Supreme Court may review CJ dollar probe

By Edu Punay, The Philippine Star

Posted at May 10 2012 09:09 AM | Updated as of May 10 2012 08:39 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court (SC) may stop the Office of the Ombudsman from investigating Chief Justice Renato Corona’s alleged $10-million bank deposit, its spokesman Midas Marquez said yesterday.

Marquez told The STAR the high court may rule on the legality of the Ombudsman’s order if a petition is filed before it.

“That (order) can always be questioned before the SC on the ground of grave abuse of discretion,” he said.

He cited a case when Morales, as then associate justice of the SC, stood against harassment complaints filed before the Office of the Ombudsman.

“In one case where the retired justice concurred, the Court held that if the complaint against the impeachable officer is unwarranted, he or she should be spared from harassment of an unjustified investigation,” Marquez said.

He said the ruling was consistent with the general rule in government prosecution that a complaint not supported by any evidence should be dismissed or at least be shelved.

The SC earlier stopped the Senate impeachment court from opening the dollar deposits of the Chief Justice in Philippine Savings Bank, citing the bank secrecy law on foreign currency accounts.

Corona had denied allegations that he has a $10-million account.

“It simply does not exist,” he told The STAR last Sunday.

The Chief Justice had questioned why the Ombudsman would buy such “incredible, fantastic and mind-boggling” charge.

Corona meets lawyers

Meanwhile, Corona met his defense team Tuesday morning to prepare for his testimony before the Senate impeachment court.

Ramon Esguerra, a member of Corona’s defense team, said the chief magistrate felt that everything had reached a tipping point.

“Words to the effect na sobra na (it’s too much). Sukdulan na,” he said.

“It’s up him now, he rises and falls on whatever he testifies to,” Esguerra added.

“The bottom line here is that the CJ will answer all the allegations which were being thrown against him. He needs to answer to explain his side clearly, convincingly and directly,” defense lawyer Rico Paolo Quicho said.

Another defense spokesman Tranquil Salvador III said Corona decided to face the Senate when the issue was raised at the resumption of trial.

Salvador also cited the dressing down that lead counsel Serafin Cuevas got from Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile that made them rethink their position.

Cuevas earlier expressed concern that the defense panel is facing an “uphill battle,” saying the impeachment court is no longer sympathetic to them.

Ridiculous, absurd

The prosecution team, for its part, branded as “ridiculous and absurd” the claim of the defense that Republic Act 6426 or the Foreign Currency Deposit Act exempts public servants from revealing their dollar accounts in the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

Prosecution spokesman Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara said the defense’s interpretation of the law negates the intent of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

Angara said both laws compel all government personnel to truthfully disclose their assets and liabilities to the public to determine if they have enriched themselves while in office.

“If we are going to follow the line of the defense panel, all corrupt men and women in government would convert all their monies in foreign currencies because not only are you exempt from a competent course that tracks down your assets, you are also exempted from disclosing these assets in your SALN,” Angara said.

House Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada said the position of the defense panel is as an admission that Corona maintains dollar deposits.

“I never heard such a ridiculous interpretation of a law that seeks transparency and yet you find the very essence of that law, you create that infirmity by providing an exemption which kills it by saying that the Foreign Currency Deposits Act is an exception for reporting purposes,” Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo said. With Christina Mendez