Hollow victory | Inquirer Opinion

Hollow victory

/ 10:29 PM February 10, 2012

A case of winning the battle, but losing the war? We can’t be certain until after the impeachment trial is over, but at this point, it looks like Chief Justice Renato Corona has notched a hollow victory with the Supreme Court’s issuance of a temporary restraining order against the disclosure of any details of his dollar accounts with Philippine Savings Bank. He may have gotten eight of his fellow justices to agree with his argument that concealing his bank deposits with the full force of the very institution he heads is more important than the fundamental search for truth or the “interest of justice”—the high court’s justification once upon a time when it made an exception to the bank secrecy law by ordering the opening and garnishment of a convicted felon’s dollar account—but Corona won’t get very far with this victory, least of all allow him to hope that he can survive the impeachment gauntlet unscathed. The optics of this is simply bad from any angle.

First, Corona had sallied forth in the Senate with the battle cry that he was ready and raring to answer every single charge in the impeachment sheet, and that he had nothing to hide. He owned up to five properties, as against the dozens the prosecution team had claimed to have uncovered, with the concomitant dare that whatever else his detractors could find and prove as his, they could keep. That promise, however, flew out the window the moment the impeachment trial was banged into session. Corona’s brilliant lead counsel, former Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas, has employed his encyclopedic knowledge of the law to raise a rampart of technical objections to every single thing that might move the case forward and shine a light on Corona’s culpability.


That is, of course, entirely within Corona’s right as defendant. But it also flies in the face of his very declaration that he wants the facts out more than anyone else does, because they will help clear him in the end. Every persnickety objection his counsel raises against every land title, SALN and bank account produced with his name on it only further undermines the Chief Justice’s avowed fidelity to the truth. Add speaking in forked tongues to the serious character flaws the country’s highest magistrate seems to be afflicted with.

He has only buttressed that impression by now using the Supreme Court—from which he has not gone on leave, take note—to prevent the opening of his dollar accounts. What might be in these deposits that he’s so terrified the public would find out? Plenty, to go by the documents the impeachment court has secured, and which the defense typically tried to squash. Like his grudgingly disclosed SALNs that were a Swiss cheese of highly irregular omissions and misdeclarations, Corona’s peso accounts with PSBank alone raise the most basic questions about his integrity and honesty as a public official. While his SALN as of Dec. 31, 2010 listed only P3.5 million as “cash and investments,” his bank deposits for that same period totaled nearly P20 million. His SALN also says he has no sources of income other than his salary as Chief Justice, for which the biggest annual pay he has received is about P600,000.


Those millions are only from the peso deposits. Despite PSBank president Pascual Garcia III’s refusal to submit Corona’s five dollar accounts to the impeachment court on grounds of the bank secrecy law, he did confirm their existence, with Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile himself verifying their account numbers. One account alone is said to hold a whopping $700,000. True? Who would know now? Like the 11 senators who voted not to open a mysterious envelope during the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada, the Supreme Court TRO has the effect of depriving the impeachment court and the public of perhaps one of the most crucial pieces of evidence they would need to render judgment on Corona.

Quite simply, the search for truth has been dealt a body blow, at the instance of Corona himself who started out daring everyone to prove him unclean, but who has instead chosen to hedge, delay, deny—and, now, as a last resort—to conceal his questionable financial records behind a law that was never designed to subvert justice or sanction deviousness and dishonesty. Every thug, criminal and racketeer from now on has reason to consider Corona’s triumphant cover-up of his deposits as open season to convert their own pesos to dollars, and thereby similarly assure themselves a hassle-free time with their loot. Nice job, Chief.

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TAGS: bank secrecy law, corona impeachment, dollar accounts, Editorial, opinion, TRO
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