Defense: It’s Cristina Corona’s money from family firm
What would a husband do if his wife’s money is in danger of being scrutinized?
That’s how the defense lawyers of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona on Friday framed the issue when confronted with testimony that Corona closed three peso time-deposit accounts on the day in December 2011 that he was impeached by House lawmakers.
Corona terminated his three accounts with the Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) to protect “the integrity of the amount” that belonged to Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc., a corporation owned by his wife’s family, according to lawyers Tranquil Salvador III and Rico Paolo Quicho.
“In the ordinary course of things, [if] you deposit your money in your spouse’s name, and then you learn this is being sought for examination, wouldn’t you react?” Salvador told reporters in a briefing at the Philippine Columbian Plaza in Manila.
Corona’s only ace
But the prosecution said Corona could not keep using Basa-Guidote Enterprises as his sole excuse for every unreported, multimillion-peso cash deposit and condominium uncovered in the Senate impeachment trial.
“Since all of [Corona’s] undeclared assets and unexplained wealth have come out, Basa-Guidote is becoming their only ace to save themselves. Their reasoning has become twisted, and it is wearing thin very fast,” Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo, a spokesperson of the prosecution, said in a press conference.
Quimbo pointed out that when the Coronas’ Bonifacio Ridge condominium and The Bellagio penthouse were presented as evidence at the Senate trial, Corona’s defense team claimed that he had obtained the funds from Basa-Guidote Enterprises.
And when more than P50 million in total deposits were uncovered in his PSBank accounts last week, Corona again used the corporation as his main defense, Quimbo said.
Wise to withdraw
The defense’s Quicho explained that Corona and his wife Cristina had thought it wise to withdraw the amount to shield it from controversy in view of his impeachment.
“They withdrew it to protect the amount because they believed that the money belonged to Basa-Guidote Enterprises,” Quicho said in the same briefing at the Philippine Columbian Plaza. “This was withdrawn so this would not be included in the impeachment complaint.”
PSBank president Pascual Garcia III told the impeachment court that Corona closed three time deposit accounts—which had opening balances of P17 million, P8.5 million and P7.09 million—on Dec. 12, 2011, the same day 188 lawmakers filed an impeachment complaint against him.
Annabelle Tiongson, manager of the PSBank branch on Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City, said that Corona had sent an authorization through his wife to close the three accounts, and that the amount was withdrawn in the form of a manager’s check.
One of the properties of Basa-Guidote Enterprises in Manila was expropriated in 2001 for P34 million. This check was marked as evidence by the prosecution last month.
Salvador has confirmed that a check worth P34 million was deposited in the accounts of his client with PSBank.
‘In full control’
But the defense was asked: If the amount belonged to Basa-Guidote Enterprises, why was it deposited in Corona’s account?
“Perhaps this was just entrusted by the wife to her husband because of the intra-family dispute [in Basa-Guidote Enterprises]. But she was in full control of it,” Salvador said.
Quicho said the source of that amount could be traced to the documents that had been marked as evidence by the prosecution.
“They should scrutinize the documents that have been marked. If their scrutiny is proper, they’d find out that this was not only sourced from Basa-Guidote but [also] sourced in an honorable way,” he said.
The two defense lawyers reiterated that they would present their evidence at the proper time.
They said they could not blame the bank officials for disclosing the information because this was covered by the subpoena requested by the impeachment court.
“I don’t feel that he’s bothered,” Salvador said of the Chief Justice. “We expected this. He’s ready for it.”
Suspicious fund source
With PSBank officials expected to discuss next week two more Corona bank accounts in the Katipunan branch, the prosecution expects Corona to again use Basa-Guidote Enterprises to explain this unexplained wealth, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara.
“We’ve not yet opened the dollar accounts. We’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the Chief Justice is really worth,” said Angara, a deputy spokesperson of the prosecution.
Angara said the motives behind the closure of Corona’s three bank accounts on his impeachment date had cast more suspicion on the true source of the funds.
“It’s not a joint account, so why was it placed under Corona’s name?” he said. “There is a dispute between family members at Basa-Guidote Enterprises, and the case is pending with the courts. Does he want to have an undue influence on the outcome of the case?”
Possible resting of case
Angara also said that due to the evidence stacked against Corona, some members of the prosecution had pushed to stop its presentation of evidence concerning Article 2 (which charges the Chief Justice with failing to truthfully disclose his assets, liabilities and net worth) in order to get a verdict from the senator-judges as quickly as possible.
“We don’t want the senator-judges to lose interest, we don’t want the public to lose its interest, so we might decide to rest our case while our case is strong. That is the argument for cutting short our presentation,” he said.
But he added that the prosecutors and the House leaders, including members of the secretariat and communication team, would have to reach a consensus on whether to go the full eight articles of impeachment or just one or three articles.
Quimbo said some prosecution members had already immersed themselves in their respective cases and did not want their efforts to go to waste.
Angara said the issue of whether the PSBank documents would be admitted as evidence by the senator-judges mattered very little considering that the bank officials had already verified that Corona had more than P50 million in cash deposits.
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