Corona to testify on US$10M claim: defense

by Ira Pedrasa,

Posted at May 08 2012 05:52 PM | Updated as of May 09 2012 09:24 AM

‘Strong possibility’ CJ will disclose dollar accounts, says Judd Roy

MANILA (2nd UPDATE)  - In a surprise move, defense lawyer Judd Roy on Tuesday asked the impeachment court to issue subpoenas to the Ombudsman and several citizens to testify on Chief Justice Renato Corona's alleged US$10 million bank deposits.

After these hostile witnesses testify, Roy said Corona would also appear before the court to rebut the allegations that he has $10 million.

Roy said that if the $10 million claim is raised before the court, Corona will be “compelled to confront directly the accusations.”

Those to be subpoenaed include Harvey Keh, Ruperto Alerosa, Gibby Gorres, Risa Hontiveros, Walden Bello. They are the petitioners in 3 cases against Corona filed before the Ombudsman.

Enrile ordered the defense to “submit the request and we will issue the subpoena[s]" which, he said, could be issued as early as tomorrow. 

“We are happy that you are now cooperating with us," he added.

After the hearing, Roy told reporters Corona went to a defense team meeting on Tuesday morning and gave him instructions to announce that he would like to testify.

"We told the chief justice in the meeting that it's going to be open season once he's on the witness stand. He said he's ready," Roy said.

Trial resumes on Monday

Enrile also agreed to Roy's request for a “48-hour continuance," which means the impeachment trial will resume on Monday (May 14).

This gives the defense time to regroup after the impeachment court did not allow the presentation of some of the defense’s witnesses last Monday, noting they were already irrelevant to the case.

Roy said the defense will no longer skirt the nagging issue about the chief justice's alleged dollar deposits, especially after some of the senator-judges also raised questions over the alleged $10 million even if, he said, this should not be part of the impeachment trial.

The accusation that Corona has $10 million is not in the impeachment complaint filed by the House of Representatives.

This allegation came up during the recess when Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales directed Corona to explain his alleged $10 million deposited in several banks.

“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,” she said in her order.

Corona insisted, however, that he does not have $10 million, and that the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over him since he is an impeachable officer who can only be removed from office if found guilty for an impeachable offense by the Senate.
Enrile agrees it should be taken up

Enrile agreed that the allegation about Corona's $10 million should be taken up by the impeachment court.

“We are not categorizing any asset as illegally-acquired asset or not. But it is still an asset that must be included in the SALN, if it exists. The issue whether it is legal or illegal is of no moment. The question is: does this asset exist? And if it does exist, was it included in the SALN? If it was not included in the SALN, ergo it will be a violation. Hindi ba?” he said.

Roy answered: “We do not argue over what the law says. I just wish to point out that the matter of the $10M has never been raised in the proceedings and this is an extraneous matter and I would like to be guided.”
Bello to be subpoenaed

Enrile said he is even willing to subpoena Bello even if he is a current member of the House of Representatives,

“While we are respecting the interparliamentary relation between the [lower] house and this [upper] house, I'm willing to sign a subpoena to include him to appear here if he wants to appear as your witness in connection with this dollar account. After the testimony of these persons as your witnesses, then you will present the CJ,” Enrile said.

Roy said they are even willing to dispense with their other witnesses, including Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

Strong possibility CJ will agree to open accounts

Roy added that there is a “strong possibility” that if Corona indeed has dollar accounts, he will disclose it.

This was in response to Senator-judge Franklin Drilon who asked: “Can you state categorically if there is a dollar account?”
Roy said he does not know for sure, and even if the chief justice has a dollar account and if it is covered by the Foreign Currency Deposit Act. 

Drilon asked: “You mean the FCDU [law] exempts a government employee from revealing his dollar accounts in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN)?”

Roy agreed.

Enrile said this legal issue is no longer important because if Corona finally testifies, he could always instruct the banks to disclose his accounts. 

“We’ll wait until that time,” Enrile said.

Prosecution: CJ pressured to testify

Meantime, a member of the House prosecution team claimed Corona felt intense pressure to take the witness stand.

Aurora Rep. Sonny Angara, a spokesman of the prosecution panel, said in a press statement that the pressure was on for Corona to face the impeachment court himself because the chief justice's lawyers have allegedly failed to present evidence to prove his innocence.

"The defense has been missing the target. His legal counsels are not hitting the bull's eyes," Angara said.

He added even senator-judges themselves have remarked that Corona's defense team was presenting evidence and witnesses that had no bearing on the case. -- with reports from Jing Castañeda and Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News