MANILA, Philippines—The Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, suspended its trial on Thursday for a month long break with senators still clueless where the P34 million payment for a property sold by a corporation owned by the family of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s wife went.
The defense team presented former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza to prove that Corona’s wife, Cristina, was authorized by the Basa-Guidote Enterprise Inc. (BGEI) to negotiate the sale of the property.
The property, located in Sampaloc, Manila, was sold at P34,703,800 on June 5, 2001 to Mrs. Corona “in trust” for the corporation.
After few hours in the testimony, however, Senator Joker Arroyo stood up and asked the relevance of the transaction in the ongoing impeachment case against Corona.
Prosecution chief and Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas Jr. explained that the issue falls under Article 2 of the impeachment complaint, which alleges Corona’s failure to disclose to the public his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN).
“The theory of the prosecution is that it was misappropriated by Mrs Corona… (and) deposited it in her personal account,” Tupas said.
“And therefore and if we follow the line of reasoning by the defense, it ended up in the account of the Chief Justice. Therefore, it should have been included and declared in the SALN so it would fall under Article 2,” he said.
But Arroyo noted there was no admission from the defense team that the money ended up in the bank account of the Chief Justice.
The senator then directed the question to Corona’s lead counsel, former Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas, who said the money could be in the Chief Justice’s account since it did not even belong to his wife.
“This money does not belong to even Mrs. Corona herself because the check will show that it is for Basa-Guidote and received by Mrs. Corona only in trust. So if she received it in trust, there’s nothing that she can transfer to his husband,” Cuevas pointed out.
But Tupas insisted that Mrs. Corona treated the money as “her own” and therefore, it should also be declared in the SALN of the Chief Justice.
“But Mrs. Corona is not being charged her. It’s Chief Justice Corona,” said Arroyo.
Senator Ralph Recto also stood up and said that based on the evidence presented by the prosecution, the sale of the property went to the Chief Justice’s three banks accounts – two from the Philippine Savings Bank and one from the Bank of the Philippine Island.
Recto specifically referred to the testimonies of prosecution witnesses that the Chief Justice withdrew some P34 million last December 12, the same day the impeachment complaint was transmitted to the Senate.
But Cuevas protested at how Recto supposedly formed his own conclusion based only on the evidence presented by the prosecutors .
“We have not yet started presenting evidence in this regard so how can there be an evaluation, an appraisal, a conclusion? I hope as a judge in this case, I will plead most respectfully that kindly receive the evidence with an open mind,” said the defense team’s chief.
And if indeed the money was received by Mrs. Corona “in trust”, Cuevas said, “Is it hers? Even if we follow your logic, your honor. Is it hers?”
“I’m not saying it is hers,” said Recto.
Cuevas: “Precisely. So why the husband be accountable for that?”
Recto: “I’m not even saying that.”
But Cuevas retorted that Recto made him “understood that way because my objection is this, you’re making a summation of fact but solely on the basis in favor of one party.”
“Why? Because there’s no evidence on our part. We have not even discussed the deposits. The only concept that you have is the concept coming from the prosecution…Very unfair,” said Cuevas.
At that point, Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile intervened and said that the issue where the money went has yet to be established.