MANILA, Philippines - The Senate, acting as impeachment court, ordered the Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) yesterday to produce the original records of accounts of Chief Justice Renato Corona to settle once and for all the question over the authenticity of the documents presented by the prosecution panel.
On Day 18 of the trial, Senate President and impeachment court presiding officer Juan Ponce Enrile ordered PSBank president Pascual Garcia III to bring the customer identification and specimen signature card of Corona for two peso-denominated accounts in the bank.
Enrile explained that the Senate would only be comparing the signatures of the approving officer for the opening of two accounts contained in one of the annexes attached by the prosecution panel in its supplemental request for subpoena last Feb. 3.
Garcia voiced concern regarding the order of the Senate because the original documents contain not only information about the peso accounts but also Corona’s foreign currency deposits.
He explained that as far as the account balances are concerned, the records are kept in separate documents, but for the other documents, they are lumped together.
It was Sen. Franklin Drilon who moved to secure the original bank documents after the authenticity of the photocopied documents presented by the prosecution to the court were put into question. He said the bank may submit the original documents but with the information on the foreign currency deposits covered.
Both Garcia and Katipunan branch manager Annabelle Tiongson have testified that the photocopied documents of the prosecution were fake because of differences with the original records kept by the bank.
Specifically, Garcia cited the highlights, underlines and some notations in the photocopied documents that were not present in the original copy.
In one particular document, Garcia said that there were signatures present in the photocopied documents that were not in the original.
But as far as the forms used as well as other information in the photocopied documents, Garcia admitted that they were similar.
Lawyer Regis Puno, legal counsel of PSBank, explained to the court that the concerns being raised by the bank were based on the fact that there is only one document involved and that this was “fake, spurious and bogus because of its differences” (with the original).
“Because of RA 6426 (Foreign Currency Deposits Act) they cannot disclose it. Because of the temporary restraining order (TRO) they cannot even discuss it. It is one single document and there is a TRO,” Puno said.
“With all due respect, what cannot be done directly in violating the TRO cannot be done indirectly by pointing to specific portions of that document, which they (bank officers) have already testified and stated to be fake. Even if you discuss particular portions of that so-called document, they will tend to establish certain facts in relation also to the FCDU (foreign currency deposit unit), therefore it is in violation of the TRO,” he added.
Drilon pointed out that it was the bank officers who created the entire controversy with their pronouncements that the prosecution’s documents were fake.
“We are not looking into the dollar accounts. We will not even look into that. It is just that we are testing the credibility of the witness (Tiongson),” Drilon said.
The prosecution, meanwhile, welcomed Enrile’s order. “At least it will settle the issue on what initially the bank manager has said as fake, a faked document. I think we can put that to rest already so we can move on,” said House prosecution spokesman Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada.
Another prosecution spokesman, Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo, urged the public to focus on Corona’s 10 accounts with PSBank and not on doubts raised regarding the authenticity of the records.
“We need to stress in strongest terms that we acted in good faith,” he added.
Rep. Juan Angara agreed with his colleagues that the testimonies of Garcia and Tiongson would only be confirmed or denied once the real Corona bank accounts are scrutinized by the impeachment body.
But Sen. Joker Arroyo said the impeachment court appeared to be spending so much time discussing the bank documents and in the end might face dilemma if these are proven to be fake.
“If spurious documents were presented here, what concerns me is simply this, if this is true, what happens?” Arroyo said.
Enrile explained that the order to secure the original documents from PSBank is meant to determine whether there are substantial differences contained in the photocopied documents.
“If this document is found to be falsified in some respect, then we will determine whether the falsification is substantial enough to exclude this as evidence at the proper time and second, to make those responsible for alterations to answer for it,” Enrile said.
“And it will be the burden of the prosecution to explain why they requested for a subpoena duces tecum in the face of an altered document. At the point, it’s up to the court to decide whether disciplinary measures will be imposed on those responsible for the alterations,” he added.
The prosecution panel led by Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas and Mindoro Oriental Rep. Reynaldo Umali were put on the spot after their story about how an anonymous source, “a little lady,” handed the documents to the latter at the Senate was questioned by the senator-judges.
Apart from the account opening documents, the Senate also directed Tiongson to bring the logbook of her branch containing the records of every person who had access to the vault containing these documents.
In her previous testimony, Tiongson said that access to the documents is limited to four persons only, including herself.
She said that the filing cabinet inside the vault where the documents are contained can only be opened using the keys held by any two of the four bank officers at any given time.
Whenever this is accessed, Tiongson said that the two officers involved would have to sign the logbook for record purposes.
DOJ may step in
The Department of Justice has the authority to look into the reported fake bank records of Corona that members of the House prosecution team have provided the Senate hearing the impeachment case against the chief magistrate, a Palace official said yesterday.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said concerns about violations of the Bank Secrecy Law are well within the ambit of prosecutors from the DOJ, mainly because they are criminal in nature.
“If it’s a violation, if there is an alleged violation of the Bank Secrecy Law, that would be the Department of Justice. Criminal case po iyan,” she told Palace reporters in a briefing, when asked which agency would help investigate the matter.
“Normally, it is initiated by a complaint especially if there is a private entity that is involved,” Valte said, downplaying insinuations the leaked bank records could have come from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
“On the bank documents, let’s not be confused. Remember that there are bank documents that were brought by the witnesses and there were bank documents that were attached by the prosecution,” she said.
These documents were “in support of their (House prosecutors) motion for the issuance of a subpoena which they admitted very frankly in their motion that (it) was unverified,” Valte maintained.
She also dismissed speculations the bank documents came from the Palace. “Malacañang has no access to these records. As testified to by the bank manager herself, only they have custody or access to these records,” she said.
She added she sees no problem with other officials, including those from the BSP, being asked to testify in the impeachment trial.
Valte also said Sen. Jinggoy Estrada raised a “valid question” regarding the authenticity of the bank records submitted by the prosecution to the impeachment court.
“This is an issue that can properly be addressed by bank officials themselves because they have custody of their records,” she said.
For the prosecution, there’s no doubt the photocopies of bank documents in its possession showing the peso and dollar accounts of Corona are authentic.
In a manifestation filed with the Senate impeachment court, the prosecution panel said the impeachment tribunal, through the supposedly fake documents, was able to confirm the existence of 10 accounts of Corona with Philippine Savings Bank-Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City branch.
It said even the Chief Justice, through lawyers representing him in his impeachment trial, has confirmed his dollar deposits when he promised that he would disclose information about these in “due time.”
“Even the defense effectively admitted the existence of the dollar accounts by undertaking to open them ‘in due time.’ This confirmation tends to show that Annexes A to A-4 (referring to the photocopies) are seemingly and reasonably authentic,” the panel said.
It urged Corona to now open his dollar accounts “to resolve this issue once and for all and in order to arrive at the truth.”
Tupas and prosecution manager Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya of Cavite filed the manifestation in compliance with an order from the impeachment court to explain the documents in their possession.
The impeachment tribunal issued the order after Tiongson described one of the documents in the prosecution’s possession as “fake.”
Tupas and Abaya said the tribunal could not rely on the say-so of PSBank officers since they “have a natural motive to deny their authenticity because they would want to avoid potential liability for the possible leakage of their bank records.”
“There has to be an actual production of the original records of PSBank pertaining to all the peso and dollar accounts of respondent so that a proper comparison and verification can be made,” they said.
Tañada said Tiongson appeared nervous and erratic when she testified last Thursday.
“She initially told the impeachment court, in answer to questions raised by Sen. Estrada, that the documents in the bank’s possession and those with the prosecution matched. She later backtracked and claim they were fake,” he said.
He reiterated that the so-called fake documents yielded accurate information on the five peso accounts and five dollar accounts of Corona with PSBank-Katipunan.
Corona dared anew
The prosecution also reiterated its challenge to Corona to make good his promise to open all his bank accounts, including his dollar deposits. The Supreme Court has issued a temporary restraining order on the presentation of Corona’s foreign currency deposits with PSBank.
“The defense lawyers and the Chief Justice himself made a commitment that they will open all his bank accounts – both peso and dollar – in due course and we will have to take their word for it,” said panel spokesman Angara.
Voting 13-10, the Senate resolved on Monday to comply with the TRO preventing the impeachment court from examining the chief magistrate’s dollar accounts believed to contain at least $700,000 or roughly P30 million.
Quimbo, however, said an assurance from the defense team to open the dollar accounts “provides some kind of relief to this temporary setback.”
“We welcome the commitment made by the Chief Justice and his counsels. We thought there was no other way for us to see the contents of Mr. Corona’s dollar accounts after the Senate ruling until we get this commitment from the defense,” Quimbo added in a statement.
Republic Act 6426 or the Foreign Currency Deposit Act guarantees absolute confidentiality of foreign denominated accounts. There is only one exception to the confidentiality of foreign currency deposits: it can be examined only with the consent of the depositor.
Tañada said they hope Corona will issue a written consent to opening his dollar accounts to scrutiny “at the soonest possible time.”
“We couldn’t wait to see the dollar deposits of the Chief Justice. We’re glad Mr. Corona himself will make these accounts public. The prosecution expects him to sign a written permission to that effect,” Tañada said.
On Sunday, defense lawyers asked President Aquino to “relax” and just wait for the Chief Justice to open his bank accounts in due time.
“Kung bank account ang pinoproblema nyo, ‘wag kayong mag-alala. Bubuksan nya lahat ‘yan dahil hindi niya ninakaw ‘yan… Relax lang kayo, Ginoong Pangulo (If you’re having problem with his dollar account, don’t worry he’s going to open it because it’s not stolen. Relax, Mr. President),” a defense statement read by lawyer Dennis Manalo said.
But last Monday, one of Corona’s lawyers, Jose Roy III, told the impeachment tribunal their client did not authorize them to release his bank information because the Chief Justice himself would do it in “due course.”
“Let me be clear. This is the way we understood our instructions. The Chief Justice has informed us and authorized us to announce that he would disclose the bank accounts himself at the appropriate time. That is what we mean by ‘in due course,’” Roy said in response to a query from Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III.
Corona is being accused of failing to make truthful and honest declaration in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) in violation of the Constitution.
Pieces of evidence presented before the Senate impeachment court have so far yielded close to P32 million in unreported cash deposits in 2010 alone and P27.2 million worth of undervalued properties, both of which could not be supported by his income.
Meanwhile, Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay hit Malacañang yesterday for dismissing a testimony from a PSBank official that Corona’s bank records in the possession of the prosecution were fake.
The opposition lawmaker was commenting on the statement of presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda that the documents in question were authentic.
“How can Lacierda say that (authentic) for a fact? Do they have something to do with procuring documents illegally? Because it appears that way,” Magsaysay said.
“Doesn’t he realize that he is instigating a loss of confidence with the depositors (of PSBank) which may lead to a bank run? Doesn’t he realize its impact on the banking industry and on the economy as a whole?” – With Delon Porcalla, Jess Diaz, Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero - By Marvin Sy