By Macon Ramos-Araneta | Manila Standard Today
THE senator-judges in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona on Tuesday questioned Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales’ actions against the chief magistrate, with one of them saying she might have violated the law when she obtained his supposed bank accounts without going through the required procedures.
“How broad is the power of the Ombudsman?” Santiago said.
“Are you saying your powers override the laws passed by Congress such as the Foreign Deposit Secrecy law?” Santiago said when Morales admitted that she got Corona’s bank records without a court order.
“Should anybody file a complaint, you can just go to the [Anti-Money-Laundering Council] to get information without the council finding probable cause?”
Santiago questioned Morales’ procedure even as Malacañang told Corona to “squarely face the charges” against him “instead of resorting to rhetoric.”
“The question is simple: Does he have dollar accounts?” presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said.
“And if he has, how much are those accounts worth, and are [those] reflected in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth?”
Valte made her statement even as the leaders in the House and the prosecution panel said Corona’s trial was nearing the endgame following Morales’ testimony claiming Corona had $12 million deposited in the banks. They said Morales’ testimony was very damaging.
“The moment of truth is here. We reach the endgame in one or two days,” House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said.
But Corona’s defenders said the chief magistrate had told them to “carry on” and to stick to their defense strategy.
“His instructions are to carry on,” defense lawyer Jose Roy said.
“We told him that we should not be overwhelmed by the impact on the public because, in fact, he [Corona] us correct in his statement that what the Ombudsman presented was not credible. It was in fact incredible.”
The defense expressed confidence in the strategy even as they said they were alarmed by the actions of Carpio, who they said allowed herself to be used by the Aquino administration to persecute its enemies.
“Is this the kind of good governance [that Mr. Aquino] promised in 2010, where institutional integrity is destroyed and independence handcuffed?” defense lawyer Paolo Quicho said.
“This sends a chilling effect to all of us that if we do not toe the Palace line, we would suffer the same fate as the chief justice.”
Santiago said the laws required the Anti-Money-Laundering Council to first conduct its own investigation before it could come out with documents on anyone’s foreign deposit accounts.
Does your power authorize overriding that?” Santiago asked, and to which Morales replied that it would depend on the type of complaint.
Before the start of the impeachment trial, Santiago proposed to the impeachment court to subpoena all the managers of the nine banks where Corona supposedly had 82 dollar accounts.
“I move that we subpoena the managers of all nine banks. The bank manager is required by law to seek and record details,” Santiago said. She raised the possibility that a single sum of money could be represented in a double entry.
But Senate President and presiding officer Juan Ponce-Enrile decided to hold in abeyance the court’s decision on Santiago’s recommendation. He said the matter would be discussed in a caucus of senators next week.
Senate pro-tempore Jinggoy Estrada sought an assurance from Morales that her Office and the AMLC would not be used to go after the administration’s critics and political opponents.
“For example, there is somebody who attacks President Nonoy, and the Ombudsman will be directed to get back at this person by using the AMLC to look into his bank accounts,” he said.
“I hope this will not happen.”
Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. asked how Morales acquired the information on Corona’s alleged dollar accounts and why she was allowed to release it.
“From what I understand, under the law the requirement before an investigation is there should be a predicate crime,” Marcos said, adding there should also be a court order.
“Is there a new doctrine that in fact, that on the basis of a complaint, the Ombudsman can already gain the information from the AMLC and publicize that information?” Marcos said.
Senator Alan Peter Cayetano asked Morales: “Is it correct to say that you can just ask the AMLC for the bank accounts and they will just give them to you even without a court order?” With Rey E. Requejo, Joyce Pangco Pañares and Maricel Cruz