Unless prosecution is able to present it as evidence
MANILA, Philippines - Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said the evidence that will be obtained by the Office of the Ombudsman against Chief Justice Renato Corona will not be used by the Senate impeachment court unless the prosecution finds a way to bring it there.
In an interview with ANC, Pimentel said the Senate, which will resume as an impeachment court on May 7, should not be influenced or even tackle in its caucus the order of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales.
The former colleague of Corona ordered him to explain the alleged $10 million in his bank accounts.
In an order that was obtained by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Carpio-Morales said: “This office finds that there is reasonable ground to proceed further with the conduct of an inquiry vis-à-vis the charges that you, during your incumbency as a public officer, accumulated wealth that is purportedly grossly disproportionate to your salary and other lawful income.”
Carpio-Morales, who was President Aquino’s choice to administer his oath of office, was appointed
Ombudsman after her predecessor resigned. Former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez herself almost faced an impeachment proceeding.
“Whatever is submitted [there]…will not constitute as evidence in the impeachment trial,” Pimentel said.
He said the Senate will limit itself to evidence formally submitted to the impeachment court.
He said, however, that the separate probe can “possibly assist” the prosecution. He noted that the prosecution earlier made a reservation even if it had already rested its case.
The prosecution is awaiting a final decision of the Supreme Court on Corona's dollar accounts in Philippine Savings (PSBank). The SC had issued a temporary restraining order against the Senate, which sought to have the dollar accounts of Corona subpoenaed.
The SC, in issuing the order, said the Foreign Currency Deposit Act specifically bans the opening of foreign currency denominated accounts unless there is a go-signal from the owner. Sources said a final decision may not be issued any time soon or during the pendency of the impeachment trial.
Pimentel said coordination between the prosecution and the Ombudsman is not a violation of the TRO issued by the SC.
He explained the coverage of the TRO of the SC is only insofar as the Senate subpoena vis-à-vis the dollar accounts.
“If the prosecution will ask the Senate to subpoena [evidence gathered by the Ombudsman], then the Senate will deliberate,” he said. Nonetheless, the prosecution can just seek permission from the Ombudsman, he added.
Corona on Monday questioned the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman. In a text message to reporters, Corona said: “I do not own 10M dollars. It simply does not exist.”
He added: “It’s part of black propaganda and mind-conditioning preparatory to the resumption of trial on May 7.”
Defense lawyer Tranquil Salvador also earlier told ABS-CBNnews.com that “The question of jurisdiction of the [Ombudsman] can be raised before a court of law. My personal view on the matter is that the Chief Justice is an impeachable officer. You will have to complete the process before instituting another complaint.”
He did not answer when asked if the defense team will question the order before the Supreme Court. “Maybe [the Ombudsman] is just asking for an explanation, there is no ruling yet.”
Pimentel dismissed the allegations of the defense that the Ombudsman order is part of retaliatory moves by the administration.
He said, however, that it would be “quite odd” if the Ombudsman had released the order to the media. The Inquirer said in its story that it "obtained" a copy of the order but did not say who they got it from.
“We should ask the media who got wind of it as to how they got it,” Pimentel said.