Corona to testify on Tuesday

By David Dizon, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at May 16 2012 05:28 PM | Updated as of May 17 2012 10:30 AM

CJ defense ready to accept the verdict

Without CJ, defense's case will crumble, says Belmonte

MANILA, Philippines  (4th UPDATE) - Chief Justice Renato Corona will finally testify in his Senate impeachment trial on Tuesday, May 22, more than 4 months after the historic trial started.

On Day 39 of the trial, lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas said the defense team will dispense with the other witnesses since their testimonies will no longer be corroborative.

He asked the court to give the defense team until Tuesday to present Corona so they could examine an Anti-Money Laundering Council report detailing the chief magistrate’s alleged 82 dollar accounts and over 400 transactions in 5 local banks. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile agreed to the request, adding that he will no longer give an extension.

Defense lawyer Judd Roy also asked for a soft copy of the Ombudsman’s PowerPoint presentation on the AMLC report, which was presented by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales in the past 2 days. Morales earlier said the AMLC report revealed that Corona owned $12 million in "fresh deposits."

Enrile ordered the Senate secretariat to furnish soft copies of the presentation to both the defense and the prosecution.

'Rebuttal witnesses?'

Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. said they will wait for Corona's testimony before deciding if they will summon rebuttal witnesses.

Under the rules, both sides can present two representatives each to give their closing arguments. Both sides will be given 1 hour each for their closing arguments.

"It will be the House of Representatives that will open and the House of Representatives that will close it," Enrile said.

He also said he will consider a proposal to continue hearings until Friday, May 25. He said the Senate impeachment trial must reach a verdict by the end of the month.

Corona is accused of failing to disclose several multimillion-peso bank accounts and real estate properties in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs).

He is also accused of bias for former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when the Supreme Court issued an order allowing her to seek medical treatment abroad.

‘Dollar deposits is key’

Sen. Sergio Osmeña said Corona’s alleged dollar deposits may well be the key issue that could determine the chief magistrate’s guilt or innocence.

“It all boils down to 1 big issue. Why did he not declare his foreign currency deposits? He has to make a pretty good explanation to convince the court, or the majority, or even the minority that he did it innocently or overlooked it but that’s a lot of money to overlook,” he told ANC.

He added: “It doesn't have to be $12 million or $10 million. As long as a sizable amount is not declared, it may be sufficient for the judges.”

He also said he cannot second-guess how Corona will explain his dollar accounts “unless he says it belongs to [former first gentleman] Mike Arroyo.”

Osmeña said he expects Corona to be well prepared for his testimony on Tuesday after getting another 5 days to go over the testimony of Ombudsman Morales.

'Hundreds of questions'

The senator said questions from the defense and prosecution to Corona could last all day Tuesday. He said the senators could then ask questions from the Chief Justice on Wednesday, May 23, and Thursday, May 24.

“There will be hundreds of questions,” he said.

He said if the prosecution summons rebuttal witnesses, they could be presented on Friday, May 25, if the Senate allows it. Among the rebuttal witnesses that the prosecution could summon are Commissioner Heidi Mendoza of the Commission on Audit and the bank managers.

Osmeña said both sides could deliver their closing arguments on Monday, May 28, before the Senate finally makes a decision.

“It won’t take long because we’ve been absorbing this as we’ve gone along. We might ask for 1 day to review the evidence since this is not the trial…It is really each individual senator’s call. It is not going to be that hard,” he said.

Asked what he could ask Corona on the stand, he said he will ask the chief magistrate to waive his right to bank secrecy and open his dollar accounts to the Senate.

“Since he is willing to divulge his dollar accounts, then gawin na niya…If the balance is zero, then I am pretty sure he will be acquitted,” he said. 

CJ defense ready to accept verdict
 
Meantime, Corona's defense lawyers said they are ready to accept the verdict of the impeachment court.

“The defense is ready to accept the verdict of the Senate Impeachment Court, and we hope that the President is ready, too," they said in a statement.
 
Defense spokesman Rico Quicho said the defense team will be presenting the Chief Justice “to once and for all bury all the accusations against him.”

They disagreed with the prosecution's claim the game was over for Corona following the testimony of the Ombudsman on the chief justice's dollar accounts and transactions.

Quicho urged the public to be wary and critical of the Ombudsman’s testimony, since it was based on an unverified report of the AMLC.

“Our people should be meticulous.  The AMLC report is similar to the Land Registration Authority (LRA) list on Corona's 45 alleged properties, which turned out to be bloated.  I believe our people are wise enough this time.  They are holding back judgment and want to hear the side of the Chief Justice.  They have been burned by stories of the 45 properties, small lady, mysterious envelope in the doorsteps so much so they are not easily get carried away by the 82 foreign dollar account," he said.

Quicho added, “The Chief Justice has clearly stated that he will answer squarely all issues hurled against him.”

'Without Corona, defense's case will crumble'

For leaders of the House of Representatives, only Corona can rebut the testimony of the defense panel's own hostile witness, Carpio-Morales.

House Speaker Sonny Belmonte said, "The most awaited testimony of the court is the testimony of the chief justice and as I've said, I myself personally believes that he will testify because he has no choice. He is the only one who can extricate himself from all of these, if he can ha. And definitely, we will prepare a rigorous examination of CJ, but whether there's a need for rebuttal, it's another thing. Because what is there to rebut? Because we have to admit that everything here in the record is damning for him, including evidences that they have, like for instance, the explanations nila on the Basa-Guidote property, how it was manipulated from one person to another. I don't see it is...Well that's his last chance eh."

House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales said, "you have to remember na ang nagatawag kay Ombudsman is, ang defense. So if at all, ang merong obligasyon ngayon to rebut her testimony is the defense itself. Kasi yung mga sinabi naman ni Ombudsman Morales is damaging to the defense. Hindi naman damaging sa prosecution. And you only try to rebut something when it is damaging to your cause and it, on the contrary, it helps the prosecution. Kaya ang meron talagang dapat mag-rebut nito and to disprove their claim will be the defense, to disprove and to rebut their own witness. If he does not take the witness stand, they are surely done."

Gonzales added, "Kasi kahit anong sabihin ng mga abogado niya, kahit anong mga, keso gwapo yang mga yan, keso magaganda yang mga yan, hearsay din naman yung mga sasabihin ng mga yan because only CJ Corona is capable and has the personal knowledge of denying kung ano ba talaga ang mga pumapasok na ebidensiya na 'to."

Gonzales said without Corona, the defense's case will crumble.

"Pero pag hindi nila prinesinta rito si Chief Justice Corona, then that will really spell their end, regardless whether i-present nila ang AMLC or mga banch managers, that's beside the point as far as I'm concerned. But what is indispensable for their cause is siguradong dapat mag-testify dyan si chief justice at magsalita siya at i-explain niya kung ano yung nilalaman nung report ni Ombudsman and after that, tsaka lang kami papasok kung kailangan ba naming mag-rebuttal, depende sa magiging testimony niya."

'Ombudsman's documents credible'

The House also vouched for the credibility of the documents submitted by Carpio-Morales, which is also the basis for her testimony.

Belmonte gave copies of the report to the media.

"We have to rely on the records given by the authorities...In this particular case, the items were so numerous that it is really quite impossible to, even if she wanted, to verify it, but anyway it is not necessary. It was given to her by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) and that's sufficient," he said.

Belmonte left it to the Senate to call officials of the Anti-Money laundering council to authenticate the report of the ombudsman." I think that's up to the Senate to do that. We ourselves have given a copy of the report and we'll give you a copy of the report."

Prosecution spokesman Rep. Sonny Angara warned the defense it will not help this case to summon the AMLC. "Definitely, it will be a disadvantage because the AMLC is just to authenticate the report."

'AMLC testimony, a nuclear bomb vs CJ'

Gonzales pointed out, " As a legal strategy, kasi ako naman naging practitioner din ako nang matagal eh. I don't believe na ipatatawag ng defense ang AMLC or the branch manager. Ang magpapatawag nito ang mga senador, but definitely it will not come from the defense. Because otherwise kung papatawawg nila yan, kung nabigla na sila sa sinabi ni Ombudsman, eh talagang pag kinonfirm ng AMLC yan, at kasama na mga bank manager eh talaagng parang ano na 'to, nuclear bomb na sasabog na talaga sa mukha nila."

Gonzales, however, warned that the defense was becoming too focused on technicalities. "Kaya makikita niyo sa kanilang mga sinasabi ngayon, sa mga spokesperson nila na kwine-kwestyon nila, there should be a court order, tama ba na nireveal kaagad ito. But the fact remains that the Ombudsman already testified. Nandyan na ang ebidensiya, and considering the historical, yung kaniyang trait ni Ombudsman, eh wala namang record 'to in the past na talagang ano 'to, hindi naman para may dahilan tayo para magsinungaling. So andyan na yan. It remains part of the record regardless of the legal issue, then this is something that CJ and CJ alone can fully explain."

Gonzales said the defense may exploit this as a way to drag the Supreme Court again into the picture. "Kung sasabihin na nila yan, kailangan ang Supreme Court ang mag-decide ng issue na yan, kung pu-pwedeng i-reveal na, kung gagawin ng defense yan na it becomes a legal issue na kailangan pa ng court order muna bago ireveal yan ng AMLC sa Ombudsman, well, edi ibinibigay natin to sa home court advantage ni Chief Justice Corona. Supreme court yan kaya hindi rin pu-pwede at this point na Supreme Court ang magdecide niyan because it's obviously na may suspetya kaagad na maging biased sila in favour of chief justice."

'It's all about accountability, public trust'

House prosecution panel spokesman Lorenzo 'Erin' Tañada III said Corona's testimony is what prosecutors and the Filipino people have been waiting for.

He reiterated that the rationale for impeaching the chief justice is to make him accountable for his wrongdoing.

"Ang usapin dito ay public trust, pananagutan. Ang importante ay ipakita na no one is above the law," he said.
 
Tañada said the public and private prosecutors will be very respectful of the office of the chief justice when he testifies. "There should be no doubt about this," he said.

'Prosecution is ahead with only 2 minutes left'

Asked if he thought the prosecution is way ahead with only "2 minutes left" in the trial, Tañada said he believes their lead increased after Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales testified on Corona's dollar accounts and transactions based on an AMLC report.

"Sa tingin namin nakakalamang kami, hindi naman sa tinatambakan," he told radio dzMM.

Tañada said the prosecution had long been prepared to cross-examine Corona, noting that there were rumors that the defense might present the chief justice on May 7 when the trial resumed.

"Matagal po namin pinaghahandaan ito," he said.

Tañada said Senate President Enrile has done a good job of "officiating" the trial.

Asked if he has a dollar account, Tañada said he recently opened one with a deposit of $20,000. He said he will declare his dollar account in his 2012 Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net worth. -- with reports from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News