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Impeachment Blues

J. G. Azarcon, Esq.By J.G. Azacon, Esq.

What promised to be an attention grabbing TV spectacle reminiscent of the impeachment trial of deposed former president Erap Estrada is slowly turning into a tedious and boring process. According to reports, the impeachment trial of Philippine Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Renato Corona is losing audience in the Senate gallery and more TV viewers are now opting for soap operas.

After almost three weeks of trial, it is apparent from the stumbles of the prosecution panel that haste was given more consideration over qualitative drafting and evidence gathering. It looks like the prosecution went to trial without being in possession of incontrovertible evidence sufficient to convict the Chief Justice. They relied on strong suspicion and basically went on a fishing expedition as the trial went on.

If not for an “assist” from Senator-Judge Franklin Drillon a witness from the Supreme Court would not have produced the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN). The prosecutors embarrassed themselves by their inability to elicit the desired information from their own witness.

The hapless prosecutors were chewed every now and then by the acidic tongue of senator-judge Miriam Defensor and pointed lectures from the seemingly calm presiding judge Juan Ponce Enrile.

With the introduction of the SALN, the prosecutors then tried to mine the document contending that the Chief Justice betrayed the public trust by not filing an accurate disclosure of his assets and liabilities. But then, the prosecutors needed to prove that the filed SALN was false or grossly inaccurate and they were still groping for the smoking gun.

Enter the “small lady”. The prosecution claims that certain documents were delivered by an unidentified small lady in the legislative building to one member of the prosecution panel, Rep. Umali. The documents purportedly appear to be bank records showing deposit account of the Chief Justice.

Another member of the prosecution panel, Rep. Banal, was also a recipient of what he described unsolicited bank documents delivered at the gate of his house.

Philippine law protects the confidentiality of records of bank deposits subject to exceptions, including impeachment proceedings. As to dollar accounts however, the law strictly requires consent of the depositor.

Using the information from the documents delivered by the “small lady”, the prosecution was able to obtain a subpoena issued by the impeachment court ordering the Philippine Savings Bank to produce documents pertaining to the deposits of the Chief Justice. The bank president testified and confirmed the existence of peso accounts disclosing their year-end balances. The bank however successfully sought a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court to stop the release of dollar account information fearing criminal liability arising from disclosure without the depositor’s consent.

The testimony of the bank official point to gross discrepancies in the deposit balances recorded in the bank statements and the value of  bank accounts disclosed in the SALN.  The prosecution is exuding bravado. Rep. Neil Tupas, head of the prosecuting panel, says that they could even rest their case at this stage because they already have evidence beyond reasonable doubt that Chief Justice Corona lied in his SALN.

The self-congratulations of the prosecution panel may be premature. They seem to be overlooking the hurdles before them. First, the senator-judges are still faced with the question of whether or not to admit the evidence introduced as a result of the subpoena to the bank. The defense will likely move for its exclusion as being the fruit of the poisonous tree based on the doctrine that evidence produced as a result of information illegally obtained is inadmissible. Second, the gross discrepancies in the value of bank accounts between the bank records and the SALN are not necessarily conclusive proof of graft and corruption or betrayal of public trust. Although the defense attorneys are not talking, the Corona family is already telegraphing to the media that a big chunk in Corona’s bank deposits actually came from proceeds of his wife’s real estate transactions.

The end game is not in sight yet. P-Noy may have to wait some more. In the meantime, he is trying to show the nation that he is not “torpe” anymore. He is dating, according to him. Again?

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