MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - The "fruit of the poisonous tree" legal metaphor being raised by lawyers of Chief Justice Renato Corona for the Senate impeachment court to ignore information regarding his bank records cannot be used in his case, Senator-judge Francis Escudero said Friday.
Escudero, in an interview with dzMM, said a contested bank document that led to revelations regarding Corona's accounts at Philippine Savings Bank (PS Bank) is not even being offered as evidence by House prosecutors.
He said the signature card, the authenticity of which has been questioned, was only used as an annex in a request by the prosecution for the impeachment court to subpoena PSBank information on Corona's accounts.
"Fruit of the poisonous tree" is a legal metaphor used to describe evidence that is obtained illegally. The logic of the terminology is that if the source of the evidence is tainted, then anything gained from it is tainted as well.
"Iyung lohika ng 'fruit of the poisonous tree,' hindi mag-aaply dahil iyung diumano nilabas na dokumento, ay hindi minamarkahan bilang ebidensiya. Hindi ho ino-offer ng prosecution iyon. Hindi papasok iyung exclusionary rule na tinatawag," Escudero explained.
"Hindi nga ino-offer as evidence. I think the defense might be going too far to have all the bank accounts stricken off," he said.
He said it would be impractical to have the information about the contents of Corona's bank accounts be stricken off from the impeachment court records.
"Napaka-impractical noon. Alam na namin, alam na ng publiko. Napakahirap para sabihin sa isang judge na kalimutan mo lahat ng nakita at narinig mo," he said.
"To begin with, hindi ebidensiya iyung iprinisinta. Basehan lamang ng pag-issue ng subpoena," he added.
Prosecutors have also cited a 2006 Supreme Court ruling on a case filed by former President Joseph Estrada against the Sandiganbayan, which said that the "fruit of poisonous tree" principle does not apply to the Bank Secrecy Law that covers peso accounts.
"R.A. 1405... nowhere provides that an unlawful examination of bank accounts shall render the evidence obtained therefrom inadmissible in evidence," the high court ruling said.
Central Bank, DOJ task
Escudero said the Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the Department of Justice -- and not the Senate -- will look deeper into the authenticity of the signature card as well as how it may have been leaked.
"Iyung illegality ng pagkakakuha sa impormasyon, hiwalay na liability iyon," he said. "Dapat gawin na ng DOJ [Department of Justice] at BSP [Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas] iyung kanilang trabaho sa pagi-imbestiga."
"Ang mag-dedetermine kung actual copy iyung inilabas, dapat Bangko Sentral na," he added.
He said he would understand if a PSBank official denies that the document is authentic.
"Intindihin din natin ang PS Bank. Kapag inamin nila iyon, lapses sa security nila. Intindihin natin na itanggi [ng PSBank]," he said.
"Peke man iyon o hindi, it is up to the BSP or the DOJ to investigate already," he added.
Senator-judge Jinggoy Estrada earlier said he doesn't believe PSBank Katipunan bank manager Anabelle Tiongson's claim that the document is fake.
On Thursday, PS Bank President Pascual Garcia III said information in the document is authentic.
He said the only difference he noticed with regard to similar documents is the way that some of the information in the document is indicated.
Escudero, meanwhile, said the Senate should let the DOJ and the BSP handle the bank leak and focus on its main task at hand, which is the actual impeachment trial of Corona.
"Sang-ayon ako sa karamihan na medyo lumilihis na nga," he said, adding that he raised the issue during one of the hearings this week.
"Siguro, isa, dalawang hearing tungkol dito (leak) pero nakakatatlong araw na," he said. "Kaya nga kami nagsusot ng robe, para ipaalala na rin siguro, hindi ito congressional inquiry. Ito ay isang paglilitis."
He said Garcia, who is expected to take to the witness stand again on Monday, may present more information regarding Corona's bank accounts.
He was asked on Thursday by the Senate impeachment court to bring documents regarding the closure of Corona's 3 bank accounts on the same day he was impeached by Congress.
"Kapag may bago na namang ilalabas si Ginoong Garcia, magdi-direct examination at magpapamarka na naman iyung prosecution," he said.