Prosecution mulls Ombudsman as witness

by Ira Pedrasa,

Posted at May 02 2012 03:08 PM | Updated as of May 03 2012 04:04 AM

Defense says evidence on CJ's alleged ill-gotten wealth no longer allowed

MANILA, Philippines - House prosecutors have yet to decide whether to present the order of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on Chief Justice Renato Corona's alleged dollar deposits, but prosecution spokesman Miro Quimbo believes her testimony can be used in the impeachment trial.

Carpio Morales has asked Corona, her former colleague in the Supreme Court, to explain how he was supposedly able to acquire$10 million in bank deposits, an amount that is disproportionate to his salary as chief magistrate.

House prosecution members are expected to meet on Wednesday night to discuss the recent ruling of the Ombudsman and its relevance to the current impeachment trial of Corona.

In an interview with radio dzMM on Wednesday,  Quimbo said the issue will have to be discussed “extensively."  Prosecutors will weigh both the pros and cons of introducing the Ombudsman's order as evidence in the impeachment court.

In her order that was reported by the Philippine Daily Inquirer over the weekend, 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.”

The Ombudsman has yet to disclose the order. Both the prosecution and defense have not seen a copy of the order.

The prosecution and the defense in the Corona impeachment trial are now reviewing their respective cases in time for the impeachment trial’s resumption on May 7.

Subpoena Carpio Morales?

“If there’s enough basis, the Senate would be hard-put not to discuss or consider this…If he [Corona] is acquitted, for one year, the issue [of the dollar accounts] would lurk in the minds of the people and raise questions to his integrity,” Quimbo said.

He, however, said that such a move will likely be legally questioned by the defense. He said the trial will only be prolonged if the defense raises the issue before the Supreme Court.

Nonetheless, if the prosecution decides to do so, it would have to ask the Senate to subpoena Carpio Morales.

“In court, you can’t just produce evidence. You have to have a witness to establish the evidence. Right now, it has to be the Ombudsman,” he said.

Quimbo denied they are now in contact with Carpio Morales.

Obstacles facing prosecution

Corona defense lawyer and spokesperson Ramon Esguerra said, however, that the prosecution faces a major obstacle in presenting the Ombudsman before the impeachment court.

“They have to hurdle the bar. They have to hurdle the ruling of the Senate,” he told radio dzMM.

He said the Ombudsman's allegation of ill-gotten wealth against Corona falls under 2.4 of the impeachment complaint, which the Senate already quashed.

In an earlier resolution, the senator-judges disallowed prosecutors from submitting evidence on paragraph 2.4 of the second article of Impeachment. They only allowed evidence on paragraphs 2.2 and 2.3 or Corona's alleged failure to truthfully disclose his wealth in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth.

If House prosecutors insist on presenting evidence on alleged ill-gotten wealth, they would have to amend their complaint, Esguerra said.

This was also suggested during the trial by senator-judges after they had criticized House prosecutors for filing a rushed and defective impeachment complaint.

Rebuttal stage

There’s also the obstacle of presenting it in court during the rebuttal stage. Based on court rules, the prosecution can’t present new evidence during the rebuttal stage. It can only dispel evidence presented by the defense.

Quimbo disagreed. He told that the Ombudsman's order is “clearly rebuttal evidence.”

He said it [Ombudsman's order] “will counter all that Corona has disclosed, that he has no $10 million. We [may] ask the Senate to take judicial notice of that.”

For now, however, the supposed evidence held by the Ombudsman has yet to crop up. Quimbo said they have not talked directly or indirectly with the Ombudsman.

“We don’t even know if the complainants [in the Ombudsman case] have evidence,” he said.

Quimbo noted that the Ombudsman can obtain evidence  about alleged dollar accounts of a public official who is under investigation.

Written consent given?

Despite a provision in the Foreign Currency Deposit Act that only allows the opening of dollar accounts with the go-signal of the owner, Quimbo said Corona has a “written consent [to examine his bank accounts] under oath.”

He said a government official who submits his or her SALN also signs an “authorization for the Ombusdman to examine the truthfulness of the contents.”

Corona’s camp is adamant, however, that the Ombudman has no jurisdiction over the chief magistrate. They also hinted that the jurisdiction can be questioned before a court of law.

Esguerra told, “The investigation is allowed only for purposes of impeachment. We have a trial on going now. Is the investigation related to it or another one is being prepared? Any other action, criminal or for forfeiture, must await the verdict of the current impeachment. That is possible only in case of conviction.The CJ is still a sitting justice of the Supreme Court.”