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MANILA, Philippines – Day 14 of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona was marked by dramatic, cliff-hanger moments as senator-judges tangled on how to deal with a bank president who declined to disclose Corona’s foreign-currency accounts, saying he and his bank would be open to possible criminal cases.
The matter of disclosing Corona's peso and dollar accounts, as part of the prosecution's strategy for convicting him on Article No. 2, for allegedly perjuring his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, has been one of the hottest issues in the trial.
Trial observers knew this was going to be a day of high drama when the senator-judges voted, earlier in the day, to deny twin motions of the defense to stop the presentation of bank executives and records from two big private commercial banks, Bank of the Philippine Islands and Philippine Savings Bank; and to stop presentation of witnesses in Article of Impeachment No. 3.
Before the trial adjourned, however, the defense won one round when the majority of senator-judges voted to deny the prosecution's request to subpoena four associate justices of the Supreme Court, in order to testify on Article of Impeachment No. 3, on the court's flip-flopping in certain decisions. The senate denied this request, warning that issueing subpoenas to Justices could undermine the equality between the legislature and the judiciary.
Before the trial began at 2 p.m., the defense served notice it had filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court, seeking to stop the ongoing trial at the Senate, again citing the allegedly defective impeachment complaint that supposedly made the entire exercise null and void.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, presiding officer of the impeachment court, said nothing and no one can stop the work of the impeachment court, and it would not shirk its constitutional mandate.
Early in the day's session, a side drama ensued when House prosecutor Rodolfo Farinas apologized to the court for his extended remarks on the floor on Tuesday, using Sen. Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. as example when he wanted to point out that even a senator elected by millions could be ousted, on a vote of his peers, for disorderly conduct. Tension ran high when Revilla, grim-faced, stood up. He walked to the podium and curtly said, "apology accepted." Farinas was about to say something more, but Enrile banged the gavel to signal that matter was closed.
Showdown over bank accounts
The drama at the SC preceding the Senate trial on Day 14 peaked further after it was learned that PSBank filed a petition seeking the high tribunal’s guidance on the matter of the impeachment court’s subpoena to its executives and records.
PSBank had served notice it was to attend the Wednesday trial, but signaled its reluctance to comply with disclosing the Corona bank accounts because it was holding foreign-currency accounts, which are governed by stricter secrecy provisions than the peso accounts that allow for exceptions in disclosure, such as in impeachment trials.
After a caucus, however, the majority of senator-judges, while apprised of the PSBank petition filed with the SC in the morning and the pending motions of the defense to quash subpoenae to the banks, nevertheless voted to allow the presentation of the bank witnesses.
The ensuing testimony of Pascual Garcia III, president of PSBank, drew heated exchanges among senator-judges and between lawyers of parties, after Senator-judge Franklin Drilon urged the court to order Garcia to explain by 12 noon of Thursday why he brought only documents pertaining to Corona’s peso accounts, and missed out the five dollars accounts.
Drilon originally wanted it to be a "show-cause" order, meaning, with the threat of a contempt citation if Garcia fails to sway the senators. This triggered an emotional appeal from Senator-judge Joker Arroyo who reminded his peers of what happened in the impeachment trial of then President Joseph Estrada, when a bank run ensued and Estrada later sued Citibank for disclosing his dollar account in violation of the Foreign Currency Deposits Act.
Arroyo said if his peers are "in a hurry to crucify this witness," then they should be prepared for the consequences of detaining or sanctioning a bank official who simply wanted to avoid running afoul of the law.