also covered five dollar accounts of Corona but told senator-judges he had decided not to bring documents indicating these details for fear of being exposed to criminal liability.
He cited Republic Act No. 6426, or the Foreign Currency Deposit Act, that, according to him, does not allow the disclosure of foreign currency accounts unless a written consent of the depositor is obtained.
Under questioning by private prosecutor Demetrio Custodio, Garcia revealed that of the five peso accounts, one had an ending balance of P5,018,255.26 as of Dec. 31, 2007.
At this point, the four other accounts did not yet exist.
While this first account was later closed, another account was opened in 2009 that had an ending balance of P8.5 million as of December 31 that same year.
This account ballooned to more than P12.5 million by the end of 2010.
A third account, opened only in 2010, had a balance of P7.148 million also by the end of that year.
Garcia said one account indicated in the Senate subpoena did not contain any balance from 2007 to 2010 while a fifth was opened and closed in December 2009.
Since the Senate specifically asked for the balance as of December 31, Garcia said PSBank did not submit a balance since the account was already closed by that date.
The lead defense counsel, Serafin Cuevas, at first tried to convince Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile not to allow Garcia’s testimony, reminding the impeachment court of his panel’s own petition for certiorari filed earlier Wednesday in the Supreme Court.
“If the tribunal eventually decides the presentation of the bank witnesses is not in accordance with the law, would that render their testimony null and void? Would it be considered valid?” Cuevas asked.
No SC decision
Enrile, however, asserted that since the Supreme Court had not yet issued a decision, the impeachment court should hear Garcia’s testimony.
When confronted by Enrile for his failure to present documents on Corona’s alleged dollar accounts, Garcia initially explained that the PSBank had “sought guidance” from the Supreme Court through a petition.
“We thought it best not to disclose at this time anything on dollar deposits because the law on foreign deposits guarantees absolute confidentiality. If we disclose without the consent of the depositor, we would be exposing ourselves to possible criminal liability,” Garcia said.
But when asked by Senator Alan Peter Cayetano the truth about the petition, Garcia admitted that the PSBank petition was actually an appeal to the tribunal to “restrain the impeachment court and protect us from revealing” details of Corona’s dollar accounts.
Other senators stood up, asserting the Senate’s authority to try impeachment cases, eventually prompting Senator Franklin Drilon to suggest that Garcia be ordered to file a written explanation why he should not be cited in contempt for his refusal to reveal the dollar accounts.
Senator Joker Arroyo, however, reminded the court that during the impeachment trial of then President Joseph Estrada, a Citibank official who was called to testify on Estrada’s alleged dollar accounts invoked RA 6426 and was not punished.
“I don’t remember his name but in treating this (case), we should also be guided by that precedence,” he said.
Arroyo noted that Garcia was faced with a choice of satisfying the Senate subpoena and risk criminal liability for exposing the dollar accounts, or observing the law and face the senator-judges’ contempt.
“We should grant the witness some consideration… Are we so crude as to say he follow us regardless of the consequences?” Arroyo asked.
As Enrile considered putting the issue to a vote, Majority Leader Vicente Sotto offered a compromise to merely ask Garcia to explain without the threat of a penalty.
Drilon was unmoved, forcing Arroyo to once again walk to the microphone.
“My colleague seems to be in a hurry to crucify this witness. He came here in obedience to our subpoena. Is he acting in bad faith? He’s saying he needs to protect the bank and its depositors and what is the response of the Senate,” Arroyo said, his voice shaking.
Getting impatient, Enrile ordered Garcia to explain why he was not able to bring Corona’s dollar records.
BPI branch manager
“This is not a show cause order. Just to submit a written explanation, so ordered,” he said while banging the gavel.
The Senate last night ordered Leonora Dizon, branch manager of Bank of the Philippine Islands on Ayala Avenue in Makati City, to appear at the resumption of the trial this afternoon.
Senator Sergio Osmeña III also suggested that the impeachment court subpoena the entire board of PSBank to appear at the trial in connection with Corona’s accounts with the bank so that Garcia would not be the only “one in danger of being cited for contempt.” This was not acted upon.
The defense respected the decision of the Senate to deny its motion to defer the implementation of its order directing officials of BPI and PSBank to submit bank documents.
“That is the reality that we have to face,” Tranquil Salvador III, one of the defense spokespersons, told reporters. With reports TJ Burgonio and Marlon Ramos