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Corona risks conviction by not testifying, prosecutors say

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07:56 PM March 31st, 2012

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March 31st, 2012 07:56 PM

MANILA, Philippines—Chief Justice Renato Corona would be risking conviction if he opts not to take the stand at his impeachment trial, House prosecutors said Saturday.

Only Corona, not indirect witnesses, could shed light on his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs), dollar accounts, the sale of properties to his daughter, and his vote on key cases, prosecutor Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares said.

“All this he has to testify on. Otherwise, they’re courting conviction especially since many senator-judges think he has to testify. That means they’re not satisfied with defense evidence so far presented. I don’t think the defense has a choice,’’ Colmenares said in a telephone interview.

Besides, Corona’s failure to testify would be taken against him, said Marikina Rep. Romero Federico Quimbo, the prosecution’s official spokesperson.

The defense panel has balked at presenting Corona and his wife Cristina as witnesses when the trial resumes on May 7 to shield them supposedly from intense grilling and ridicule.

“We completely disagree,”  defense lawyer Tranquil Salvador III said in a text message. “The manner by which we present evidence is what we think is the best way to defend the chief justice. The ploy of the prosecution now is to push us to follow their dictates on how we should present our evidence.’’

The defense panel  refuted the prosecution’s initial claim that Corona had 45 properties through the testimony of various government officials, without the need for Corona’s testimony, he said.

Corona is accused of betrayal of public trust, graft and corruption, and culpable violation of the Constitution stemming from non-disclosure and inaccurate preparation of his SALNs; bias in a decision favoring Philippine Airlines on the retrenchment of flight attendants and in a ruling favoring former President Macapagal-Arroyo.

Colmenares said he understood the defense lawyers’ concerns that Corona would be grilled by the senator-judges on Articles 2, 3 and 7, but this was the only way the issues could be clarified.

“All this is damaging to the chief justice. If he testifies, the chances that he will survive are small. He has to admit to one thing, like how much is his income, and how did he manage to buy this property of this cost. He’ll crack during the cross-examination,’’ he said.

“He’s forced to good. He has to do it. All this could not be explained by indirect witnesses,’’ Colmenares added. “It would look bad if he allows his wife to testify, but he himself won’t testify.’’

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and other senators have said it would be wise for Corona to take the stand.

Quimbo said that the trial, being political in nature, demands that the accused take the witness stand and answer questions from the senator-judges, “otherwise this will be taken against him.’’

“If he doesn’t show up, people will take this against him and think that he’s hiding something. They have no choice but to present him,’’ Quimbo said.

Quimbo agreed that only Corona could testify on the entries in his SALNs, including the acquisition costs of his various properties, and source of the P32.6 million withdrawn from his account on Dec. 12, 2011; and the sale of their properties to a daughter, among others.

“He has spoken in public. All the more the public expects him to testify under oath,’’ he said.

Colmenares said he believed that there was no need for the impeachment court to define whether non-disclosure of SALN and wealth constituted betrayal of public trust.

“For me betrayal of public trust is very clear. Your oath of office is to follow the law, follow the Constitution and serve the public. Any act which is in violation of the law is betrayal of public trust,’’ he said.

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