* Corona offers to waive bank secrecy of his accounts if solons do the same * After walking out, he returns to Senate hall in a wheelchair
Drama, a walkout and confusion overshadowed Chief Justice Renato Corona’s plea that he “never stole” from the government.
What started as an impassioned defense of his integrity ended with Corona’s abrupt exit from the Senate hall without permission from the senator-judges.
Corona, 63, returned in a wheelchair, with his lead counsel Serafin Cuevas explaining that his client was suffering from hypoglycemia or low blood sugar after his emotional testimony.
Defense lawyers said Corona, a diabetic, quickly left the venue to avoid fainting inside the Senate plenary hall and did not intend to flee.
An angry Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile ordered security guards to shut the building to prevent Corona from leaving.
Enrile, who earlier threatened to scrap Corona’s testimony after the Chief Justice suddenly stood up, asked to be excused and left the hall, said Corona must return today for cross-examination or the Senate would proceed to decide his case.
The impeachment trial will resume at 2 p.m. today.
In over three hours of impassioned testimony, Corona showed defiance, directly blaming President Benigno Aquino III for his fate, calling him “Hacienderong Pangulo” or a landlord president.
Corona said he owned only four dollar bank accounts and not 82 as alleged by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales whom he accused of lying to the Senate.
In a surprise move, the Chief Justice also signed a statement waiving privacy rights for his and his wife’s bank accounts on the condition that the 188 members of the House of Representatives who impeached him sign the same waiver and make their bank accounts public.
Corona said such a move would help heal divisions caused by his impeachment in “a nation at a standstill.”
At the start of his opening statement, Corona repeatedly said that his conscience was clear and that he did nothing wrong and did not steal from the government coffers.
“What did I do wrong? I don’t recall committing any wrongdoing and that’s the reason I can still raise my head up without fear or anxiety because I’m very sure I did not commit any sin and have not stolen from the government coffers,” he said in Pilipino.
“My conscience is clear and I’m declaring this to the Filipino people,” he said.
He said all his properties were hard-earned and that not a single centavo came from the government.
Corona zeroed in on Aquino for allegedly conspiring to remove him from office.
He cited three reasons he was facing the impeachment proceedings in the Senate.
First, Corona said, Aquino was after him because the Supreme Court ruled against Hacienda Luisita, which is owned by the family of the President’s mother and the late President Corazon Aquino.
Second, Corona said, the President wanted to have control over all branches of government. And third, Corona revealed an alleged attempt by the left to take over the country even pointing to Ronald Llamas, who used to be part of the Akbayan party but is now with Malacañang after he was appointed presidential adviser on political affairs.
Contrary to the prosecution team’s previous claim that he had 45 pieces of real property, the chief justice said he has only five properties and his family was living a simple life.
He said his family decided to invest in foreign exchange instead of buying properties, citing the bad experience of the family of his wife, Cristina, who he said had been fighting over money and landholdings.
He also denied that he failed to truthfully disclose the real costs of his properties in his Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).
Corona said he declared only the assessed value of his properties in his SALN because the documents that would show how much he bought his properties were already opened to the public when he registered them in the register of deeds.
He said he did not also declare the fair market value of the properties because that would mean he had to call an appraiser every year to determine the current value of his properties.
Only 4 banks
On the Ombudsman’s allegations that he had dollar accounts in the amount of $10 million to $12 million in 82 banks, Corona said had only four dollar accounts in four banks and three peso bank accounts.
Corona said most of the accounts mentioned by the Ombudsman were either closed or placed in settlements.
As of December 2011, he said he has only four dollar bank accounts – one in Bank of the Philippine Island (BP1) in San Francisco del Monte in Quezon City, one in Allied Bank and two in Philippine Savings Bank.
But Corona said the four dollar accounts did not contain $10 million to $12 million as alleged by the Ombudsman. He did not say, however, the total balance of the four dollar accounts.
“There are only four, not 82,” Corona said
Corona said he had three peso bank accounts which he did not also declare in his SALN because he said it was a “co-mingled” fund from the proceeds of the sale of the Basa-Guidote Enterprise Inc (BGEI), which is owned by the family of his wife.
Corona pulled a surprise when he suddenly signed a waiver right before the Senate to allow the disclosure of all his dollar and peso accounts.
He also authorized the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Anti-Money Laundering Council and the Land Registration Authority to disclose to the public any all information that “may show his assets, liabilities, net worth, business interest and financial connections.”
But Corona said he would only submit his waiver to the Senate if Drilon and the 188 congressmen would sign the same waiver.
Then he suddenly stood up and left the chamber. His departure caught the senators and even his defense lawyers by surprise.
An irritated Enrile immediately ordered Corona to return to the witness stand as he repeatedly banged the gavel.
Cuevas immediately apologized to the Senate for what he described as “seeming disrespect to this honorable court.”
There’s no intention whatsoever…in fact, he’s taking his medicines and attending to a personal necessity,” said Cuevas.
But Cuevas’ remarks received a loud boo from the crowd in the gallery.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have been patient. I warned you, if you’re going to continue to be disorderly, I will ask the Sergeant at Arms to escort all of you out of this session hall,” Enrile told spectators in the gallery. /From INQUIRER and AP reports