MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/17 May) – In their solitude the lawyers of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona must have regretted the day they announced that he would testify on the $10-million allegation if the Senate would summon Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and the complainants to testify under oath.
Did Corona’s lawyers simply resort to psywar? Was the announcement, made by Atty. Jose Roy III, a mere bluff? If so, it proved to be a costly one for the Chief Justice based on Carpio-Morales’ detailed testimony on the movements of Corona’s accounts.
The defense was reacting to the Ombudsman’s order for Corona to explain in writing how he amassed wealth, which was “grossly disproportionate to his salary and other lawful income.”
Carpio-Morales, testifying on May 14 as a hostile witness, showed documents that the chief magistrate had eighty-two dollar accounts in Manila banks and a report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
Republic Act 9160 as amended by Republic Act 9194 (Anti-Money Laundering Act) requires banks to report to AMLC within five working days any “suspicious transaction” involving an amount of over P500,000 within one banking day.
Aside from [his] dollar bank transactions of $10 million between April 2003 and December 2011, the AMLC report showed that Corona had peso bank transactions involving P242 million between April 2003 and February 2012.
Ombudsman investigators said that less his and his wife’s income, Corona’s “total possible unexplained wealth” could reach over P677,000,000.
Carpio-Morales’ revelations stunned even the prosecutors themselves. Congressman Niel Tupas, lead House prosecutor told reporters that while they believed that Corona had [undisclosed] bank accounts, they did not think the amount involved was this big.
If Tupas was bewildered to the point of disbelief, the defense did not know what hit them. Roy’s statement after Carpio-Morales had testified implied that they had wrongly anticipated what the Ombudsman had to offer. It seemed that the defense just wanted to heed the growing clamor for Corona to take the witness stand. They failed to consider that while they can question the admissibility of the AMLC report they may not be able to change the impression it has created in the minds of the senator-judges, particularly the non-lawyers.
Moreover, even if the allegation concerning the dollar accounts were not included in the impeachment complaint, the existence of such accounts as shown by the AMLC report has reinforced public perception that Corona had been less than truthful in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs).
If and when Corona takes the witness stand, he has to explain the ocean of discrepancy between his SALNs and the amounts in his bank accounts. If he says he owned the money, he has to convince the senator-judges that he obtained it through legitimate means. If he says it’s not his, then he has to divulge the real owner and explain why it was deposited in his name. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno writes mainly on the environment, human rights, and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)