Prosecutors studying next move on CJ's dollar deposits

By Jojo Malig,

Posted at May 04 2012 08:05 PM | Updated as of May 06 2012 02:16 AM

MANILA, Philippines - House prosecutors are studying how they can use the Ombudsman's information on Chief Justice Renato Corona's alleged US$10 million deposits in several bank accounts in the impeachment trial, which resumes on Monday.

In an interview with dzMM on Friday, House prosecution panel spokesman Lorenzo 'Erin' Tañada III said their hands are tied by the Supreme Court's temporary restraining order (TRO) on the opening of Corona's dollar accounts in Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank).

"Right now po, we cannot at this point require those documents, subpoena them," he said.

However, he added that they have not given up, and they are studying how they can present this information legally before the impeachment court.

"Pinag-aaralan po namin, ano iyung mga legal na pamamaraan na puwedeng gawin," he said.

He added that the Senate impeachment court has taken the position that they need the information on Corona's dollar accounts.

"Ang Senate impeachment court ay nagbibigay ng kanilang posisyon na kailangan, mabuksan itong dollar account na ito."

Waiver signed in SALN

Tañada said the Ombudsman was able to get information about Corona's dollar deposits since Corona signed a waiver in his annual statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) allowing the Ombudsman to investigate his finances.

He said the waiver is included in the SALN forms that government officials fill up, sign and swear under oath.

"May ruling po ang Korte Suprema na may TRO (on Corona's dollar accounts) but if you look at the statements of assets and liabilities -- the form itself -- there is a waiver that is stated there that once you sign the SALN, you allow the Ombudsman, pinapayagan mo iyung Ombudsman, bibigyan mo ng authority na siyasatin na iyung nilagay mong assets and liabilities kung tama o mali," Tañada said.

"The Ombudsman can search... whether your declaration is true or not," he added.

He said the waiver covers both peso and dollar accounts of all government officials, notwithstanding the Foreign Currency Deposit Unit (FCDU) law that mandates absolute secrecy of foreign currency bank deposits.

Section 8 (c) of  Republic Act 6713, or the Act Establishing a Code of Conduct for Public Officials and employees, specifically requires disclosure of "assets such as investments, cash on hand or in banks, stocks, bonds, and the like."

Tañada said that based on reports, information about Corona's alleged $10 million in bank accounts was sourced from the Anti-Money Laundering  Council (AMLC), the agency implementing the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA).

"Ang (AMLC) keeps track of movement of money of more than P500,000, whether dollar or peso," he said.

Ombudsman move defended

The Quezon province congressman also defended Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales' order asking  Corona to explain in writing his dollar accounts, saying she was responding to complaints filed by citizens.

"Meron kasing complaint na finile po ng mga private individuals and civil society organizations with regard to the supposed illegal wealth of the Chief Justice," he told dzMM on Friday.

"Iyon ang inaksyunan yata ng ating Ombudsman. That is why the Ombudsman is asking the Chief Justice to file his answer to this allegation na mayroong $10 million account deposited in some banks here in the Philippines."

Lawyers of Corona have criticized the Ombudsman's order and claimed the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over the chief justice.

"Hindi ito motu propio (acting on own impulse). The Ombudsman acted based on a complaint," he added. "Kailangan magkaroon din ng final report ang Ombudman kun ano iyung findings niya. This is just raw information, kaya pinapasagot si Chief Justice in writing."

"Ang tanong, sasagot ba ang CJ in writing sa order ng Ombudsman? Kung hindi siya sasagot, karapatan ng Ombudsman na magkaroon ng findings to the complaint."

Ombudsman can recommend impeachment

Tañada said the Ombudsman is mandated to investigate erring government officials and come out with recommendations after a through probe.

"If it's going to be impeachable official, he or she cannot file a case. If it is an ordinary official, pagkatapos ng imbestigasyon, deretsong Sandiganbayan iyan," he said.

"Dahil impeachable official ito (Corona), ang deretso lang na conclusion ng Ombudsman habang nakaupo iyung impeachable official is maybe to recommend impeachment proceedings," he explained.

Prosecutors ready for trial resumption

He also said the prosecution is ready for the resumption of Corona's trial in the Senate on Monday.

"Bola po ng depensa. Sila po ang maglalatag ng kanilang mga testigo," he said.

"Handa naman naming harapin. Gusto nga namin, mas mabilis na iyung proseso sa impeachment court," he added.