Defense mulls charges over leaked bank documents
MANILA, Philippines—Lawyers defending impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona on Friday said that they were studying whether they would file charges against lawmakers who handled the leaked photocopy of a bank document allegedly pertaining to the chief magistrate’s dollar account.
Lawyer Karen Jimeno, a spokesperson of the defense panel, said that they were seriously studying filing charges against Quezon City Representative Jorge Banal, lead prosecutor Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas Jr. and Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo Umali, who were directly involved in handling the document.
She however clarified that it would be up to the Chief Justice if charges would be filed against the three House allies of President Benigno Aquino, adding that those involved in attaching the said document could also be held liable.
Jimeno said that an investigation into the leaked document was still needed, although they respected Banal’s explanation on how he got hold of a photocopied document. To this spokesman Tranquil Salvador III added that Banal’s statement would still be looked into by the impeachment court and that his story would be “mas matimbang kapag umupo (siya) sa witness stand.”
Banal himself told the impeachment court that he visited PSBank manager Annabelle Tiongson at the Katipunan branch to look into the authenticity of the photocopied document he received, said Jimeno.
“Bawal iyan ng walang pahintulot ng depositor. Bawal mag-inquire sa mga deposits, kahit anonymously given (ang document) dapat hindi ginamit at pumunta sa bank para tingnan ang laman,” she said.
She explained that the prosecutors could face charges for violation of the bank secrecy law and Foreign Currency Deposit Act, and if the document is proven false they would also have a criminal liability over it. “Kailangan (naming) tingnan kung papasok ba sa batas at kung may kaparusahan.”
The usual sanction of violating the FCDA would be jail time of one up to five years as well as a fine, Jimeno said.
Lawyer Rico Paolo Quicho added that they could also file a complaint to the ethics committee of the House of Representatives, saying that as public officers they could be held accountable. “But we are studying this, the story is not yet clear who received the document and who the source is.”
Salvador also reiterated that it was wrong to compare Corona’s impeachment case to former president Joseph Estrada’s, wherein the presentation of bank records to the court had no corresponding liabilities, because “it was a different case, he faced cases of plunder and bribery.”
He added that bank records should not even be included in discussions of Article 2 as the said documents fell under Article 2.4 which has been struck out. “Ngunit pinipilit isaksak sa 2.3 in the interest of transparency.”
He said that their situation as spokespersons of Corona was difficult, “we open our mouth and are described to be delaying the process… but we let it pass, we will just explain when we get our chance.”
Quicho said that Banal’s actions were surprising since he was a lawmaker who was presumed knowledgeable of laws and yet he visited Tiongson to inquire about a bank record. “By doing that you are violating the law which the congressmen themselves passed.”
He said that the prosecutors should have first investigated, “huwag munang maniniwala, parang na-excite sila, kanya-kanya siguro sila, kung sinong unang makakapuntos. It is very unusual for a lawmaker, they could have manifested in court, hindi yung ginawan ng story.”
Salvador added that Umali and Banal’s stories showed that they were not ready with all evidence needed even after filing the complaint. “Ngayon pa lang sila naghahanap, may complaint na, bago doon dapat may evidence muna.”
Both Umali and Banal have given the court stories of being given photocopies of a bank record by anonymous persons but the real question was who will have to account for the leaked documents, Salvador said.
Reacting to this development, Tupas said “that’s laughable, are they that desperate? Anyway, if they are that desperate, they can go ahead and make my day.”
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