Was an organization of some 1,000 members promoting “good governance” used as part of a “well-planned and orchestrated effort” to discredit Chief Justice Renato Corona and remove him from office?
Defense lawyers on Wednesday called the impeachment court’s attention to this possibility, considering the actions of Harvey Keh, lead convenor of the “good governance” group Kaya Natin!
In her fiercest outburst in the impeachment trial so far, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago gave Keh a lengthy dressing down for acting on unverified information from an “anonymous” source.
Like the defense, Santiago said the documents could have been made up by anyone. She warned that Keh was “now in danger, in jeopardy of being charged criminally” for violating such laws as the Foreign Currency Deposits Act.
On Day 39 of Corona’s impeachment trial, Keh admitted submitting to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile a set of unverified documents on alleged bank transactions by Corona but denied, as earlier claimed by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, that it contained allegations that the Chief Justice owned $10 million in bank accounts.
Enrile, who presides over the trial, pointed out that Keh had come to his office—accompanied by a television crew—purportedly to make sure that the affair would be “publicized.”
“I felt offended and insulted as a presiding officer of this court and I’m ordering you to show cause why you should not be cited for contempt,” he told Keh, who sheepishly apologized. “You are trying to influence this court by bringing these documents.”
In presenting Keh as a hostile witness, defense counsel Dennis Manalo cited the witness’ “bias and prejudice” against Corona and “his involvement in a well-planned and orchestrated effort to destroy (Corona’s) reputation.”
Manalo said Keh’s actions were also “intended to unreasonably weaken the defense of the Chief Justice in these proceedings and unduly sway and influence the decision of the honorable court.”
Mr. and Ms Anonymous
Responding to a question from Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on what mysterious modes the anonymous people were using to plant purported bank papers against Corona, Keh claimed that the documents had been left at the “mail area” of his group’s office in Quezon City on May 3.
The defense compared Keh’s account to those of Rep. Reynaldo Umali and Rep. Jorge Banal, who each got copies of alleged bank signature cards by Corona. Umali claimed he received his copy from a “small lady” at the Senate, while Banal said his documents had been left at the gate of his Quezon City residence.
“Why is there a proliferation of Mr. Anonymous in this archipelago?” Santiago asked. “Every time there is something that requires identification of a source, the prosecution says there is no source. It came anonymously. Who is Mr. Anonymous?”
Keh also came under fire for opting to submit the questionable documents to the impeachment court, not to the Office of the Ombudsman where he had filed a separate complaint against Corona in connection with his alleged ill-gotten wealth.
For 2nd impeachment
“You’re actually using your own organization, assuming it exists, so that you can lay the foundation and make the Senate party to your machinations for a second impeachment complaint (against Corona),” Santiago told Keh, saying he should have just volunteered as a witness for the House prosecution if his anger at Corona was so great.
“A person governed by ethics would not do those things that you have done, giving those alleged documentary evidence to the Senate President when you should know even as a layman that no person is allowed to try and influence a judge in the course of the proceedings.”
Enrile produced the documents submitted to him by Keh just as Manalo was asking the witness to compare them with a copy the defense got during the trial.
“You did not only bring it here instead of bringing it to the Ombudsman, but you asked a television crew to accompany you and later on this was publicized on television,” Enrile told Keh.
Keh replied: “I don’t know … I felt that the Senate would be in the best position to evaluate this document and see if it can be used or not.” He denied he brought the TV crew with him to the Senate. “In fact, they waited for me there and I was actually surprised,” he added, prompting a buzz from the gallery.
Santiago further scolded Keh: “Consider yourself admonished! You didn’t know what happened, but you filed a complaint on the basis of an anonymous complaint. Do you want that to be done to you under the Golden Rule? And do you want us to take you seriously?”
“You’re the head of something that promotes good governance. Is that your idea of good governance? You act on anonymous complaints? You don’t even bother to examine for yourself using your own brain whether these complaints are fair or not?” she said.
“I am equally disgusted,” Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano told Keh. “Public servants and celebrities work hard to establish their reputations and suddenly a fake document surfaces and criticism is heaped on them. No matter how you try to explain your side, it is so difficult.”
Turning to the defense, Cayetano said: “I just want to make the connection. If there is a well-orchestrated move to discredit (the Chief Justice), if the evidence against him (is true), then still he should be convicted. But if you’re saying there’s a well-orchestrated move plus the evidence is false (hindi totoo), that’s something else.”
Manalo said the documents were “grossly exaggerated, unreliable, fabricated, or at the every least comes from an illegal source.” He said they would not be sufficient for conviction, adverting to the defense contention that Morales’ revelations were proscribed by banking laws against public disclosures of bank deposits unless authorized by the depositor or in pursuance of a court order on a case involving a criminal offense.
Upon questioning by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, Keh insisted that he neither manufactured the documents nor called a TV network to cover his submission of the papers to the Senate.
“Maybe they were waiting for me,” Keh said. “Sinungaling ka (You’re a liar)!” said Estrada.
Asked if he called reporters, Keh mentioned Amado Macasaet, publisher of the tabloid Abante, and Tina Dumlao, an editor in this paper’s business section.
“You wanted her to write the story about Corona to ruin his reputation. Are you up for the publicity, Mr. Keh,” Estrada asked. “I could have just called for a press conference if that was what I wanted,” Keh replied.
Former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros, who is seeking to run again as a senator in next year’s elections following a failed bid in 2010, and Emmanuel Santos, president of a graduate school closed by the Commission on Higher Education for administrative deficiencies who admitted he was seeking from President Aquino the reopening of his school, also testified yesterday as hostile witnesses.
Barber shop philosophers
They both claimed that they have submitted complaints to the Ombudsman seeking to investigate Corona on the basis of news reports, unverified documents and bank papers submitted to the Senate tribunal in the course of the impeachment trial.
Santos admitted that he filed the complaint on prodding from “barber-shop philosophers.”
Like Keh, they admitted that they had no knowledge of the ball-park figure of $10 million mentioned by Morales in her letter to Corona asking for an explanation in connection with what she said was an investigation of his alleged ill-gotten wealth.
They said that at the time they filed their complaint in the Office of the Ombudsman, Morales had not yet talked about the $10-million deposits and so the newspaper clippings on that score were not included.
Caught by surprise?
Defense lawyers appeared caught by surprise by Morales’ revelation in her testimony on Monday and Tuesday that she had a report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) even before she had written Corona but did not tell him that fact and referred only to the complaints by Keh, Hontiveros and Santos, among other complainants.
“There is nothing in the complaints which mentioned the supposed $10 million in bank accounts. Where did that come from? It’s from her (Morales),” Corona’s chief lawyer, Serafin Cuevas, told reporters, suggesting that Morales misled the defense.
Corona has denied the charges and angrily ordered his lawyers to ask the Senate tribunal to summon his accusers and that he himself would appear to dispute the allegations, claiming the civilian complaints had no legal basis.
Defense lawyers asked for a break in the proceedings from today to prepare for Corona’s testimony on Tuesday. With reports from Michael Lim Ubac and Marlon Ramos