Wednesday, February 15, 2012

‘Fake’ bank documents snag Corona trial

MANILA, Philippines – The debate over the authenticity of the photocopy of bank records allegedly owned by Chief Justice Renato Corona at the Philippine Savings Bank (PS Bank) snagged Corona’s impeachment trial Wednesday.

Two officials from the Philippine Savings Bank reiterated that there were discrepancies between the document attached by the prosecution team to its supplemental request for subpoena for Corona’s PS Bank accounts and the original records of the bank, and both claimed that these were “fake”.

The long discussion over the alleged “fake” documents arose after Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada asked Annabelle Tiongson, PS Bank Katipunan branch manager, if the documents marked as Annex A, attached to the prosecution team’s request for subpoena were faithful reproductions of the original bank documents.

“They are not the same. It’s fake,” Tiongson said, reiterating her statement in Monday’s hearing.

Estrada then asked how the photocopies could be “fake” since PS Bank President Pascual Garcia, also speaking under oath, had confirmed the existence of the account numbers indicated in the document.

Tiongson said that the account numbers may have come from other sources like when a client would write his or her account number behind cheques or when banks tellers do so.

However, Estrada said he was not convinced and stated his belief that the document presented by the prosecution was indeed a “faithful reproduction of the original.”

Senator Franklin Drilon asked how Tiongson could say that the photocopied document was a fake. The witness said that she compared the document with the original bank copies and noticed some differences. When asked for the specific differences, Tiongson said: “There were entries in the original that were not in the photocopy and there were entries in the photocopy that were not on the original.”

She said that the alleged falsification of the document did not happen in their branch. Tiongson added that she only became the branch manager of the PS Bank in 2010. Corona’s accounts were made in 2008 and 2009.

Drilon then asked Tiongson to bring the original bank documents so that the so-called differences between the original and the photocopied document presented by the prosecution could be seen.

Tiongson said the documents were pulled out of their branch upon the order of their bank president following the subpoena issued by the Senate.

Drilon slammed Tiongson’s excuse saying that it was “lame”.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile criticized the prosecution, yet again, for presenting evidence of “questionable nature.”

“I am not accusing anybody but I feel that the requesting party knew very well that the source of the material was of questionable nature. In fact, the mere knowledge that the source was anonymous should have given the prosecution the caution to scrutinize the document before they presented it to this court as a basis for compulsory process,” Enrile told the prosecution.

“They cannot pass the bat to this honorable court because in our system of adversarial proceeding, it is the obligation, the duty of the parties seeking the assistance of this court to make sure that the request is valid in every respect and more so in the case of the prosecution when the matter under consideration of the court involves a prejudice on the liberty or right of a party,” the Senate President added.

In response, lead prosecutor Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas Jr. said: “Ms. Tiongson say it seems fake and there is a repercussion whether as a result of the authenticity or not of the documents, there are grave consequences. To us, the best evidence is the document itself and at the very least, the witness here should bring the document.”

The prosecution team’s Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo Umali said that he received the identification and specimen signature cards of Corona’s bank accounts from a certain “small lady”.

Drilon also asked Tiongson to bring specimen signatures and identify the bank officers who approved the opening of Corona’s accounts with numbers 089121020122 and 089121021681 which were opened march 4, 2010 and September 1, 2010, respectively. The second bank account had an initial deposit of roughly P7 million.

PS Bank’s legal counsel initially refused the request saying that by bringing the documents in question, they would be violating the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court barring the impeachment court from issuing a subpoena for Corona’s five foreign currency accounts.

However, Drilon reiterated that the Senate would uphold the high court’s TRO and would not ask about the foreign accounts. He added that the witness may even cover the document if it would show details about the foreign currency deposits.

Enrile said that the original documents need to be presented so that the senator-judges may have a clear appraisal of the “differences” that Tiongson claimed to have seen with the photocopy presented by the prosecution.

Amid the confusion and debate on the authenticity of the documents, Senator Joker Arroyo asked: “A false document is a false document. If this is found to be a false document, what happens?”

Senator Enrile responded that this is to “be fair to everyone.”

He added that if the documents in question were proven to be fake, then the court would be able to determine the extent of the forgery and decide whether they would take out the document from the proceedings.

The impeachment court will also decide on whether disciplinary measures would be imposed on the prosecution if the documents would be proven to be falsified.

Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero clarified the confusion with the prosecution and asked them to continue presenting evidence on the main case at hand.

“We’re not trying to pull a fast one on you. Just a reminder to the prosecution, they are your witnesses. Bear in mind that this is a matter of the impeachment court but not on the case anymore. We can perhaps proceed with the evidence of the prosecution on the main case at hand,” Escudero said.

Tiongson is expected to return to the witness stand Thursday to present the documents requested by the senator-judges.

Corona Trial