Feliciano Belmonte
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ABRA, Philippines – Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr. predicted that the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, will convict embattled Philippine Chief Justice Renato C. Corona.

Meanwhile, results of a recent Pulse Asia survey showed that 47 percent of Filipinos believe that the head of the Supreme Court is guilty of the charges leveled against him. The same survey indicated that 43 percent of the people cannot categorically say if he is guilty or not.[box type=”default” size=”large”] Evidence presented more than sufficient, Speaker says [/box]Earlier, Manila newspapers reported that Corona is confident he will be acquitted by the impeachment court, which is at present receiving testimonial and documentary evidence for the defense of the Chief Justice.

“Personally, I believe he (Corona) will be convicted. Serious charges of undeclared properties, peso and dollar accounts in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALN) are more than sufficient to convince the senator-judges to convict him,” Belmonte said at a press conference held at the provincial capitol of Abra last March 9. He was here as guest of honor at the celebration of the 95th foundation anniversary of this province.

He was later conferred the title of a distinguished adopted son of Abra through a resolution passed by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (provincial board).

Aside from the peso bank accounts of Corona, Belmonte said, he is convinced that the Chief Magistrate’s dollar bank deposit accounts contain substantial amounts. The foreign currency deposit accounts could not be examined and presented to the impeachment court due to the strict prohibition and secrecy imposed by the Foreign Currency Deposit Act. The same accounts cannot also be disclosed because it is prohibited by a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court.

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“If these (dollar accounts) cannot be seen now because the Chief Justice will be or was quick to withdraw, just like he did with his three other bank accounts, bank records will, however, indicate that they are or were there,” Belmonte said.

As this developed, the Speaker said he wants the Lower House to amend the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) after the Lenten break due to its international repercussions.

He said there is a trend in openness all over the world, and the Philippines cannot afford to be left behind because of its adverse effects to the country, such as the imposition of higher interest rates, difficulty to secure a foreign loan and downgrade of country’s credit rating.

The Congress leader indicated that the law on bank secrecy would also be amended, although the changes in the AMLA provisions remain his priority.

He assured, however, that full protection would be given to private citizens by the  bank secrecy law after it is amended.

He said that government officials and employees expect to give up a little bit of their privacy in relation to the law. Belmonte said that House leaders are contemplating the introduction of some exceptions in the amendments to the law.

Belmonte, meanwhile, disputed Corona’s repeated claims that his impeachment was triggered by SC’s decision on the case of Hacienda Luisita which is principally owned by the family of President Noynoy Aquino.

“Most of us in the House of Representatives are in favor of distributing Luisita lands. If you notice, PNoy’s (Aquino) three nominees in the high court all voted in favor of distributing the lands owned by the President’s family. So, I don’t think that is a major consideration or a consideration at all in his (Corona’s) impeachment,” the Speaker said.

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Belmonte admitted, however, that one of the reasons behind Corona’s impeachment was the High Tribunal’s swift issuance of a TRO in favor of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The TRO allowed Arroyo from leaving the country to seek medical treatment abroad, but this was rendered ineffective by a warrant for the arrest of the President in connection with an election-sabotage case filed against her and several others.

“I know for a fact that he (Corona) was very livid about it (barring Arroyo from leaving) because a lot of procedures were cut short. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Belmonte said.