BUSINESS WORLD REPORT: DOLLAR ACCOUNT CLAIMS TO BE DEBUNKED

MANILA, MAY 15, 2012 (BUSINESS WORLD) BY ANTONIO SIEGFRID O. ALEGADO, Reporter - THE DEFENSE counsel of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona will start debunking allegations that the head magistrate keeps $10 million in various accounts when the trial resumes today after a three-day break, spokespersons of the panel said.

“They will take the witness stand to verify statements they made and then we will present the CJ (Chief Justice) to answer allegations made against him,” Karen Olivia V. Jimeno, defense spokesperson, said in a briefing on Friday, referring to five subpoenaed personalities related to allegations that the dollar accounts exist.

The Senate, sitting as impeachment court, on Wednesday told Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden F. Bello, former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, civil society group Kaya Natin convener Harvey S. Keh, and a certain Emmanuel T. Santos to take the witness stand today.

Despite admitting that the defense team has yet to communicate with Ms. Carpio-Morales, Ms. Jimeno said they intend to present her first.

“The most important subpoenaed official will first take the stand, the Ombudsman,” she said.

The defense team requested that the five testify, following reports that Ms. Carpio-Morales has ordered the head magistrate to explain the latter’s alleged $10-million account amid a modest salary.

The chief graft buster’s order was made amid charges filed separately by Ms. Baraquel and Messrs. Bello, Keh and Santos on alleged dollar deposits in various banks. The court has been on break since Wednesday to give the defense time to prepare for new witnesses.

Asked what the defense team knows about the alleged $10-million account, defense spokesperson and lawyer Tranquil G.S. Salvador III claimed: “We know that it does not exist.”

“Those who make accusations or charges have to account for it. That’s the reason why we asked for them to be subpoenaed,” Mr. Salvador said in the same briefing.

“If you can go to that extent -- giving the Senate President (Juan Ponce Enrile) a sealed envelope -- I think you can take the witness stand,” he added.

He was referring to Mr. Enrile’s, who is presiding judge, admission that Mr. Keh had delivered to his office documents supposedly proving the existence of Mr. Corona’s dollar accounts.

EYE ON DOLLAR ACCOUNTS

A caucus of senator-judges will also be held before the start of today’s trial to discuss whether the Senate will defy an existing high court stay order against the presentation of Mr. Corona’s alleged dollar accounts at Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank).

The issue was raised anew after Senator-judge Aquilino Martin “Koko” d.L. Pimentel III asked if PSBank records are needed to be presented, since they will be tackling dollar accounts again.

PSBank was earlier allowed by the Senate to not disclose the supposed dollar accounts pursuant to Republic Act (RA) 1405 or the Foreign Currency Deposit Act.

The banking law states that foreign currency deposit account can be opened only through a written consent of the owner.

But Mr. Salvador said the matter will be moot and academic once the Chief Justice takes the witness stand.

“If and when the CJ answers the questions [related to alleged PSBank dollar accounts], the TRO (temporary restraining order) on PSBank records is moot,” he said.

Defense lawyers had vowed before the impeachment court that they will present Mr. Corona to disprove allegations against him.

Asked if Mr. Corona will indeed answer questions on PSBank records, Ms. Jimeno said: “Let’s not prejudge him.”

“We have no apprehension. Sinabi niya sasagutin niya lahat punto por punto (Mr. Corona told us he will answer point per point),” she added.

“Remember, the court had already said it will interpret everything,” Mr. Salvador added. “If he (Mr. Corona) answers, there will be an interpretation. If he doesn’t answer, it will still be interpreted.”

The Office of the Ombudsman earlier ordered Mr. Corona to explain his assets, including his alleged $10-million deposit.

Mr. Corona’s defense team has already denied the allegations, and branded the Ombudsman’s information as “phoney.”

They also maintained that the Office of the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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