Akbayan, UP, Ateneo students file forfeiture case vs CoronaBy Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Noting a huge disparity between the declared assets and government salary of Chief Justice Renato Corona, a party-list group has called for the confiscation of his “unexplained” wealth estimated to be worth P78 million.
Akbayan Representative Walden Bello, along with three student leaders from the University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila University, on Thursday filed a complaint against Corona in the Office of the Ombudsman, alleging that the head of the Supreme Court misdeclared and hid the real value of his assets throughout the years.
In the complaint, Bello said: “Corona earns a basic salary of P91,226.00. Even assuming that he has served as Chief Justice for a decade, he would not be able to afford properties worth almost P50 million or maintain bank accounts worth some P31 million at one particular point.”
The Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, is trying Corona for not disclosing to the public his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) and purported bias for former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who appointed him to his present position, among other charges. Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative, is herself facing charges of electoral sabotage and is under hospital arrest.
Bello cited Corona’s “unexplained wealth” that was disclosed during the impeachment trial. Documents presented during the proceedings showed that Corona had three bank accounts with funds totaling P31 million.
No other source of income
“This exceeds the declared value of his personal properties in his SALNs by P27,252,623.09,” the complaint said.
The Supreme Court’s clerk of court, upon questioning by a senator-judge during the trial, was forced to reveal Corona’s SALNs from 2005 to 2010.
Bello also noted that the Chief Justice did not list any source of other income or businesses in his SALNs.
Being a member of the high court, Corona is barred from holding any other office or employment, the Akbayan lawmaker said.
Since there was no way for Corona to amass his P78-million wealth as a member of the court, it must be presumed that these were unlawfully acquired and should be confiscated by the government, Bello stressed.
Real estate assets
The party-list group listed six real estate properties purportedly belonging to the Coronas that should be seized. These were acquired from 2003 to 2008 and included condominium units in Taguig City and Quezon City.
The complaint said Corona undervalued his properties by P35 million.
Tranquil Salvador III, one of Corona’s lawyers, said the forfeiture complaint was an underhanded attempt to condition the minds of the public against the Chief Justice ahead of the defense team’s presentation of evidence at the Senate trial.
“This is my reading of it: Whatever the outcome at the impeachment court is, they want to leave an imprint on the minds of the public that it is ill-gotten,” Salvador said in a phone interview.
Bello also urged the Ombudsman to seize properties listed under the name of Corona’s immediate family members.
The Chief Justice used his wife, Cristina, and daughter, Charina, to hide his assets, the lawmaker claimed.
“Let us not forget that Corona’s acquisition of unexplained wealth is indeed a family affair. After all, he tried to hide his properties under the names of his family members as if that will save him,” Bello said.
“We cannot let the Corona family get away with abusing public office for their private benefit.”
That Bello and Akbayan already concluded that the properties and assets of the Chief Justice were amassed using corruption is “unfair,” Salvador said.
The defense lawyer also noted that Bello’s filing of the complaint in the Office of the Ombudsman was a form of forum-shopping.
The Ombudsman is not the right venue for it as it does not have jurisdiction over impeachable offenses, Salvador added.