Spokespersons of the prosecution in the trial of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona on Friday said the criticism directed at it for its failure to present proof of his purported 45 properties is not only undeserved but also missed the point of the impeachment.
“They claimed we have lost the case because we only presented 25 and not 45 [properties]. But whether it is 5 or 10 or 20 or 45, the point is he did not disclose and declare them for years. And why were these declared at very low values? It’s like he’s hiding something, like where did he get the money to pay for these?” Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara said.
The lawmaker also said saying sorry would not cut it for Corona, who is expected to argue that his omissions in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) were not enough grounds for his ouster.
Apology acceptable if…
“[The apology] will be acceptable if he makes it voluntarily and before there was a full-blown trial,” Angara said. “Clearly, it will be a belated U-turn from previous pronouncements that he had declared all his properties in his SALNs, necessitated by the very clear showing of nondeclaration and underdeclaration [of] funds and assets that cannot be justified by his legitimate income. The omissions are too blatant and too deliberate to ignore.”
Angara likewise said Corona’s anticipated gambit to apologize for his shortcomings in his SALNs would constitute proof that the prosecution had done its work.
“His team would not have admitted to the deficiencies in the [documents] had we not pried out his SALNs and [income tax returns] during the trial,” Angara said.
Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III said it was “a clear betrayal of public trust because [Corona] swore to the authenticity of his SALNs.”
“He cannot even claim that it was ‘a lapse of judgment,’ like what GMA claimed in the heat of the ‘Hello Garci’ [election fraud] scandal,” Tañada said in reference to then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s (GMA) speech in 2005 where she apologized for talking to then Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, purportedly in an effort to pad and protect her votes.
“It did not work for GMA; the people did not believe her. It will also not work for her ‘midnight appointee,’” Tanada said.
Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo said allowing Corona to get away with concealing his properties for years would ultimately render SALNs worthless.
Purported bank accounts
“The filing of a SALN is not a ministerial duty. It is a serious measure required by the Constitution for the public to monitor whether a public officer is illegally accumulating wealth. The Supreme Court has time and again punished government employees for lying in their SALNs. If the court punished other government employees for lying in their SALN, why can’t we impose it on the Chief Justice?” Quimbo said, adding:
“The Chief Justice wants a double standard for himself.”
Quimbo also said the prosecution had pinpointed the bank accounts and transactions that it wanted to subpoena from PSBank and Bank of the Philippine Islands that would help in uncovering Corona’s purported hidden wealth.
He said the impeachment court being a superior court, the banks would have no choice but to drop their confidentiality agreements to comply with the subpoena.
But no matter how his impeachment trial turns out, Corona will emerge scarred, his name tarnished, and without any legal remedy to go after the 188 lawmakers who impeached him, according to defense spokesperson Tranquil Salvador III.
“The hard part about the Chief Justice’s situation is that they’re throwing the entire cabinet at him. But after all this, when he’s acquitted or found guilty, nothing… By then, his person has been destroyed, and he has no remedy. Can he sue the 188 for malicious prosecution? I don’t think so,” Salvador told reporters.
Asked if Corona could sue the lawmakers who had signed the impeachment complaint for libel, the lawyer laughed and said: “Let’s talk about that at a later time.”
Salvador and his fellow spokespersons, Rico Paolo Quicho and Karen Jimeno, faced the press to answer questions, particularly on the prosecution’s flip-flopping on earlier claims that Corona had 45 properties, at the Ateneo de Manila University Law School in Makati City.
“We are standing by the contents of [Corona’s] SALNs, and that these are accurate and exact,” Salvador said.
But Salvador refused to say how Corona could explain why he declared, for example, the Burgundy Plaza condominium unit owned by him and his wife in his 2003 SALN only six years after its purchase, and underdeclared it.
The spokesperson said the defense would answer all these, and other allegations by the prosecution, in its own presentation of witnesses and documents.
At Thursday’s hearing, Sen. Ralph Recto pointed out that a public officer who made an erroneous entry in his SALN would not be sanctioned if he made a correction in good faith under the rules of the Civil Service Commission.
At the same hearing, the prosecutors told the court that Corona declared the P3.4-million Burgundy unit only as P921,080 in his 2003 SALN, and did not declare the P450,000 parking slot at all.
Quicho said Republic Act No. 6713, the law governing SALNs, provided for the creation of a committee by the Senate and the House to review the documents submitted by government officials and employees.
“Was there a committee formed to review the SALNs of government officials? Are there implementing guidelines? This is where the concern of some senator-judges comes in. If the basis for reviewing these SALNs is unclear, why should the Chief Justice be penalized for something that the law is not clear on?” Quicho said.
Jimeno said the matter should be seen in the context of whether there was compliance with the rules of compliance issued by the Supreme Court on disclosure. “They should study that, and not the error of the Chief Justice in filling out his SALN,” she said.
‘Stupidity too strong a word’
On the prosecution’s claim that it had presented evidence proving that Corona had 21 properties, instead of 45, Salvador said the defense would not file a case against the contending camp. But he challenged the prosecutors to be man enough to admit their mistake.
This, Quicho added, betrayed the hastiness with which the prosecution filed the articles of impeachment.
“Stupidity is too strong a word. This just goes to show that they had filed this hastily, without giving it much thought and verification,” he said.
Jimeno, for her part, said the matter should serve as a lesson to the media and the public not to accept any evidence presented by either panel hook, line and sinker.
Quicho challenged Quimbo to join the trial and face chief defense counsel Serafin Cuevas if he was that “well-versed” with the facts of the case.
He was reacting to Quimbo’s reported claim that Cuevas was only representing “wealthy criminals.”
The defense said it was prepared to respond to any witness or document to be presented, or any manifestation to be filed by the prosecution.