Is failure to correct SALN 20 years ago an impeachable offense?By Marlon Ramos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Is the failure of Chief Justice Renato Corona to correct his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) 20 years ago an impeachable offense?
Corona’s lawyers on Wednesday moved to deflect the prosecution’s claims that the inclusion of seven parcels of land in Marikina City in the Chief Justice’s SALN in 1992—two years after the property was supposedly sold to his relative—would support their allegation in the second impeachment article.
The second impeachment article accuses Corona of committing culpable violation of the Constitution for his failure to publicly disclose his SALN.
Jose Roy III, one of the defense counsels, also downplayed insinuations that the sale of the property in Marikina Heights to Corona’s cousin, Demetrio Vicente, may have been bogus since the 1,700-square-meter property remained registered in the name of Corona’s wife Cristina.
“What does his SALN in 1992 have to do with the impeachment now? Obviously, we’re not going to impeach him (Corona) for something he did in 1992 … while he was holding a different position,” Roy said in an interview before the impeachment proceedings.
“Let’s remember the impeachment is for Renato Corona as Chief Justice. It’s not even clear to me that acts committed before he became Chief Justice should be part of this process,” he added.
On Tuesday, Senator Ralph Recto asked Serafin Cuevas, Corona’s lead counsel, why the Chief Justice included in his SALN in 1992 the parcels of land in Marikina if Vicente had already bought them.
Roy said that what the Chief Justice listed in his SALN in 1992 actually referred to the Corona couple’s property in Ayala Heights, also in Marikina, and not the seven parcel of lands in Marikina Heights.
“Unfortunately, we were not able to point that out (on Tuesday), but this will be proven. You can check the records. The description of the SALN is general,” he said.
Just a caretaker
The defense panel also took exception to the claim of Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas Jr., the House lead prosecutor, that Vicente was just a “caretaker” of the Coronas.
Karen Jimeno, also of the defense, denied allegations that the Coronas could have hired a fake notary public and a bogus buyer just to cover up the ownership issue over the Marikina Heights property.
Jimeno said the ownership of the property would not matter in the trial because the transaction happened almost two decades before Corona was appointed as the country’s top magistrate.
“Of course (Corona) did not expect at the time that he would be a Chief Justice someday and that this matter would be an issue against him. This is something which happened in 1992,” she said in a press briefing during a break in the trial.
“There’s no logical reason for them to go through all that trouble … make spurious documents and fake transaction for something which will not affect his SALN anyway,” Jimeno added.
Tranquil Salvador III, one of the defense panel’s spokespersons, said even if the deed of sale was notarized by an unlicensed notary public, the transaction between Vicente and Cristina was still effective and binding.
According to Salvador, a notarized deed of sale or any other similar agreement only showed that “it’s a public document and that it has effect among the rest of us.”
“Would that mean that the sale was invalid? It’s not. A defective notarization would be the problem of the notary public. He or she may be charged,” he said, adding: “That’s not the problem of the person who trusted the notary public.”
‘Very strong family culture’
But why did Vicente allow the property to remain registered in Cristina’s name if he was able to pay real property taxes and finance the construction of his house?
Roy said it must be because of the Filipinos’ “very strong family culture” which, he said, may have also caused the rift among Cristina’s relatives over the control of Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc.
“I think that’s why sometimes families end up fighting because we’re closely knit and you can’t avoid that there will be differences of opinion,” he said.
“When you buy something from your relatives, you really don’t expect that there will be trouble. If there’s no difference or history of bad faith or ill will, you don’t expect your relatives to flip around and contest that sale.”
Corona’s lawyers also defended Vicente from individuals questioning his credibility, saying his “straightforward” replies to the grilling of the prosecution was “proof that he was telling the truth.”
Said Salvador: “One can tell if he was telling the truth with the way he testified. (Vicente) was there for some time and he was very consistent with his testimony. He knows the documents involved and even guided the lawyers to identify those.”
Roy said it was expected that the prosecution would cast doubt on Vicente’s credibility since he appeared in support of the Chief Justice’s defense.
“There will always be doubts on the part of the prosecution and the people who are against the Chief Justice. I’m sorry if the documentation does not meet their standard, but the fact remains that the witness was straightforward,” Roy said.
Visit Vicente in Manila
The outspoken lawyer then dared Marikina Representative Romero Quimbo and the media to pay a visit to Vicente’s house to “see once and for all who lives there.”
“Why don’t you stake out a camera there and find out who lives there? By the way, that house is in the district of Quimbo. Maybe he can assist us in determining the truth,” Roy said.