Palace says claims are 'unsubstantiated,' a 'desperate gimmick'
MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - The defense on Sunday alleged that Malacanang offered P100 million for senators to skirt around the Supreme Court-issued temporary restraining order on the subpoena issued on Chief Justice Renato Corona’s alleged dollar accounts.
Citing a “very reliable” source, defense lawyer Dennis Manalo said Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. has been contacting senator-judges not to honor the halt order.
Another lawyer, Jose “Judd” Roy III, alleged the money will be sourced from government savings to be used for “soft projects.” The funds will supposedly be released this week.
In a prepared statement read by Manalo, the defense said: “Yesterday, we received very reliable information that Executive Secretary [Ochoa], acting in behalf of President Aquino, was personally contacting and phoning senator-judges to pursuade or pressure them to defy TRO issued by SC in favor of PSBank.”
He said they condemn in the strongest terms the actions of President Benigno Aquino III to “undermine the constitutional process that he himself initiated.”
He added that Corona “in good faith” participated in the process, but now “it’s apparent that the President is bent on convicting CJ Corona at all cost.”
Attack on the judiciary, economy
The defense did not reveal their source, noting only that he is very reliable.
But they stressed they would not risk their reputations as lawyers by coming out on a Sunday to issue a statement on news that has no bearing.
They also called on lawyers “to be more vigilant and stand up for the independence of the judiciary and the integrity of our constitutional processes.”
What is happening now is an attack on the entire judiciary, the defense added.
They also called on the public to “guard against efforts to undermine the constitution and rule of law…We must…secure the independence of the judiciary. Otherwise, the oppressed would find no refuge from abuses and rights cannot triumph over injustice.”
Defense lawyer Ramon Esguerra also added that if the senator-judges decide on Monday not to respect the TRO, “the backlash will not only be on the Chief Justice, but on the banking industry and the entire economy.”
The defense did not say what it will do with the information it received. They said, however, that what Aquino did, if true, is already "a culpable violation of the Constitution.”
Palace says defense allegation a ‘squid tactic’
Executive Secretary Ochoa called the accusations of the defense as “unsubstantiated” and a “desperate gimmick.”
In a statement issued to the media, Ochoa said: “As a member of the Bar, I respect the right of the lawyers of the Chief Justice to protect the interests of their client, within the bounds of the law. However, citing rumors to prove baseless accusations to support their cause goes against the principles of decent and ethical lawyering.”
He said: “It is a desperate gimmick that does not belong in the proceedings of any court of law, especially an impeachment trial.”
He said the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, is capable of making decisions to provide Corona a fair trial.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda urged Corona's camp to “stop running and stop hiding” and inflicting on the public “idle talk.”
“Their conspiracy theories concerning the Executive Secretary [Ochoa] is a diversionary tactic to distract attention from the evidence coming to light in the impeachment trial," he said.
He said the defense chooses to use “squid tactics” in order to deviate from the real issues.
“The Senate has been conducting the impeachment trial in full light of day; the prosecution and defense have been given every opportunity to have themselves heard,” he said. “We can only surmise that the defense has run out of ways to conceal the culpability of its client, and has engineered this move as a last-ditch effort to confuse the proceedings and prevent a resolution.”
“The only danger in the disclosure of the Chief Justice’s assets is the Chief Justice’s defense: the integrity of the banking system, our system of laws, the cause of justice and good governance are not endangered by the proceedings of the impeachment court,” he added.
Abad denies P100M, INC probe
In a statement, Budget Secretary Butch Abad said "the P100M is a complete fabrication concocted by the desperate Corona defense lawyers."
"It's an insult to the Senators and to the Senate as an institution. It's another lie in a web of lies being woven by the Corona camp to discredit the impeachment process," he said.
Abad noted that defense lawyers had also accused President Aquino of directing Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares to investigate the books of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC), which Abad also denied.
"Sec. Abad was [also] reported to have sought an audience with the INC hierarchy on orders of Aquino. Not true again. Such baseless allegations are irresponsible and can only erode the credibility of the defense lawyers. Their energies and time are better spent preparing for tomorrow's continuing hearings on the hidden but now exposed dollar and peso accounts of Corona in PSBank and BPI, which have been admitted as true not just by the bank officers and even by Corona himself," Abad said.
The senator-judges will hold a caucus on Monday morning to discuss whether or not to follow the halt order issued by the Supreme Court last Thursday.
The High Court, in a vote of 8-5, issued on Thursday a TRO on the subpoena issued by the impeachment court on the alleged dollar accounts of Corona in PSBank.
Esguerra added: “We respect the trial…but we came in already scathed and wounded…Sugatan na ang Chief Justice, lopsided na ang sitwasyon, di kami makapag-motion for reconsideration, we can’t object to the questions of the senators.”
He said, however, that they still hope that “the senator-judges will see reason and implement the Constitution.”
Asked if they will pull out from the trial if the Senate insists on the subpoena, defense lawyer Paolo Quicho only said: “Kami pong mga abogado ay handing lumaban, manindigan…Sama-sama po namin itong haharapin. Marangal naming haharapin ang persecution na ito.”
In the meantime, the defense is asking stakeholders to wait for their turn in ducking the accusations against Corona.
Malacanang has also called on Corona to just open his bank accounts to end the speculation.
But Manalo said: “There is a process. Sila dapat muna ang magpatunay. Bakit kailangan ng shortcut?” -- with a report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News