Can You Gift Wrap Smoke?

by Juan L. Mercado

Supreme  Court  chief justice Renato Corona’s defense team  barnstormed  in Cebu  before the impeachment trial resumes Monday. Their man will be  acquitted, they predicted.

But the spiels skirted what is on everybody’s mind.

How will Corona respond to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales’ 20 April order: Explain where an estimated P10 million in PSBank and other deposits in BPI came from. His Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SALN) don’t reflect them. (Current exchange rate: P42.1= US$1).

Ordinary citizens deserve straight answers.  But Corona’s lawyers preferred British politician Denis Healey’s First Law Of Holes: “When you are in a hole, stop digging.”

Back from their Cebu safari, the defense panel dismissed the Ombudsman’s order as a “fishing expedition,”  If Corona  thinks the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction, he can ignore this,” defense spokespersons added. “Wait for action by the Chief Justice —-  if any,”

Wait until June 26, Arroyo justices in the Supreme Court also said. They’ll hear then challenges to their temporary restraining order that blocked opening of the dollar trove.  Will the impeachment be over by then? Or patay na ang kabayo?

Corona will badger Supreme Court colleagues to hogtie the Ombudsman with yet another TRO, Sen. Franklin Drilon predicts. “We hope Corona will not contradict again his pledges to be transparent.”  The Senate should hand down a verdict before  Congress goes on recess June 7.  “Only death renders hopes futile”?

How did Ombudsman Morales shred the dollar deposit blackout? Both prosecution and impeachment court failed to get the facts. 

“Simple,” wrote investigative reporter Carmela Fonbuena of Rappler. “Corona gave the Office of the Ombudsman permission.”

At the back of SALN is a waiver few filers bother to read. Filers authorize the Ombudsman, or representative to secure from all appropriate government agencies such documents as may show my assets, liabilities, etc. That includes dependents “covering past years, to include the year I first assumed office in government.”

Corona signed on the dotted line. And the Ombudsman took him at his word.  The chief justice has “not consulted his  lawyers about his next move”, his defense admitted.  Newsdesks and Internet, blogs and social media, meanwhile, were swamped with dollar accounts that the chief justice supposedly holds.

Philippine Star’s Jarius Bondoc wrote he was told Corona stashed, in seven transactions, $2,858,977.22 in Philippine Savings Bank-Katipunan branch. Six other transactions totaled  $2.3 million.

“A machine copy of Corona deposits, obtained by Business Insight, show that the first deposit was made on Aug. 5, 2008 for $764, 344.78, Malaya publisher Jake Macasaet reported. “ (This was) under account number 1241019340.   Two succeeding  deposits were made in August 2008. On December 15, 2009, there was an outward remittance of $471,678.46…”

“If peso and dollar deposits, directly linked to SALN, are not included, that is lying under oath”,  Macasaet adds.  That is “an offense committed by many but never by a Chief Justice. Until now?  That’s  what the Ombudsman wants to know.

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Corona can prevent more smoke from wafting up by honoring the waiver that he signed on his SALN.  Better still, he can voluntarily open his dollar accounts — and testify, along with his wife, at the impeachment court.

“Maputos bay aso?” the old Cebuano proverb asks. “Can smoke be wrapped?”  All eyes meanwhile are on Carpio-Morales — and Corona, of course.


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