It has come down to this: Their word against Chief Justice Renato Corona’s.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and four others are to take the witness stand today to talk about Corona’s alleged $10 million in foreign currency deposits which the chief magistrate has vehemently denied having.
The defense is presenting them as “hostile witnesses” and their testimony could open the floodgates for other issues to be raised against Corona, who decided to testify at his own impeachment trial.
“Because of the very nature of the complaint that they filed, we don’t foresee any testimony that will promote the interest of the Chief Justice,” defense lawyer Tranquil Salvador III said by phone.
Apart from Morales, the Senate impeachment court subpoenaed Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, Akbayan spokesperson Risa Hontiveros, civil society leader Harvey Keh and Emmanuel Tiu Santos for this week’s hearings.
Any of them will testify on Day 37 of the trial, according to Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III.
Morales opened a separate inquiry into Corona’s alleged accumulation of wealth disproportionate to his salary, including the alleged $10 million in foreign currency deposits, asking him to explain this, based on the complaints of Bello, Hontiveros, Keh, Santos and several others.
Corona scoffed at Morales’ order, claiming the dollar account does not exist and that the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over him. But at his impeachment trial, his lawyers requested the Senate to subpoena Morales and the complainants so they could swear to their charges, and that he could respond to these.
Corona, who initially fended off the accusations in public forums and press briefings, declared he would “bare all” at the impeachment court.
Hontiveros and Keh, convenor of Kaya Natin To! Movement for Good Governance, said they were ready to testify but not on the $10 million in bank deposits.
“Am ready to testify tomorrow because we want full accountability, but not on the $10 million because we never made such accusation in our letter-request,” Hontiveros said in a text message.
Keh agreed: “I didn’t say anything about the $10 million. It was the Ombudsman, right?”
Hontiveros and Keh said they would testify on their letter-request to the Ombudsman.
Bello, on the other hand, won’t be back in the country from Europe until next week, according to Hontiveros.
While the Chief Justice has flatly denied the existence of the dollar account, the defense is giving Morales and complainants the “benefit of the doubt,” Salvador said.
“Maybe they know what they’re talking about,” he added. “For now, we want to hear them, and see what they are going to say.”
But Salvador said the defense is confident in calling Morales, et al. to the stand “because to our mind there is no $10 million.”
“We’ll cross the bridge when we get there,” he said when asked if the defense would sue the complainants if they perjure themselves on the $10 million.
The trial is entering its “crucial stage” this week because Corona is expected to take the stand after Morales and the complainants, Sotto said by phone. “Why do we have to wait longer?”
Salvador conceded that once Corona takes the stand to respond to the testimonies of Morales and the complainants, he will be an open target for all sorts of questions.
“When he’s there, it’s an open ball game. We can’t object to the questions of the senator-judges,” he said. “The senators said he could refuse to answer by invoking his right against self-incrimination. What conclusion will they derive from his refusal?”
“This is the point of no return,” he added of Corona’s testimony. “This will be our last stand.”
Senator-judge Francis Pangilinan, for his part, said the Chief Justice should come clean on his wealth, especially his peso and dollar accounts.
“[Chief] Justice Corona should shed light on the discrepancies between his assets and net worth he reported in his SALN (statement of assets, liabilities and net worth) totaling P22 million and the real and personal properties that have been shown to exist under his name, including his five dollar accounts in PSBank, the millions of pesos in other accounts and real properties with purchase prices exceeding his total net worth in his SALN,” he said in a text message.
Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III, a prosecution spokesperson, said there was no question that Corona “has or had dollar accounts or deposits. The question is how much and if he declared these dollar deposits in his SALN from 2002 to 2010.”
Marikina City Rep. Romero Quimbo, also a prosecution spokesperson, said that even without the $10 million in accounts, Corona must still answer for the existence of the $700,000 deposits in Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank), the opening of which has been blocked by the Supreme Court.
“We have the signature card with PSBank. While that figure remained unverified, it was already a huge amount at $700,000, and that is more than enough to produce a conviction,” Quimbo said.