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Senate votes 13-10 to heed SC TRO on Corona dollar accounts

(Updated 5:51 p.m.) The Senate, sitting as the impeachment court, on Monday voted 13-10 to abide by the Supreme Court’s order prohibiting them from examining the dollar accounts of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona.   Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the presiding officer, announced the decision during Monday afternoon's trial. The senator-judges voted during a caucus held earlier in the day.   "After a deliberation on the issue, the majority of this court has decided to respect the temporary restraining order (TRO) dated 09 February 2012 issued by the Supreme Court (SC) in the case filed with the PSBank in so far as the foreign currency deposit accounts are concerned meaning we will respect the TRO of the court as far deposits falling under Republic Act 6426 but not under Republic Act 1405, which refers to local currency deposits because of the exemptions there contained," Enrile said reading the impeachment court resolution aloud.   Those who voted to respect the high court's TRO were Enrile, Senators Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Manuel Villar, Ralph Recto, Francis Escudero, Koko Pimentel, Loren Legarda, Gregorio Honasan, Ramon Bong Revilla Jr., Ferdinand Marcos, Jinggoy Estrada, and Vicente Sotto III.   On the other hand, those who voted to defy the order were Senators Franklin Drilon, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Sergio Osmena III, Edgardo Angara, Panfilo Lacson, Francis Pangilinan, Antonio Trillanes IV, Lito Lapid, and Teofisto Guingona III.   Enrile noted, however, that the Senate still "reserves the right" to "vigorously defend" before the high tribunal the issuance of the subpoenas for the foreign bank deposit accounts.   "The prepared to argue its case on the merits and to defend the legal and public policy basis underlying its ruling under the said subpoenas," he said. The caucus was held a day after Corona's lawyers accused Malacañang of dangling P100 million to senator-judges for them to defy the high court's TRO. Monday's trial opened with several senator-judges taking turns scolding Corona's defense panel for showing disrespect for the court, with lawyer Jose Roy III apologizing on behalf of the defense team.   Explanation   After the announcement of the decision on the TRO, several senators stood up and explained their votes.   Guingona and Alan Peter Cayetano, who voted to defy the SC order, said the Senate decision will impede their duty as an impeachment court.   "Eto na naman tayo. Ayaw na naman ipakita sa atin ang buong larawan. Ayaw na naman tayong bigyan ng access sa katotohanan. Hindi daw po kaya ang TRO na ito ay isa na namang paggamit ng teknikalidad ng batas para pahirapin ang paghahanap nila ng katotohanan?" said Guingona.   "In casting my vote this afternoon, I did not get P100 million in cash or in projects but I did have  100 million reasons to vote that way.  They [SC] cannot issue TRO that will affect how we try and decide [impeachment cases]," said Cayetano.   Legarda and Santiago, who voted to abide by the SC order, said the impeachment court is not authorized to violate the law, specifically section 8 of RA 6426 or the Foreign Currency Deposit Act states:   "All foreign currency deposits... are hereby declared as and considered of an absolutely confidential nature and, except upon the written permission of the depositor, in no instance shall foreign currency deposits be examined, inquired or looked into by any person, government official, bureau or office whether judicial or administrative or legislative, or any other entity whether public or private. I believe that the Senate has sole jurisdiction over [impeachment in] the law [but] we must respect and implement the law unless and until we amend it," said Legarda.   "Lawmakers cannot be law breakers. If we do not recognize the Supreme Court, who therefore recognizes, nobody?" Santiagosaid.   Escudero said he believes that the TRO is "wrong" but that the place to "slug it out" was not the impeachment court. "Dapat dito tayo tumayo, dito tayo naiiba sa iba.  We want to do it properly, we want to do it in accordance with the law," he said.   Estrada, meanwhile, said he has always been an ally of President Benigno Aquino III but that his primary concern was the welfare of the country.   "Can our country afford a Constitutional crisis? Can our country afford political instability? Can our country afford a clash between the [executive] and judiciary? My answer is no," he said in explaining his vote.   Corona bank accounts   The Senate had earlier subpoenaed representatives from the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) and the Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) to testify on Article II of the impeachment complaint, which accuses Corona of failure to properly disclose all his assets in his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs).   On Wednesday last week, PSBank President Pascual Garcia III admitted before the impeachment court that Corona had almost P20 million in savings as of 2010.   The prosecution also accused Corona of maintaining dollar accounts in PSBank containing at least US$700,000 (roughly P30 million).   Garcia, however, declined to divulge information on Corona’s five dollar accounts with them, saying it might expose him to criminal liability. PSBank also filed a petition with the SC asking for the prohibition of the production of documents related to Corona’s foreign currency bank accounts.   On Thursday last week, the SC voted 8-5 to stop the Senate impeachment court from revealing the details of Corona's foreign currency bank accounts. — KBK/VS/HS, GMA News