MANILA, Philippines - Three of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s time deposits in Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) with a combined total of P36.5 million as of end-2010 were closed on Dec. 12 last year, the day he was impeached by the House of Representatives, a witness for the prosecution testified yesterday.
Lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas emphasized to the Senate impeachment court that the peso accounts in question were not covered by the Articles of Impeachment against the Chief Justice.
PSBank Katipunan branch manager Annabelle Tiongson said Corona’s peso deposit with account number 089-121019593 was opened on Dec. 22, 2009 with an initial amount of P8.5 million.
She said that as of Dec. 31, 2010, the account had increased to P12.5 million, but was closed on Dec. 12, 2011.
Another peso deposit with account number 089-121021681 with an opening amount of P7,019, 099.45 was also closed on Dec. 12, 2011, she said.
PSBank president Pascual Garcia III also revealed Corona had another peso time deposit account 089-121023848 with an opening balance of P17 million on June 29, 2011. It was “closed and terminated” on Dec. 12 last year.
Garcia volunteered the information, adding Corona had a total of four time deposit accounts in the bank.
He said the chief magistrate opened a peso time deposit 089-121-02-144 on July 23, 2010 with a balance of P7,380,438.65. This account was closed on Sept. 1, 2010, he said.
From the testimonies of the two bank officials, Corona had withdrawn a total of P36.5 million in the three bank accounts on the day he was impeached by the House.
Impeachment court presiding officer Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile allowed Garcia to testify further on the two other accounts of Corona since he himself revealed them to the court.
“If there are peso accounts, since you have testified on them now, it is proper for you to testify what are those peso accounts,” Enrile told Garcia.
“This is a new amount of money, deposited with a different account number,” Enrile said.
“It was separate account, with separate account number but the source of the fund deposited, we have no (idea),” Garcia explained.
“In addition… there are two other accounts because I have no details as of the moment… I will probably disclose it formally later, and the other one is a current account,” Garcia told Enrile.
Asked about the first two accounts, Garcia revealed they were connected to the five earlier mentioned in the court’s subpoena. The two additional accounts were new ones.
Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada remarked that it was “quite suspicious that these three accounts were all closed on the day that the Chief Justice was impeached.”
It was on Dec. 12, 2011 that 188 congressmen signed the impeachment complaint accusing Corona of betrayal of public trust, graft and corruption, and culpable violation of the Constitution.
Later in the hearing, Tiongson said the withdrawals in the three time deposits closed on Dec. 12 were made through managers’ checks that were covered by an authorization letter provided by Corona to his wife Cristina.
Tiongson said she was unsure whether the amounts had been withdrawn or “negotiated” but assured the impeachment court that these were not transferred to new accounts in the same bank.
Tiongson vowed to provide more information on where the money went upon her return to the witness stand for the next impeachment hearings and upon subpoena of the court.
Tiongson further testified Corona opened a time deposit on Jan. 26, 2009 under account number 089-1210117358 with a balance of P2.1 million and this was closed on April 16, 2009.
She said Corona had opened a time deposit on March 4, 2010, under account number 089-121020122 with a balance of P3.7 million and which was closed on April 23, 2010.
Another time deposit was opened on May 16, 2007 under account number 089-121011957 – with an amount of P2 million – and was closed on Oct. 2, 2008, she said.
Sen. Sergio Osmeña III asked Tiongson if she knew of other bank accounts of Corona with PSBank apart from the five time deposits she had mentioned and the dollar accounts.
Tiongson replied these were the only bank deposits that she knew of.
Garcia, for his part, was left with no choice but to reveal Corona’s two other accounts – making him owner of seven peso accounts with PSBank – after Osmeña asked him whether the Chief Justice had other deposit instruments with the bank.
Osmeña had ordered the PSBank officials to bring information and certifications on Corona’s other possible investments with the bank.
Garcia revealed the accounts containing opening balances of P7 million and P17 million, respectively, in 2010 and 2011.
“I have certified that Renato Corona has no peso account with PSBank that classified as either investment, management or trust account, a unit investment trust fund or mutual account. I have done so in compliance with subpoena ad testificandum, and duces tecum Feb. 13, 2012,” he said.
“So therefore, he (Corona) has certificates of deposits, settlement accounts, time deposits, current accounts and savings accounts?” Osmeña asked Garcia.
Garcia explained the two other peso dominated accounts under the name of Corona were brought to the impeachment court’s attention since they were not previously covered by the first subpoena earlier this month.
“With respect to that, we do have other peso denominated accounts under Renato Coronado Corona, which were not subject matter of the subpoena. There are other peso accounts that are not in the original subpoena,” he said.
An attempt to conceal
Sen. Loren Legarda asked the prosecution about the relevance of the closing of the accounts in 2011 to Article 2 of the impeachment complaint, paragraph 2.2 of which refers to Corona’s failure to disclose his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) from 2002 to 2010.
Private prosecutor Demetrio Custodio answered that while the 2011 peso accounts of Corona were not relevant to their complaint, this indicated the chief magistrate’s preparation for the impeachment trial.
Custodio stressed the closure of the accounts was an attempt to conceal his bank deposits.
At the start of the trial yesterday, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago asked members of the prosecution if they want to consider Tiongson and Garcia as hostile witnesses.
Santiago said it appears that Tiongson has turned into a hostile witness as she testified that the document attached in the prosecution’s request for subpoena is “fake.”
Because Tiongson is the prosecution’s witness, Santiago said her statements bind the prosecution.
“Do you want to consider them as hostile witnesses?” Enrile asked lead prosecutor Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas.
“At the moment your honor, no,” Tupas replied. “We don’t consider our witnesses as hostile.”
“Well, I’m just trying to help your counsel. The rules of evidence are if he becomes a hostile witness you gain the right to impeach her, ask her leading questions… that is my warning to you, this judge is just trying to be helpful to you,” Santiago told Tupas.
The defense panel, however, doused speculations of attempts by the chief magistrate to hide the P36.5 million in the three peso time deposit accounts with PSBank on the same day he was impeached by the House.
“They are trying to mislead us. They add all existing accounts. Sometimes if you got five (million) from one account, then you can open another account (using the same amount) and make it 12 (million),” defense counsel Rico Paolo Quicho said.
“We will focus on the details, once we get the opportunity to present it…I assure them that once it is our time to present, we will be able to explain them methodically and convincingly. We will make sure that every (year) end, will have a corresponding explanation…” Quicho added.
Another defense counsel Tranquil Salvador III said there was no anomaly in Corona’s bank accounts, since Mrs. Corona was entrusted some P 37 million in 2001 by the Manila government in connection with the expropriations of the property of the Basa Guidote Enterprises Inc, a corporation said to be owned by Cristina’s family.
Salvador said the defense is ready to explain in due time, noting that defense is yet to have the chance to controvert evidence presented by the prosecution.
On the impression created by the revelations that Corona closed three more peso time deposits on the day he was impeached, Quicho appealed for more understanding from the public to wait for their turn to present their side on the issue.
“That is what they want to happen. They are entitled to that. I am holding on to what I think is right, notwithstanding that we are already leaking this information out this early. We are asking for sobriety, more fairness from the public,” Quicho said.
The prosecution said Corona’s move to close the three bank accounts was a “clear sign of guilt.”
“We are appalled by this latest development. The fact that he ordered these accounts terminated the same day the House impeached him tends to show that there was an attempt on his part to conceal these,” prosecution spokesman Marikina City Rep. Miro Quimbo said.
Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada also accused the Chief Justice of hiding his huge bank deposits.
“This is a clear sign that Mr. Corona is guilty of concealing huge banks deposits,” he said.
“The P17 million in just one deposit represents about 30 years of his pay as Supreme Court justice based on the documents of the Bureau of Internal Revenue. The only way he can justify this huge stash, aside from being perhaps a repeat winner in PSBank raffles, is that he was a secret Lotto winner,” Tañada said.
On the other hand, House Majority Leader and Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales II raised the possibility that PSBank altered its records of the accounts of Corona to protect itself.
Gonzales said this could be possible since the senator-judges continue to grapple with the question on whether the copies of PSBank documents on Corona’s accounts presented by the prosecutors were faithful reproductions.
Gonzales noted Tiongson earlier testified the photocopy of bank documents presented by prosecutors was fake.
The particular photocopy of opening balances and Corona’s specimen signatures was attached by the prosecution panel to its request to the Senate impeachment court to subpoena the bank records of the Chief Justice.
Tupas and Malacañang stressed the documents were authentic since the bank officials confirmed the accounts did exist.
“Also it’s unfair for the branch manager to say for the first time that it was fake but they don’t want to reveal why they’re saying it’s fake. If they’re (witnesses) asked where the documents are but they said they cannot answer, that’s because there is a TRO (temporary restraining order) from the Supreme Court,” Gonzales told reporters in Filipino.
“I think that’s a very unfair statement for the Senate to accept hook, line and (sinker), it’s also unfair to the prosecution. Many of those asking the questions are senators and then they say ‘you (prosecutors) are bound by the statement of your witness’ so what can we do?” he said.
Gonzales said it was fortunate the trial “forced” the disclosure of some information on the bank accounts.
PSBank was able to obtain a TRO after petitioning the SC to block the Senate impeachment court’s subpoena on Corona’s dollar accounts.
“But many days have passed. I’m not saying that it’s true but what if they (records) were changed? If the file was changed to protect their burden. That’s the danger there. You allow certain things to be fake on the basis of something and they don’t want to show (proof) because there’s a TRO. That’s unfair,” Gonzales said. – Paolo Romero - By Christina Mendez and Helen Flores