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MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE - 7:34 p.m.) Chief Justice Renato Corona will take the witness stand and testify at his impeachment trial, his lawyers said Tuesday.
The announcement came as a surprise, just as the Senate impeachment court was gearing up to wrap up the trial with five defense remaining.
"We will present the Chief Justice, definitely," declared Defense lawyer Jose Roy III, adding that it was "possible" that Corona will disclose everything when he appears before the court.
But the defense has one condition: for the impeachment court to issue subpoenas for several personalities headed by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales. Roy said the defense is asking for subpoenas also for Harvey Keh, former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros, Ruperto Alerosa, Gibby Gores, Albert Concepcion, Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, Ernest Calayag, Moises Albiento, Tristan Zinampan, and Emmanuel Tiu Santos.
They were complainants in a case filed before the Ombudsman seeking an investigation into Corona's alleged $10 million deposits.
During the trial in March, PSBank president Pascual Garcia III said that Corona has five dollar accounts with the bank, but did not disclose them citing the Foreign Currency Deposit Act.
The senator-judges also voted 13-10 against the disclosure of the accounts. But on Tuesday, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said he is changing his vote into favoring the opening of the accounts.
A case filed by Corona's lawyer to bar the Senate from opening the dollar deposits is also pending in the Supreme Court.
"The defense is not going to skirt from this issue (on dollar accounts). If the court is inclined that we should address this issue, to consider this matter in deliberations, we will willingly confront the issue," Roy said.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said they would grant the request for subpoenas for these personalities.
The prosecution team said the move to make Corona face the trial was "a last-ditch effort" by Corona, sensing a looming conviction.
"They shifted strategy because the senator-judges are not biting their story. They don't have witnesses anymore, so this is a last-ditch effort," Quezon Representative Lorenzo Tanada III.
Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo and Aurora Rep. Sonny Angara said they hope Corona would tell all when he faces the trial.
"Any verdict would be more acceptable and beneficial to the Chief Justice because there is ventilation of the issues," Quimbo said.
Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. said making Corona talk "is a big time gamble on the part of the defense."
"They know that they have no substantial witness and have a weak defense because of the strength ofthe evidence of the prosecution. They are pushed to the wall and now they say they will present the chief justice," Tupas said.
Several senator-judges, even Enrile, has repeatedly stated that it would be best for Corona himself to testify. But in the past, the defense said there was no need for Corona to testify.
"He (Corona) himself has also assessed the evidence against him and unless this particular matter is not raised formally under oath he feels no need to testify…but if this matter is raised he will feel compelled under oath," Roy said.
Senators welcomed this declaration from the defense.
"We are happy you are now cooperating with us," Enrile said.
Senator Jinggoy Estrada also assured Corona that he will be treated properly when he testifies.
"You can assure the Chief Justice if and when he appears, he will be treated properly and befitting his position as a Chief Justice of this country," Estrada said.
The prosecution also welcomed Corona’s appearance, saying they had been “waiting all along” for this development.
However, prosecution chairman, Iloilo Representative Niel Tupaz Jr., said they would block the presentation of other defense witnesses except Ombudman Teresita Carpio-Morales and Corona.
“We will only allow the Ombudsman and Corona, we will block all other witnesses,” Tupaz said.
Enrile approved a defense motion for a two-day to subpoena witnesses and prepare for the eventual personal testimony of Corona.
Senator Francis Pangilinan tried to oppose this, saying approving the defense motion ran counter to Enrile’s goal of wrapping up the impeachment trial on or before Congress goes on recess sine die.
“We will discuss the matter on Monday in a caucus,” Enrile said.