Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Sunday all but slammed the door on a key defense strategy to show that impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona should not be convicted for failing to include the acquisition cost of his properties in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs).
Enrile, the presiding officer in the impeachment trial, said the defense panel should instead focus on explaining Corona’s bank accounts, including his dollar deposits.
“Let’s not complicate things anymore. Let us finish this case. Go direct to the point. You just explain the charges against you. Then it’s done,” he said in a radio interview on dzBB.
Enrile said the impeachment court was awaiting the defense’s explanation on Corona’s bank accounts, including his dollar deposits.
“There really are bank accounts under his name. I don’t know if they (the amounts) really belong to him that’s why we’re awaiting his explanation. How much are they because they are assets? If they were not included (in the SALN), it should be explained why they were left out.”
The defense is set to present the SALNs of other government officials who had likewise omitted the acquisition cost in their declarations.
A defense lawyer, Tranquil Salvador III, yesterday said the presentation would not yet happen this week, the ninth week of trial and the last one before the Senate goes on Holy Week break.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad earlier admitted that he, too, did not include the acquisition cost of his properties in his own SALN, a purported violation both the Aquino administration and the prosecution have pointed out in the case of Corona.
Not impeachable officers
But Enrile was not interested in seeing the SALNs of other government officials in the impeachment trial of the Chief Justice.
He said Cabinet members, for instance, were “not impeachable officers.”
Enrile said he would question the “purpose” and “relevance” of these SALNs should defense lawyers present them this week.
“(They’re) immaterial, irrelevant to the case,” he said.
“Just because others were at fault doesn’t mean that the one on trial also committed a violation. I’m not saying that the Chief Justice is guilty, but that’s not the way it is in trial,” he explained in Filipino.
Enrile said presenting the SALNs of government officials, like Cabinet members, in the impeachment court would only serve as “nuisance” (pampagulo) in the trial.
A defense lawyer, Ramon Esguerra, on Friday said Corona had no intention to conceal the acquisition cost of his properties.
Esguerra noted that the figures were available in public records, such as deeds of sale available at the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the register of deeds.
“You can’t impute bad faith, you can’t impute malice to anyone who, in the execution of accounting forms, has followed the same pattern from beginning to the very end,” Esguerra said.
“Yes, the figures may be incomplete, but was there bad faith? There’s none.”
All are accountable
Esguerra on Saturday said the issue of acquisition cost in Corona’s SALN led to “one very significant consequence,” that is, “the relevance of the SALN in exacting public accountability of all in the bureaucracy.”
“The trial has therefore evolved beyond the Chief Justice as the conscience of everyone mindful of the public’s trust must be truthful of his true net worth,” he told the Inquirer in a text message. “This is a challenge for the President to the lowly janitor or clerk in the government.”
Defense lawyers earlier reminded impatient prosecutors and some senator-judges, that they were still in the process of building their case to show that Corona committed no impeachable offense.
Prosecutors on Sunday said the Chief Justice should not belittle as “mere inadvertence or simple negligence” his failure to disclose his true net worth in his SALN.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said Corona’s failure to disclose the acquisition costs of his assets and his bank deposits was a deliberate act “tantamount to perjury and dishonesty to hide unexplained wealth which makes him culpable of betraying the public trust.”
Colmenares was reacting to a claim by the defense team that Corona should not be impeached for something which practically all government officials practice in filling up their SALN forms—they use fair market value as a basis for their net worth which was lower than the acquisition cost.
“The theory that the ‘mistakes’ of the Chief Justice do not rise to the level of an impeachable offense is not acceptable to the people,” he said.
“A reasonable man cannot surely declare CJ Corona not guilty on the basis that his nondisclosures were innocent mistakes. That would be tragically unreasonable,” he added.
“Corona’s lawyers cannot compare the Chief Justice with other people in government. Being the country’s chief magistrate, he must be whiter than white. Corona holds a position that exacts greater demand of moral righteousness and uprightness,” said Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tanada III.
In a text message, Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., the chief House prosecutor, said: “So far, the defense has not presented anything that could help the case of CJ. The way I see it, the defense has only two substantial witnesses—the Chief Justice and his wife. But if they will present them as witnesses, they will also encounter lots of problems that could be fatal to their case.” With a report from Gil C. Cabacungan
Originally posted: 5:41 pm | Sunday, March 18th, 2012