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Criminal intent, not number of properties, is key in Corona trial—Sen. Santiago

By: - Deputy Day Desk Chief / @TJBurgonioINQ
/ 07:46 PM February 04, 2012
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines – While probably terrified of her, prosecutors at the House of Representatives may have found an ally in Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who thinks there’s been too much ado over the prosecution’s “flip-flop” on the number of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s properties.

“There is a Latin phrase we often use, ‘falsus in unum falsus in omnibus’ [false in one thing, false in everything ]. If a witness is caught lying in one detail, he has been lying in other details,” Santiago said in a telephone interview.

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However, regardless of the number of properties, Santiago said, the more important issue was whether there has been  “criminal intention” on the part of the respondent not to declare his assets, which she said would constitute “proof of a high crime.”

“If it appears indicative of a criminal intent, there’s no need to go to the other properties. One or two examples would suffice,” she said, quickly adding, “Unless he has an explanation acceptable to a  reasonable man.”

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So far, in their presentations on Article 2, Corona’s alleged failure to disclose his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth, the prosecution “attempted to show certain irregularities.” The defense, however, has been able to explain the alleged irregularities, Santiago observed.

When she appeared in the second week of Corona’s impeachment trial, the fiery senator lambasted the prosecution for their purported lack of preparation and antics in court, even chiding private prosecutor Arthur Lim for his “long colloquies.”

The prosecution came under fire on Day 11 of the impeachment trial after lead prosecutor Iloillo Representatives Niel Tupas Jr. admitted they presented evidence only for at least 21 of Corona’s properties, not 45 properties they had earlier declared in a press conference.

They parried the round of criticisms by asserting that the crux of the matter was whether Corona declared the assets in his SALNs.

Senator Gregorio Honasan III agreed: “Whether 21 or 45 doesn’t make a difference. That’s not the point. The point is whether he declared this in the SALN. If he did not declare these, that’s the problem. We should not be talking arithmetic and splitting hairs here.”

After the fuss over the matter, Honasan said he would propose in their Monday caucus that Tupas and his defense counterpart, Serafin Cuevas, brief the senators and the public about the kind of testimony or evidence they would present for the week.

The idea is to inform the public, but more important, to hold Cuevas and Tupas accountable for whatever their respective spokespersons say outside of the subject of their briefing, he said.

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“The spokespersons can’t go beyond what the lead counsels have told the court,” he said by phone. “If we can spend two hours marking evidence, maybe we can let the prosecution and lead counsels speak for three to five minutes at the outset, without giving away their strategies.”

It was Honasan who manifested last Thursday that the Senate spokesperson confer with the prosecution and defense spokespersons to “moderate their pronouncement and premature disclosure of information” to the press, observing that the trial outside was “moving faster’’ than the actual trial.

Honasan, however, balked at any idea of gagging either the prosecution or the defense.

“Assuming we issue a gag order, do you think we can enforce it? Do you think we can discipline violators of the gag order? We will end up sanctioning or disciplining everybody,” he said, chuckling.

Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, who grilled the prosecution into admitting they had presented evidence for only half of Corona’s alleged 45 properties, also observed that the prosecution had been “overzealous” in announcing their information to the public which “they fail to defend” in court.

Topping the agenda of the senators’ caucus on Monday is the prosecution’s request to subpoena bank documents pertaining to Corona’s accounts, including a dollar account, in two local banks.

Santiago said the senators should be very careful in deciding on the matter because of its far-reaching implications on the banking industry and bank secrecy law.

“The banking industry depends on confidentiality for success. These banks are so successful in attracting depositors from all over the world,” she said. She said that in the aftermath of the financial crisis in the United States, Americans moved their accounts to the Philippines, and eventually Singapore.

“We senators should think very carefully about whether we shall continue to support the law on the secrecy of bank deposits, or grant an exception at an impeachment trial,” she said, pointing out that if the Senate decided to do the latter, this might sow fear among businessmen and bankers that “other exceptions might be allowed in the future.”

She said she would still study the matter over the weekend, and make her position on Monday.

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TAGS: Congress, Corona Impeachment, Criminal intent, Judiciary, News, Politics, Property, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago
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