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MANILA, Philippines – The defense team of Chief Justice Renato Corona is preparing for his May 22 appearance before the Senate impeachment court, where he is expected to be grilled by senator-judges and House of Representatives prosecutors on documents covering his alleged multimillion-dollar bank accounts.
Corona defense spokesperson Karen Jimeno said the team is already working with accountants in examining the documents since “these are difficult to understand and are transactional-based.”
”Part of our preparation is also identifying possible questions that the chief justice might be asked on the witness stand, particularly on related outstanding issues,” she said during Saturday's Forum at Annabel’s in Quezon City.
Corona faces possible expulsion from his post for alleged non-disclosure of his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth; culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust as well as partiality toward former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband in allowing them to flee the country so they can escape prosecution for various charges of irregularities.
Earlier this week, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales took the witness stand and presented documents on Corona’s alleged bank deposits totaling some US$ 10 million to US$ 12 million.
She said her office started investigating Corona after receiving complaints against him, noting it is within her mandate to probe such grievances.
The complainants include former Akbayan Partylist lawmakers Risa Hontiveros and Walden Bello, Kaya Natin convenor Harvey Keh as well as Emmanuel Santos, she noted.
Morales cited the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) as source of the documents she presented during the trial.
AMLC is the financial intelligence unit tasked with establishing and maintaining an internationally compliant and effective anti-money laundering regime in the country.
'Documents can be disputed'
Defense lawyer Rico Paolo Quicho is questioning the authenticity of the documents presented by Morales, noting these are not even signed.
He reported the defense team's scrutiny of such documents so far indicate Corona will be able to dispute allegations about his alleged dollar accounts.
"The prosecution will be lucky to be able to prove the chief justice's ownership of even only five of some 82 alleged accounts -- those documents can't prove allegations against him," he said during the forum.
Tatad: Ombudsman preparing next round
Former Senator Francisco S. Tatad said the Ombudsman has authority to probe for the purpose of filing an impeachment complaint if warranted.
He believes another impeachment complaint against the chief magistrate is forthcoming, noting Morales "seems convinced" he (Corona) cannot be convicted of charges in the case he's facing at present.
"It's clear she's preparing for the next impeachment," Tatad said during the forum.
Paguia: Morales probe contradicts 1993 SC ruling
Lawyer Alan Paguia also acknowledges the Ombudsman's constitutional power to probe public officials' improprieties.
He's skeptical about Morales' investigation of Corona, though, noting this contradicts the 1993 en banc Supreme Court (SC) decision on the case of Antique Regional Trial Court Branch 12 Presiding Judge Bonifacio Maceda against then Ombudsman Conrado Vasquez.
Such decision notes that "Article VIII, Section 6 of the 1987 Constitution exclusively vests in the SC administrative supervision over all courts and court personnel, from the presiding justice of the Court of Appeals down to the lowest municipal trial court clerk. By virtue of this power, it is only the SC that can oversee the judges' and court personnel's compliance with all laws, and take the proper administrative action against them if they commit any violation thereof. No other branch of government may intrude into this power, without running afoul of the doctrine of separation of powers."
"Complaints against the judiciary should be directed to the Office of the Court Administrator," Paguia said during the forum.
Bacungan: can’t diminish powers in Charter
University of the Philippines law school's former dean Froilan Bacungan lauded Morales' action on complaints against Corona, however, saying the powers she's exercising is constitutional.
"You can't diminish what's found in the Constitution," he said.
The 1987 Philippine Constitution mandates the Ombudsman to "act promptly on complaints filed in any form or manner against public officials or employees of the government, or any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned or controlled corporations, and shall, in appropriate cases, notify the complainants of the action taken and the result thereof."
Among the Ombudsman's powers are "investigate on its own, or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public official, employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient."