MANILA, Philippines - Chief Justice Renato Corona’s refusal to summon bank managers to testify in his impeachment trial is very telling since there will be no one to support his claims on his dollar accounts, a member of the House prosecution panel said Monday.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares said Corona’s refusal to summon bank managers to his trial will mean that his defense will rely only on his testimony and possible other evidence to explain his dollar accounts.
“If they had summoned the banks, the question would be simple: did Ombudsman [Conchita Carpio Morales] give correct information? If the banks say Corona has no accounts, then the Ombudsman’s testimony will be put under question. The problem is Corona did not summon the banks. We are surprised by that. Anything he says will be just his word,” Colmenares told ABS-CBN’s “Umagang Kay Ganda.”
“He will not have documents and he will not have the banks to back up his claims. It will be his word against the official records of the Ombudsman. Mahirap mapaniwala,” he added.
The Ombudsman earlier revealed that Corona had 82 accounts containing at least $10 million in “transactional balances” from 2003 to 2011. She said the information came from the Anti-Money Laundering Council based on reports from at least 5 local banks.
Corona lawyer Karen Jimeno said the defense team decided against calling both the branch managers and AMLC personnel to the impeachment trial since they would be accused of delaying the trial.
She said the senator-judges are eagerly awaiting Corona’s testimony.
“We did consider the bank managers and those who prepared the AMLC report. In this case, parang inip na inip na ang senator-judges na si CJ na lamang ang gusto nilang marinig. Naisip namin kapag nagpatawag pa kami ng bagong testigo, tatawagin na namang delaying tactics ng defense. So we decided to just put the Chief Justice on the stand and then decide if we need additional witnesses,” she said.
“Ideally, he really is the last witness. We believe he can answer all the issues including the AMLC report without calling the banks,” she added.
Jimeno refused to say what type of evidence Corona will present in the trial to prove his innocence.
She said, however, that the defense team is convinced that the Chief Justice does not have 82 accounts.
‘Corona cannot keep silent’
In the interview, Colmenares said the Ombudsman’s testimony was a “bonus” since the prosecution had already established that the Chief Justice had been less than truthful in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs).
He said the prosecution has shown proof that Corona did not declare a P31 million peso account in Philippine Savings Bank as well as several multimillion-peso real estate properties in his SALNs.
He noted that even Senate President and Presiding Officer Juan Ponce Enrile had already pointed out that Corona cannot say he need not declare his condominium units just because he has issues with the developer.
“The condominiums that he owns, which he did not declare, are strong. Just because he had a problem with the doorknob, the roof or the color of the unit does not mean you won’t declare it. Otherwise, all public officials in the country can just explain their unexplained wealth by saying he has a problem with the developer,” he said.
Political analyst Clarita Carlos, meanwhile, said the only hope for Corona to convince the public and the senator-judges of his innocence is to come clean and not hide behind his right against self-incrimination.
“He cannot hide by keeping silent. Sa ordinary public, if you say that, you will be judged. We are not stupid people also. Invoking the right (against self-incrimination) is ill-advised. He will earn points. We are a very forgiving public. Kung manghihingi siya ng dispensa and admit that he made errors in judgment and maybe I suspect, he might resign. Unahan na niya yung vote. Yun ang damdam ko,” she said.
Carlos said resignation would be the honorable thing to do under the circumstances unless Corona decides to wait for the final vote. She also noted that the Senate verdict will have an impact on senators running for re-election in 2013.
Jimeno, meanwhile, said resignation is a personal decision that has not been raised by the Chief Justice.
“Hindi siya nababanggit. It’s a personal decision and he has not told anything to that effect, that he will do that. Sa palagay ko, in all of the hardship he has faced, he would have considered it already,” she said.
She added: “If he invokes his right against self incrimination, it is something that we don’t want to preempt. We hope that he will balance the exercise of his rights with the things he has said, that he will answer all the issues.”