The whole country is awaiting the highly anticipated appearance of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona in his own impeachment trial. There is not a day that goes by that the prosecution does not fail to ask the defense team when they will call Corona to the witness stand. And so do some of the Senator Judges. They keep insisting that only the chief magistrate alone can shed light into allegations against him. Never mind that they will never believe a word he is saying without the corroboration of other witnesses anyway.
Those who insist that Coronaâ€™s appearance will speed up the trial are wrong and are missing the point. Due to their biases against Corona, they cannot appreciate the fact that part of the defenseâ€™s strategy is to highlight the flaws in the way evidence was obtained by the prosecution and other hostile witnesses and, likewise, to establish the real motivation of the person who authorised the gathering of the evidence. So far the testimonies provided by defenseâ€™ hostile witness, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has been inconsistent.
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When asked in what capacity she applied herself in looking into Coronaâ€™s accounts, she said that when Corona submitted his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN), he technically gave the ombudsman a waiver to look into his accounts. Her statement actually contradicts one of the charges against Corona. We recall that part of the articles of impeachment complaint against Corona is his failure to disclose his SALN. Since the ombudsman already had his SALN, then the charges should have been dropped. Another inconsistency as pointed out by Senator Chiz Escudero is that her Power Point presentation showing Coronaâ€™s alleged dollar account includes 2012 transactions. However, Corona has yet to file his 2012 SALN. This means that any waiver issued by default to the ombudsman should not include 2012. This also means she went beyond her capacity to look into Coronaâ€™s alleged dollar accounts.
It was seemingly obvious that Ombudsman Morales is another witness who struggled to justify her motives in defying the law. She stammered through her responses to Senators who questioned the legality of her actions in prying open Coronaâ€™s alleged dollar accounts. The Foreign Currency Deposits Act should have guaranteed the secrecy of anyoneâ€™s foreign currency deposits including Coronaâ€™s. It seems like the anti-Corona mob have found a way to go around the trial courtâ€™s decision to uphold that law by using Ombudsman Moralesâ€™s claim that the Ombudsman Act of 1989 allowed her â€œto request assistance from agencies in connection with the discharge of my mandate.â€
It was Senator Miriam Santiago, a constitutional expert, who pointed out that the ombudsman might have stepped way beyond her capacity:
She specifically cited Republic Act 9160 or the Anti-Money Laundering Act and Republic Act 6426 or the Foreign Currency Deposit Act. She explained that under the AMLA, the AMLC should first find probable cause then file a complaint before the Department of Justice or the Ombudsman who shall then conduct a preliminary investigation of the case.
She likewise cited section 8 of RA 6426 which state: “All foreign currency deposits… are hereby declared as and considered of an absolutely confidential nature and, except upon the written permission of the depositor, in no instance shall foreign currency deposits be examined, inquired or looked into by any person, government official, bureau or office whether judicial or administrative or legislative, or any other entity whether public or private.”
Santiago said that Morales seems to take the position that the power of the Ombudsman under the Constitution to request the AMLC for assistance and information should prevail over the procedure provided in the AMLA and even over the decision of the Supreme Court.
The senators realised that this could be the very first time the agency AMLC appeared to have willingly cooperated in an investigation. And the question is: What is the difference this time? Senator Alan Peter Cayetano â€œrecalled that when he was investigating alleged irregularities committed under the Arroyo administration as Senate blue ribbon committee chair, he had difficulty convincing AMLC executive director Vicente Aquino to cooperate.â€ There are also conflicting reports that say â€œthe defense counsels received information that AMLC executive director Vicente Aquino denied investigating the so-called Corona accountsâ€ and â€œthat the report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) is unsigned and unauthenticatedâ€. The information in the last few days of the trial is certainly all very confusing for the general public.
The people are taken for a ride.
The evidence presented by Ombudsman Morales was very damning, indeed. At this point it is hard to determine who is telling the truth. Itâ€™s hard to know which side is taking the people for a ride. The allegation that Corona has over 10 million dollars in various accounts is incredible. It is hard to understand why the anti-money laundering agency did not call the attention of the office of the Ombudsman or Department of Justice a decade ago when they first noticed the irregularities in his alleged dollar accounts. More questions remain unanswered. Did the agency not do their job properly? Or could it be that the Office of the Ombudsman got their facts wrong? Like I said before, the timing of both the ombudsman’s and the AMLC’s participation in Coronaâ€™s prosecution is quite suspect. People should begin to ask, how many more public servants are getting away with hiding funds but are only investigated on when they become the enemy of the incumbent president?
It would be disappointing to say the least if the allegations made by the Ombudsman turn out to be true. A lot of people took Corona at face value when he said that he is innocent of the charges filed by the prosecution. In fact, a lot of people are still rallying behind him. If proven true, the damage his dollar accounts can inflict on the people who trusted him would be too devastating and could result in low morale descending upon his supporters and those who are upholding the rule of law.
When he finally takes the witness stand, my advice to Corona is to remain calm and collected. Judging from the way private and House prosecutors have behaved throughout the trial, the experience is likely to be quite testing for him. Rabid prosecutors and Senators allied with President Noynoy Aquino will try to break him on the stand by humiliating him, Iâ€™m sure. So the trick is for Corona to be the better person. His supporters came to like him because he acted with dignity throughout his ordeal. It is close to the home stretch and it would be a mistake on his part if he started acting like his detractors by stooping down to their level.
While Coronaâ€™s supporters were taken aback and felt disgusted at how PNoy repeatedly bullied Corona in public by emphasizing that he was a â€œmidnight appointeeâ€ and questioned the legality of his appointment by former President and Congresswoman Gloria Arroyo (GMA) again and again, Corona took things in stride and acted like a gentleman. It was something that most Filipinos do not get to see very often in a public servant.
Yes, some of Coronaâ€™s detractors feel a strong sense of schandenfreude or pleasure at seeing their perceived opponents suffer. They will try to humiliate and vilify Corona at the witness stand as soon as they hear the word â€œGo!â€ They are probably salivating at the thought of doing so right now. Letâ€™s just hope Corona disappoints them by acting like a real man all the way.
In life, things are not always what they seem.