MANILA, Philippines – A senator-judge who voted to convict Chief Justice Renato Corona on Tuesday said the Senate vote in Corona’s impeachment trial was much closer until the chief magistrate decided to testify last week.
According to Sen. Sergio Osmeña III, before Corona took the witness stand, only 10-14 senators were of the opinion that Corona should be impeached for failing to fully disclose his multimillion peso accounts in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs).
He said the other senators were only convinced after Corona himself testified that he had $2.4 million in dollar deposits that he did not declare in his SALNs.
“If he had not appeared and made his 3-hour speech, it might have been much closer,” Sen. Sergio Osmeña III said in an ANC interview.
“As of last Tuesday, I was fairly sure that we had the 16 votes but that was after the Chief Justice walked out. But before that, I thought we only had something like 10 to 14 votes because the senators had still not made up their minds whether or not this was an impeachable offense,” he added.
Before he testified, Corona had been accused of maintaining 82 dollar accounts containing $10 million in “transactional balances” based on a report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council.
Corona later told the impeachment court that he had $2.4 million in dollar deposits, which he did not declare in his SALNs because it would violate the Foreign Currency Deposit Act. Similarly, he said he did not fully disclose P80 million in peso accounts because the funds were commingled.
The chief magistrate then made a hasty exit from the witness stand before he could be discharged, which was described by some as a “walkout.”
Osmeña said that before Corona’s testimony, some of the senators had not made up their minds if his violation constituted an impeachable offense especially since they were looking into the P34.5 million proceeds from the sale of a Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc property, which was allegedly deposited in Corona’s account.
“That a crime or a violation of the law had been committed was never in doubt, but whether or not it was an impeachable offense and removing the number 1 magistrate of the land was no laughing matter,” he said.
He said some of the senators thought Corona might have made a mistake in good faith or overlooked some of the amounts that were not disclosed in his SALNs.
“When the 2.4 million came out and P80 milllion (came out), that convinced those who had not made up their minds that this was an impeachable offense,” he said.
A total of 20 senators voted Tuesday to convict Corona for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust for failing to declare his multimillion peso and dollar deposits in his SALNs.
Only 3 senators – Miriam Defensor Santiago, Bongbong Marcos and Joker Arroyo – voted to acquit Corona.
‘20-3 vote no surprise’
In a separate interview, Sen. Ralph Recto said he was not surprised by the 20-3 vote convicting Corona on article 2 of the impeachment complaint.
Sen. Ralph Recto said the magnitude of Corona’s undeclared assets convinced many of the judges to vote for conviction.
“This was 50 times more than what he declared as cash in his SALN. Malaki yun. Kung decimal point lang, ok [sana],” he said. Corona had earlier declared between P2.5 million to P3.5 million in cash and investments in his SALNs from 2002 to 2010.
Recto and Osmeña denied that Corona’s alleged walkout last week factored in the decision of some of the senator-judges.
“Some senators or maybe 1-2 mentioned that, but as far as I am concerned, they were immaterial to me. It did not change the facts. The walkout did not change the facts,” Recto said.
Added Osmeña: “I think 1 or 2 senators were peeved and irritated by the walkout but as far as I was concerned, he made the mistake that he went into the 3-hour peroration because he went into a lot of issues that were not submitted by the prosecutors or the defense, which the prosecution could now cross-examine him on.”
Cuevas regrets CJ testimony
Meantime, Corona’s lead defense counsel, Serafin Cuevas, said he regretted the chief magistrate’s 3-hour opening statement during last week’s hearing.
He said Corona made the statement because he thought it would strengthen his defense.
“Nung umamin siya ng ganun, ako man nagulat because that was not part of what we had discussed before he took the witness stand,” he said.