So, are those Philippine Savings Bank documents really fake? Annabelle Tiongson, the PSBank Katipunan branch manager who shook the impeachment court days ago by claiming that papers relating to Chief Justice Renato Corona’s deposits that the prosecution had submitted to the court were fraudulent, has lately qualified her statements a bit. It “seems fake,” she said at one point during her appearance last Monday. “In banking parlance, if it’s different from the original, it’s fake,” she hedged at another.
PSBank president Pascual Garcia III also testified that the bank found a total of 42 “points of difference” between Corona’s original specimen signature cards and the copies given by the prosecution. For so-called fakes with “significant differences,” however, the documents have proven to be reliable, even indestructible, in the one area where they are most needed: in proving that Corona indeed maintains, or has maintained, multimillion-peso and dollar accounts in the bank.
Before Tiongson testified that the papers were “fake,” Garcia had already pored over and commented on the records while on oath, never once declaring them bogus. He, in fact, confirmed that the documents were correct on the account numbers of Corona’s five peso accounts and the amounts indicated therein. To go by this record, details about Corona’s dollar deposits, were it not for the Supreme Court’s TRO that effectively barred the court from looking into them, would most probably have also turned out to be accurate.
Fake, but nonetheless accurate? That conundrum has so vexed the court that it remains bogged down on the provenance of the documents. As the court has widened its probe into how confidential records could have ended up in the hands of the prosecution, the larger issue at hand has become sidetracked and secondary to the whodunit portion of the trial. No longer is it about Corona’s fitness to be Chief Justice—the truth about his character, his integrity and honesty—which is the only reason his bank accounts became germane to the discussion. The fact that Corona has tens of millions of peso deposits plus still-undetermined dollar accounts, while reporting only P3.5-million assets in his latest SALN, is a question that has raged across the country but hardly inside the court itself, where cloak-and-dagger drama so far trumps mounting evidence requiring greater scrutiny.
Never mind that the bank executives can hardly be expected to testify that the papers are genuine, as that would shred their bank’s reputation to bits. Rather, is it too shocking to contemplate that, as in the impeachment trial of then President Joseph Estrada, important evidence has apparently been provided by as yet unknown whistle-blowers? The environment seems to call for it. Corona’s SALNs, for instance, as those of his colleagues in the judiciary, were out of reach to ordinary citizens by virtue of a self-serving administrative guideline that forbade their disclosure, contravening the spirit of the law on the accountability of all public officials.
It’s whistle-blowers, whoever they are in this case, that help break through the enforced fog and silence to shine a light on inconvenient truths. Would the country have been better off not knowing about former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s “Hello, Garci” duplicity—since the law prohibited wiretaps without permission and penalized whoever managed to obtain them? Or the “pabaon” system and other corrupt practices in the Armed Forces—since retired Lt. Col. George Rabusa’s exposé involved testimony and documents that were, after all, confidential government information and property?
Recall that Sen. Joker Arroyo, then a House prosecutor, opened the Estrada trial by disclosing that he and his team had obtained bank records showing that Estrada had passed himself off as “Jose Velarde.” The prosecution eventually managed to persuade Equitable-PCIBank executive Clarissa Ocampo to testify about it. How different is that from Quezon City Rep. Bolet Banal’s clumsy and futile—but similar—attempt to verify Corona’s bank details with Tiongson and induce her to work with the House panel? But these days, Arroyo is among the most vociferous in condemning the leak of the Corona bank papers.
Those so-called fake documents are proving to be a gold mine of authentic, increasingly validated evidence. Where they came from is not what this trial is about. It’s what they say about the man on trial that is.
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