Last night (the 12th of Feb 2012), the legal team defending Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona in his impeachment trial went public on a plot allegedly perpetrated by Executive Secretary Paquito â€œJojoâ€ Ochoa to “persuade” members of the Philippine Senate to defy a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court on the opening of dollar accounts allegedly held by Corona with Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank). The TRO was issued at the request of PSBank management following a summons issued by the Senate impeachment court ordering it to reveal details of these alleged foreign currency accounts — an order which would have put PSBank in violation of Section 8 of Republic Act 6426 (â€œForeign Currency Deposit Act of the Philippinesâ€) which states that foreign currency accounts are â€œabsolutely confidentialâ€.
Already possibly liable for serious charges relating to this violation are “online journalists” Magtanggol de la Cruz and Carmela Fonbuena who had earlier published the balance and account number of one such PSBank foreign currency account on “social news network” site Rappler.com even before the subject of a bank subpoena was even brought up in the trial proceedings. For his part, PSBank president Pascual Garcia III, it seems, has earned the admiration and respect of the banking and business community for almost single-handedly standing up for the entire financial services industry even as the full political weight of the prosecution team and their allies among the senator-judges bore down upon him…
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Mr. Garcia is certainly not out of the woods yet, but already he has earned the admiration of many who saw his admirable demeanor on live television. Most court observers said they expected a â€œconioticâ€ bank executive in the mold of Ayala Avenue lords, and were pleased to see a man who epitomized your friendly, trustworthy neighborhood banker. Someone pleasant and humbleâ€”why, he even joked about consulting his counsel before greeting the court â€œgood afternoonâ€â€”yet grim-faced when it came to declaring, repeatedly, that â€œif thereâ€™s any liability here, then let it be me [taking the blows].â€
The subpoena ordering PSBank and the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) to open their accounts to public scrutiny had been issued on the back of illegally-acquired information to begin with. The subpoena of the PSBank accounts traces its roots to an â€œanonymous sourceâ€ described by prosecution team member Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rey Umali as a â€œsmall ladyâ€ who handed to him an envelope allegedly containing Coronaâ€™s bank documents.
Both the unlawful origins of the information that underlies the Senate court subpoena of PSBank and BPI and the watertight nature of Philippine bank secrecy laws pertaining to foreign currency accounts alone make a restraining order on any further steps by the Senate impeachment court to act on the matter a robust proposition. Regardless of that, the Constitution makes it quite clear that the Supreme Court is the superior power in the state when it comes to interpreting the law and it alone has discretion over any court — even courts organised outside the jurisdiction of the judiciary (below taken from Article VIII Section 5, Part 5 of the Philippine Constitution) …
Rules of procedure of special courts and quasi-judicial bodies shall remain effective unless disapproved by the Supreme Court.
In short, the Senate impeachment court exists only because the Supreme Court allows it to.
Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III occupying Philippine hallowed space as the Son of Aquino supposedly anointed by the “graces” of the “will” of the Filipino people now fans the flames that have already been burning down instiutional governance in the Philippines by daring Corona to “voluntarily open his dollar accounts to scrutiny to prove he had nothing to hide”.
The fact that the President of the Philippines himself is not inhibiting himself from directly influencing the outcome of Corona’s impeachment trial lends some credibility to the allegations of the defense team that a top cabinet official of MalacaÃ±ang — no less than the Executive Secretary as alleged — would attempt to buy favours from the “honourable” members of the Philippine Senate. Suffice to say, the notion of Philippine politicians being on one unofficial private or public payroll or another is not exactly a shocker to most Filipinos. So lets not get all worked up over any perceived “insults” to one’s “honour” here, ladies and gentlemen.
In making this revelation, the defense team it seems is playing a shrewd gambit. It provokes the Senate impeachment court to bring to fore the elephant in the room that the formal “debate” has so far tiptoed around — the issue of participants in the trial directly engaging the Philippine media. After all, if there will be any contempt citations to be issued to the defense team for this recent stunt, there will surely be an equal and commensurate lashing that will have to be directed against the prosecution team too who themselves had even earlier openly and blatantly defied warnings from the court to desist from their own illegal publicity operations.
Facts are, as usual, on the side of the defense team. If we were to take a full accounting of the number of instances due process — specifically those that have to do with disclosure of the merits of the case to the media — was violated by either side, it is likely that the prosecution will already have racked up enough notches since the beginning of the trial (and even in the days before it started) for any judge to cite them in contempt ten times over.
I came across an interesting phrase that describes this circus…
Burning down the house to kill a rat.
That would have been an apt phrase to describe the Philippine political landscape if we weren’t aware of what is really at stake here for President Noynoy Aquino and the Cojuangco feudal clan to which he really answers to. The fate of the multi-billion peso family jewels — the vast Hacienda Luisita estate — had already been sealed by a Supreme Court order to have it subjected to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. The clan can always build ten new houses if they succeed at killing said “rat”.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.