On Day 18 of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment trial, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile zeroed in on two documents attached by the prosecution in its supplementary request for subpoena, which were purportedly photocopies of the customer signature and specimen card of Corona’s alleged accounts.
The court sought the presentation of bank documents that could help put to rest the issue of whether the basis used by the prosecution in seeking a subpoena for Corona’s bank records was spurious.
The impeachment court ordered Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) president Pascual Garcia to produce the original of the customer identification and signature specimen card pertaining to Corona’s purported accounts, as well as specimens of signatures of the approving bank officers.
Enrile issued the order even after Garcia and his counsel, Regis Puno, insisted that the bank records attached by the prosecution in their request for subpoena were spurious, and after Senator Joker Arroyo observed that the trial had “meandered.”
“It’s not our fault that you’ve mixed up the peso and dollar accounts in one record. Cover the entries of the dollar account with tape,” Enrile told Garcia. “The senator-judges merely wanted to know if there were signatures in the peso account and who signed these.”
(The attachments contained information on both peso and dollar accounts.)
Enrile explained that the idea was for the senators to compare the original with the purportedly spurious documents presented by the prosecution and test the credibility of the bank officials if indeed they were telling the truth that these were spurious.
If spurious, Enrile said those who were responsible for the forged documents would be held liable, and the evidence presented arising from these spurious document would not be admitted.
Enrile repeatedly demanded to know from Garcia if the
PSBank had such documents in their record, and all that Garcia could say was that there were “discrepancies” between the attached documents and the original. At one point, Enrile threatened to cite Garcia in contempt.
Only when Enrile nuanced his questions by saying that the bank may have the same form, but the contents may be different did Garcia respond clearly. Enrile had to read the contents of the two documents to help Garcia give clear answers.
“There are underlines. It’s different,” Garcia said, admitting that there were similarities and dissimilarities.
“There are highlights that are not present.”
Under Enrile’s questioning, Garcia said that peso and dollar accounts in PSBank “may be combined” on some documents, but are separate “with respect to balances.”
After Enrile read the entries of the second attachment, Garcia said this pertained to a dollar account. Enrile conceded that the court could not discuss this in view of the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order on the examination of Corona’s dollar accounts.
Puno, counsel for Garcia, pointed out that the court was speaking of a “single document that is fake and spurious because of the differences.”
Enrile further tried to spell it out to him the nature of the document, asking “Is it fake, spurious, invented?”
“What can’t be done directly in violating the TRO can’t be done indirectly by pointing to specific portions of the document,” Puno said, raising fears that questions on the matter would “tend to establish certain facts in relation to the foreign deposit accounts.”
Testing witness credibility
Senator Franklin Drilon said it was PSBank branch manager Annabelle Tiongson who “stirred the controversy” and assured that the senator-judges would not touch the dollar accounts.
“As pointed out by the presiding officer, we’re just testing the credibility of the witness (Tiongson) when she said this is fake. We have a right to find if the statement is true, and we’re not looking at the dollar accounts, which had been confirmed to be existing by this witness (Garcia),” Drilon said.
Enrile also ordered Tiongson to produce in the next hearing her branch’s logbook. The document supposedly contains a record of all people who had access to specimen signature cards contained in a steel cabinet kept in the bank’s vault.
Senator Arroyo protested that the trial had “meandered” into several issues, and wondered how the trial could proceed on the basis of a forged document that he said lacked “evidentiary value.”
“We have now branched out into asking the bank to produce the original of a document which is forged. How can we do that? We’re asking the original to be brought here, compare it, and to put even a tape on the entries which are dollar-related. How can we do that, when the original and the forged documents are different?” Arroyo said. “A false document is a false document.”
Enrile explained it was the witness who concluded this was fake, and by asking for the presentation of the original the senator-judges wanted to test the witness’ credibility.
“If they’re identical in every respect, the witness will be lying. So therefore her testimony will be unbelievable. If the comparison shows that indeed that there are substantial differences, the witness is credible. And we then consider the document, which I categorized as ‘imbento,’ to be a fake document, to be fair to everybody. That’s the only purpose for the comparison. And the only thing to be compared is the signature on the peso account, and the identity of the one who imprinted the signature,” Enrile said.
But if found to be forged, Enrile said the court would determine whether the falsification was substantial enough to exclude this evidence, and “make those responsible for the alterations responsible for it, and answer for it.”
“It will be the burden of the prosecution to explain why they requested duces tecum in the face of an altered document,” he said, adding that the court would later decide whether to impose “disciplinary measures.”
Resuming her testimony, Tiongson said that the bank documents leaked to the prosecution were “fake” and “spurious.” She said she was not pressured into making a similar testimony during Monday’s trial.
Tiongson was asked about her findings after comparing the leaked documents with the original copies under the possession of her branch.
“There were differences … spurious,” she told Drilon. “There were entries in the original that were not in the photocopies and there were entries in the photocopies that were not in the original … and there were alterations.”
But Tiongson failed to identify specific differences, saying she did not note them down.
Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada pointed to one discrepancy. He asked Tiongson about the meaning of the letter “k” in the entry “$700k” in one document.
K for bum steer?
“Does ‘k’ stand for ‘kuryente’ (bum steer) for example?” the senator asked and was told by Tiongson that putting the letter to mean “thousands” was not “normal banking practice.”
Estrada asked if the fact that the original and leaked documents contained “differences” meant that the latter were “fake.” Tiongson replied: “In our banking practice, if they’re different, not the same, they’re fake. They’re spurious.”
Estrada later manifested his “personal opinion” that the leaked document was a “faithful reproduction of the original.” He noted that no less than Garcia had confirmed the existence of two of the peso accounts listed in the leaked document.
The senator recalled Garcia’s previous testimony on Account Numbers 089121017358 and 089121019593.
The former was opened on Jan. 26, 2009, with an initial balance of P2.1 million and had zero deposit at the end of 2010. The latter was opened on Dec. 22, 2009, with an initial deposit of P8.5 million and had an ending balance of some P12 million the following year.
“If they are existing and they were the basis of the issuance of the subpoena to you, how can this be a fake document?” Estrada asked.
Tiongson said the account numbers “could have come from other sources” such as deposited checks or bank certifications.