MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 9 February) – The cat is out. Or, more exactly, word is officially out that impeached Chief Justice Renato C. Corona has five accounts in one commercial bank alone whose total amount reached an eight-digit figure. Such was the revelation made by PSBank president Pascual Garcia III, in Wednesday’s hearing at the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court.
According to the certifications from PSBank for Corona’s five peso accounts covering the ending balances for the years 2007-2010, the chief justice had P24.6 million as of end-2010. This is aside from the dollar accounts that Corona maintains in the same bank.
And what about the other accounts he supposedly has in other banks? A branch manager of the Bank of the Philippine Islands was scheduled to testify in today’s hearing.
Today, however, the Supreme Court, voting 8-5, granted the petition of PSBank for a temporary restraining order against the order of the impeachment court for the bank to present documents on Corona’s foreign currency accounts.
The Supreme Court has fifteen members including the chief justice. But Corona and Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco did not participate in the deliberations.
The issuance of the TRO poses another question concerning the relationship, if any, between the impeachment court and the Supreme Court. Most likely, the latter acted favorably on PSBank’s petition based on the principle of separation of powers between the three branches of government.
If such is the case, then the Supreme Court majority made a wrong decision based on a wrong presumption. Their mistake was not that they granted the petition but that they acted on it. It was a gross display of disrespect towards the Senate as a constitutionally mandated impeachment court tasked by the people who elected them to try an official for high crimes.
But let’s reserve the TRO issue for a future piece, and tackle instead on the implications of the testimony and documents showing that the chief justice had millions in his bank accounts which he did not reflect in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth.
Since the impeachment court has ruled that Corona cannot be tried on ill-gotten wealth allegations he may not be obliged to explain how he amassed these millions over the years. The most that the House prosecution panel can do is present the accounts as evidence of submitting inaccurate SALNs.
This item in the impeachment complaint looks not as damning as the accusation that he amassed ill-gotten wealth, a thing that his brilliant lawyers may be able to downplay or brush aside as a trivial omission.
Nonetheless, if Corona refuses to explain how he obtained his money in the banks – or fails to give a satisfactory explanation if he opts to offer an answer – it would be as if he is handing down his own conviction for ill-gotten wealth charges.
The Supreme Court, by deciding in favor of PSBank’s petition for a TRO that bars the impeachment court from looking into Corona’s dollar accounts, may have affirmed the conviction. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)