Philippine justice denies charges, blames Aquino

The chief justice of the Philippine Supreme Court denied Tuesday that he stole from the country's coffers and said he would open his bank accounts for inspection if the 188 lawmakers behind his impeachment do the same.

In testimony in his impeachment trial, Chief Justice Renato Corona accused President Benigno Aquino III of conspiring to remove him from office. The Senate trial has become the main focus of Aquino's anti-corruption effort.

The anti-graft prosecutor testified last week that Corona failed to declare $10 million to $12 million recorded in 82 bank accounts under his name.

Corona said he has four dollar accounts and does not have that much. He said he did not declare the dollar accounts in his statement of assets because of bank secrecy laws that protect the confidentiality of foreign deposits. He said he accumulated his wealth as a successful lawyer before joining the government in the 1990s and from the sale of his wife's property.

Corona 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 also make their accounts public. He said such a move would help heal divisions caused by his impeachment in "a nation at a standstill."

After reading a lengthy statement in the Senate, where he is on trial on allegations of corruption and betraying public trust, Corona asked to be excused, abruptly leaving the hall without permission and before he could be questioned by prosecutors.

In an unusual showdown between two branches of government, an angry Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile ordered security guards to shut the building to prevent Corona from leaving. Corona, 63, later returned in a wheelchair and his lawyers said he felt weak because he was diabetic and did not intend to flee.

He was later brought to the intensive care unit of a Manila hospital and his spokesman Midas Marquez said that his diagnosis was "a possible heart attack."

Aquino spokeswoman Abigail Valte said Corona did not understand the concept of accountability.

"Having been given his day in court, he has demonstrated how lacking he is in understanding the institutions that have been called to hold him to account to the people," she said.

The case against Corona is based on a law requiring public officials to disclose their assets, and has sparked fears of a constitutional crisis.

He is the first chief justice to be impeached in the Philippines, which has been roiled by political unrest and failed coups since Aquino's mother, former President Corazon Aquino, toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos and restored democracy in 1986.

Corona is also accused of blocking the prosecution of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who was arrested last year on vote-rigging charges and later charged with corruption. Corona and 11 other justices on the 15-member Supreme Court were appointed by Arroyo.

If convicted by the Senate, Corona would lose his job and might face additional criminal charges.


Associated Press writer Hrvoje Hranjski contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects day in first paragraph. Updates with Corona hospitalized. Minor edits.)