Jurisdiction of Ombudsman over case questioned
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - The defense team of Chief Justice Renato Corona raised the issue of jurisdiction of the Ombudsman over his supposed bank accounts, even as they debunked allegations he has $10 million.
In a phone interview, defense lawyer Tranquil Salvador told ABS-CBNnews.com that they stand by their answer that Corona does not have $10 million as alleged by several petitioners who sought to bring the case before the Office of the Ombudsman.
He said the timing of the order has raised speculations among stakeholders and observers in the trial of Corona, which would resume May 7.
He said the issue could be used to “push the Chief Justice to sit on the witness stand to supposedly explain the $10 million when no such funds or accounts actually exist.”
The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales asked her former colleague in the Supreme Court to explain in writing how he was supposed to acquire peso and dollar accounts.
“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,” Morales was quoted as saying in her April 20 order, a copy of which has yet to be formally disclosed.
Salvador did not answer whether or not Corona has already replied to the order, noting only that a copy of which was received last week.
“All individuals in [the petition] have interest in the [impeachment trial proceedings]. There was already a forfeiture case instituted by a congressman during the break. This one, I’m not surprised,” he said.
In their February 17 complaint, Ruperto Aleroza, Gibby Gorres, Harvey Keh, Risa Hontiveros and Albert Concepcion sought to have Corona investigated for allegedly amassing “real and personal properties in significant amounts” and not declaring them in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) as required by law.”
In a text message, Keh said: “I can confirm story that we filed the complaint and we gave the bank accounts that we asked ombudsman to investigate…The main aim of the complaint was to allow the Ombudsman to instruct the [Anti-Money Laundering Council] to investigate the CJ dollar accounts.”
He said: “The dollar accounts po kasi is key to the impeachment.”
‘We’ve already answered everything’
Salvador stressed, however, that Corona does not have $10 million in the banks. The properties enumerated by the petitioners have already been explained before the impeachment court, he said.
“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 said.
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.”
“The second issue is why all of the matters presented in so called three (3) complaints are mere reiterations of issues in the impeachment proceedings. Again to my mind, the complainants who filed the complaints in February and March would like to highlight these issues to undermine the advances and successes of the defense in explaining and destroying the alleged 45 properties of the CJ,” he said.
He noted, however, that the release of the order “will just confuse the people on [the motivation]. It’s an old complaint that was filed even before the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order.”
The SC issued a halt order on the opening of Corona’s alleged dollar accounts, citing the Foreign Currency Deposit Act that allows only the opening of foreign currency accounts by virtue of a go-signal from the depositor.
Salvador said the Ombudsman order has caused many speculations now that the trial of Corona will resume in a week’s time.
“Maybe it’s to bring back the interest of the people…But it is an old complaint,” he said.