‘Fake’ evidence confirms Corona bank accounts
While Chief Justice Renato Corona’s accusers cannot guarantee the authenticity of the documents concerning his local and foreign currency deposits, the testimonies of bank officials prove that the information in the documents is accurate.
Marikina Representative Romero Quimbo, the prosecution spokesman, stressed this on Tuesday in the course of saying that the prosecutors had no intention of misleading the Senate impeachment court when they attached the bank documents to their request for a subpoena.
Quimbo said the prosecution had actually advised the impeachment court that it could not “vouch for the authenticity” of the bank documents that, according to the Monday testimony of Annabelle Tiongson, the manager of Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) branch on Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City, were “fake” and did not come from her branch.
But Quimbo said the documents that were turned over to the prosecution by an anonymous source could “only come from the bank.”
“The best proof that it came from the bank is that the accounts precisely matched. The bank officials confirmed the existence of the accounts, that they were owned by the Chief Justice,” he said in a press briefing after yesterday’s trial.
Quimbo said PSBank, particularly Tiongson, had “every incentive or motivation” to declare the documents fake because these could only have come from them.
He assailed the defense for saying that all evidence pertaining to Corona’s bank deposits that had been disclosed and admitted by PSBank should be cast aside for being the “fruit of a poisonous tree,” or inadmissible.
Quimbo pointed out that the existence of Corona’s bank accounts was confirmed by no less than PSBank president Pascual Garcia III and Tiongson herself.
He said both bank officers testified that Corona kept almost P20 million in two accounts alone with PSBank as of Dec. 31, 2010. The Chief Justice only declared cash worth P3.5 million in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for the same year.
Corona’s lawyers had protested the prosecution’s marking of the documents from PSBank and Bank of the Philippine Island (BPI) as evidence, saying these were obtained illegally.
But Quimbo said the prosecution’s supplemental motion on a request for subpoena for the bank records stated with caution that it could not vouch for the authenticity of the documents, although these turned out to be true.
Quimbo said that from the start of the trial, the prosecutors had been transparent and forthright in the supplemental motion for subpoena they submitted to the impeachment court on February 3 in connection with Corona’s bank accounts.
But he agreed that whoever was responsible for the circulation of the copies of the Corona bank documents was in clear violation of the Bank Secrecy Law and should be prosecuted.
Little room to maneuver
Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, the prosecution’s deputy spokesman, said it was impossible for the team to produce the original copies of the documents or their exact photocopies.
“How are we supposed to get accurate information when there’s a Bank Secrecy Law? We must only show a prima facie case because we cannot violate the law in presenting that information. We have to make do with the scarce information available [to us],” Angara said.
“That’s why when we received the documents, we asked the court to issue a subpoena and for bank officials to authenticate these. There’s very little room for us to maneuver with respect to the Bank Secrecy Law,” he said.
Angara said he was not surprised by Tiongson’s testimony that the bank documents in the possession of the prosecution were fake. He claimed that the documents could have only come from her bank branch and she could be held liable for the leak.
He also said the impeachment court could not set aside the evidence on bank accounts since some of them also came from the check payments made by Corona himself when he bought his properties.
“The issue, therefore, of authenticity should be separate from the issue of admissibility,” Angara said.
‘Miriam is right’
According to the defense, the impeachment court should have settled the question over the authenticity of the documents before it granted the prosecution’s request for subpoena.
In its own post-trial news briefing, the defense’s spokesman Tranquil Salvador III said the observation of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago was consistent with its opposition to the prosecution’s attempt to scrutinize bank accounts purportedly owned by Corona.
“Senator Miriam placed everything in the right perspective,” Salvador told reporters.
He added: “[Determining the bank documents’ legitimacy] would have been better. But we respect the [senators]. They are just being careful. We’re not blaming [them]. Apparently, they don’t want to give the impression to the public that they are allowing someone to hide something.”
Salvador said the public might have been piqued if the Senate did not summon the officials of BPI and PSBank to present records of Corona’s accounts.
He lauded Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile for declaring in open court that he would not allow the impeachment court to be used in the “commission of a crime,” such as the presentation of spurious documents as evidence.
“He was really that up front. He just showed that ‘In everything I do, I put my foot on the ground,’” Salvador said. “We need leaders like that.”
Ramon Esguerra, also of the defense, said Santiago’s angry remarks were a reminder to all lawyers that they must be sure of the authenticity of documents before submitting these as evidence and that they “adhere to legal ethics.”
“We’ve been saying that all along. That cannot be a basis of any action, much less be considered evidence. I think the Senate impeachment court will dig deeper into this,” Esguerra told the Inquirer.
“This is good for both the defense and the prosecution … We’re being reminded of how the rules should be observed and how the game should be played. It’s to protect the trial from underhanded tactics.”
Salvador also said Enrile’s observation on the prosecution’s apparent failure to prepare its evidence ahead of the impeachment trial was “a very important development.”
“He’s being careful not to allow the impeachment trial to be used to collate evidence and information [against Corona],” Salvador said.
Lack of preparation
Rico Paolo Quicho, another defense lawyer, said Enrile’s comment was “a recognition” of the prosecution’s “lack of preparation in the gathering of evidence prior to the filing of a verified complaint.”
“We will know as the trial progresses if there are matters and documents [the prosecution] left out. Those should have supported their allegations,” Quicho said.
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