On the eve of a crucial Senate vote, lawyers of Chief Justice Renato Corona on Sunday night revealed what they called efforts by Malacañang to pressure some senator-judges into defying a Supreme Court order restraining the impeachment court from looking into his dollar account.
In a hastily arranged press conference, nine members of the defense team condemned the Palace for allegedly undermining the impeachment process and the Constitution for purportedly trying to win senators over.
“Yesterday, we received very reliable information that Executive Secretary Paquito ‘Jojo’ Ochoa, acting in behalf of President Benigno Aquino III, was personally contacting and phoning senator-judges to persuade or pressure them to defy a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court in favor of Philippine Savings Bank,” according to a statement read by lawyer Dennis Manalo.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the efforts of the President to undermine the constitutional process that he himself initiated.”
Jose Roy III, a member of the defense team, said the panel received information that the Palace was dangling “P100 million per senator” to be released this week in exchange for defying the TRO.
The amount would supposedly come from government “savings” allocated for “soft projects.”
While Corona submitted himself to the impeachment process “in good faith and with full belief that he will have a fair trial,” his lawyers said “it is now apparent that the President is bent on convicting [him] at all costs.”
Corona’s camp said he would confront the issue of his bank deposits once the defense gets its turn to formally present evidence later in the impeachment trial.
“If your problem is the bank account, don’t rush it. All of that will be opened by the Chief Justice because he did not steal that. Relax lang po, Mr. President. Don’t let the senators and the Chief Justice violate the law, like what you want your people to do,” part of the statement in Filipino said.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said in a text message: “The P100 million is a complete fabrication concocted by the desperate Corona defense lawyers. It’s an insult to the senators and to the Senate as an institution. It’s another lie in a web of lies being woven by the Corona camp to discredit the impeachment process.”
“Such baseless allegations are irresponsible and can only erode the credibility of the defense lawyers,” Abad added.
“Their energies and time are better spent preparing for [today’s] continuing hearings on the hidden and now exposed dollar and peso accounts of Corona in PSBank and BPI,” Abad said, referring to the Chief Justice’s alleged unreported deposits in the two banks.
Reacting to the defense’s allegation, Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson described the alleged P100-million offer as “pure rubbish and nothing more.”
“It is unfair and even contemptuous to preempt the senators who have yet to discuss the matter in a caucus tomorrow,” Lacson, an ally of the President, said in a text message.
During the press conference, Corona’s lawyers were pressed to reveal their sources, but they stood their ground and said it was up to the informant to decide whether to come out. Roy clarified that the tip did not come from any of the senators. He said some of them were in fact “complaining” about the alleged Palace effort.
More than one source
Defense lawyer Ramon Esguerra said the information came from more than one source.
“It is difficult to speak about something that is not coming from the heart and is not based on the truth. We probably would not dare to face you and the people to tell you something if there was no truth to what we are saying,” he said in Filipino, eliciting applause from a handful of Corona supporters in attendance.
Missing in the affair was lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas, who earlier admitted that he was being asked by a supposed Palace emissary to abandon Corona’s team.
“Let lightning strike us if we are telling a lie or if there is a trace of lie in what we are telling you,” said Esguerra (no relation to this reporter).
He said if their sources would like to dispute their disclosure, this was up to them. “You and the people could judge who is telling the truth,” he said.
Esguerra said the defense team’s decision to go public about the alleged Palace bribe offer was not intended to trigger a mass action.
“That’s far from our mind … we hope not and we do not see that at the moment,” he said. With reports from Christine O. Avendaño, Marlon Ramos, Matikas Santos, Tetch Torres
Originally posted: 8:27 pm | Sunday, February 12th, 2012