Senator-Judge Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. leads the members of the Senate impeachment court in praying before the start of Day 36 of the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona at the Senate session hall in Pasay City on May 8.  (PNA photo by Jess M. Escaros Jr.)

MANILA — Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and four others have been ordered to appear before the Senate impeachment court and testify in the trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona on Monday.

Morales was also directed to bring with her the original and certified true copy of the complaints against Corona filed before the Office of the Ombudsman and the documents from which the complainants based their accusations that Corona had foreign currency accounts with an aggregate value of $10 million.

“Fail not,” read the one-page subpoena ad testificandum et duces tecum.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, presiding officer of the impeachment court, issued the subpoena to the Ombudsman to shed light on a case filed by Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello, former Rep. Risa Hontiveros, Emmanuel Tiu Santos and Harvey Keh against Corona in connection with his alleged $10-million deposits.

Although Bello is covered by parliamentary immunity, Enrile said he was summoned because “he has waived his inter-parliamentary immunity from a compulsory process by this court because he complained to the Ombudsman.”

Bello, who is in Vienna, Austria attending a conference, said he is prepared to testify because “the people have the right to know the truth behind Corona’s wealth.”

The Senate president did not issue subpoena for the other complainants Ruperto Aleroza, Gibby Torres, Albert Concepcion, Earnest Francis Calayag, Moses Mikhael SD and Tristan Daine Brioso Zinampan.

In their request for subpoena, Corona’s lawyers Jose Roy III and Dennis Manalo said the prosecution has “maliciously presented in evidence Corona’s bank accounts to prove that he did not disclose all his personal properties in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN) for the years 2002 to 2010.”

“They also surreptitiously imply that CJ Corona has foreign denominated accounts, which were not disclosed in his SALN,” the defense’s subpoena said, arguing that the complaints involve matters and issues already pending before the impeachment court.

Million-dollar question

In what could be a complete turnaround from the defense’s earlier statements that the $10-million complaint should not have bearing on the present impeachment complaint, Corona’s camp asserted that “the veracity of the charges...and Keh’s statements before the media that CJ Corona has dollar and euro accounts, definitely have bearing on these proceedings...”

Corona’s team said the Ombudsman and the complainants have to testify “in order to prove that CJ Corona does not have foreign denominated accounts amounting to U.S.$10 million and for them to explain why an investigation is being conducted on matters already within the jurisdiction of the honorable impeachment court.”

While the $10-million deposit was not mentioned in the impeachment case filed against Corona, Enrile said there was no need to amend the complaint.

The impeachment court is looking into three of the eight Articles of Impeachment against Corona.

Article 2 accuses him of betrayal of public trust and/or culpable violation of the Constitution for his non-disclosure of some of his alleged properties and bank accounts in his SALN.

According to his lawyers, Corona vowed to answer all allegations but only after the $10-million deposit is brought before the impeachment court.

While Enrile reiterated that the Chief Justice will be accorded due respect when he testifies in the trial, the presiding officer added that “it is up to the Chief Justice to defend himself or not.”

“We are not going to be abrasive or be disrespectful. We will grant him all the courtesies due him as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court,” Enrile said.

The Senate president, however, refused to give any categorical answer when asked about the possibility that the Chief Justice and his lawyers might just focus his testimony on the $10-million bank accounts.

“Well, it’s up to them. I will not teach them how to defend their client. They cannot control the decision of the court,” the Senate president said.

Delaying tactic

But Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, a member of the prosecution panel, said the condition set by defense lawyers that the Ombudsman and other hostile witnesses should first testify before Corona takes the witness stand could be a “delaying tactic.”

“I have never seen an accused in a case imposing conditions on a court. The demand for the testimony of the 11 complainants (in the case against Corona in the Ombudsman’s office) is intended to delay,” he said.

He added that it was clear from the statements of defense lawyer Roy before the impeachment court Tuesday that Corona’s testimony would depend on the weight of evidence to be presented by the Ombudsman and the complainants in the case against the Chief Justice that she is investigating.

He said that the impeachment tribunal is already wasting two days just because Corona’s camp wanted to prepare for its hostile witnesses.

Colmenares pointed out that if nothing comes out of the testimonies of such witnesses, the defense would have delayed the trial by several days, which would prompt the impeachment court to work overtime and extend its hearings.

He added that Corona must not be choosy in answering questions once he finally decides to take the witness stand.

On Tuesday, Roy said Corona, if he testifies, would debunk allegations that he has dollar deposits in several banks totaling $10 million.

The Ombudsman had written Corona to answer such accusations contained in a complaint filed with her office.

But Enrile said Corona, if he testifies, should explain not only the allegations in the complaint pending with the Ombudsman’s office but also his five dollar accounts in Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank), which bank president Pascual Garcia III had confirmed.

House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez and Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay said the scheduled appearance of Morales and Corona would help in clarifying many issues on the allegations against the Chief Justice.

Suarez said the minority bloc was also keenly interested in what Morales has to say, particularly on her investigation into allegations that Corona had $10 million in bank accounts.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, on the other hand, admitted that Corona’s testimony would definitely impact on his case.

“This is just an opinion, it could be a factor. Because the way he would explain the (bank) accounts and other issues would have a very strong impact,” Sotto said.

He reiterated the sentiments raised by his colleagues that Corona would be the best person to explain the issues related to his bank accounts and his SALN in general.

Ramon Esguerra, one of the Corona’s lawyers, said Corona “will rise and fall by whatever his testimony will be when he faces the senators.”

He said the Chief Justice merely made good on his promise to appear before the impeachment court at the proper time when he instructed his lawyers to inform the court about his decision to testify.

He said that Corona felt that the allegations that were coming out against him had reached a point that the intention was no longer to malign but to take him out already.

Esguerra said that the Chief Justice, just like the senator-judges, also wanted the trial to finish soon and thought that his appearance there could help accomplish this.

Most of the senator-judges have grown impatient with the trial, now nearly five months running, which has caused their legislative work to take a back seat.

Esguerra gave assurance that the trial would not last for more than two weeks now that they are left with around five witnesses, excluding Corona.

But Sen. Franklin Drilon said that he would not take the word of defense lawyers that the Chief Justice will testify and would rather wait until he actually shows up at the Senate.

If and when Corona does testify, Drilon did not discount the possibility that he would be evasive and even invoke his right against self-incrimination.

He said Corona promised to open all of his bank accounts, including his dollar accounts.

“But if he decides against revealing everything when he appears at the impeachment court, the senator-judges would decide the case based on the evidence previously presented,” Drilon said.

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