Legal experts say Morales not at fault in seeking AMLC assistanceBy Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales did not overstep her limits when she sought the help of the Anti-Money Laundering Council in looking into the dollar transactions of Chief Justice Renato Corona, according to legal experts.
The records from the AMLC, disclosed through Morales’ testimony, are now proving to be a game changer.
Ateneo School of Government Dean Antonio La Viña said the impeachment trial of the Chief Justice has crystallized into a simple issue, that is whether the dollar accounts were real or not.
“The trial will fall on this. The verdict will be decided on whether these accounts are real or not,” La Viña said.
“If these are falsified as the Chief Justice claims, then he may be acquitted. If in fact, these can be verified as real documents, then it is game over as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Corona is accused of failing to declare dollar accounts in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.
The dollar accounts were disclosed after Morales sought the help of the AMLC in connection with the complaint for forfeiture of assets filed against Corona.
Senators have raised concern about the Ombudsman’s move.
But University of the East Law Dean Amado Valdez said Morales was in fact “careful and cautious” in exercising her powers because she went to the AMLC instead of going directly to the banks to check into Corona’s records.
“The proper position was taken by her when she did not direct it to the bank because there is the issue here of protecting the secrecy of the banking system,” Valdez said. “There was careful and cautious exercise of her power as warranted.”
He said as well that Morales could not be faulted for the AMLC findings being made public because if Corona’s camp had not subpoenaed her, the AMLC records would have remained under wraps and would just be part of the records of the Ombudsman’s fact finding probe on the complaints against the Chief Justice.
“It could’ve been used confidentially. She did not come forward to volunteer the information,” he said.
Valdez also said the Ombudsman’s decision to flex her muscles in looking into the complaints against Corona was warranted especially considering that it was the head of the judiciary who was involved. For a successful investigation of a person in power, the Ombudsman should be more assertive, he said.
“The more powerful the person is, the stronger should be the way an Ombudsman should exercise her power,” he said.
La Viña also said on Tuesday that as a former Environment Undersecretary, he was always aware that the Ombudsman has awesome powers, and now there is “an Ombudsman who is willing to wield these powers.”
La Viña pointed out as well that the waiver in the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth filed by public officials allows the Ombudsman to secure pertinent records from government agencies concerning their assets.
He also said the point being made now is that there were dollar accounts not declared in the SALN. The claim that the numbers may be bloated is “irrelevant,” he said.
He also believes Corona would really have to face the impeachment court now.
“There’s no way he will be acquitted if he doesn’t go,” he said, adding that his demeanor and testimony would be compared with that of Morales.