Renato Corona not off the hook
Aquino wants ex-Chief Justice probed, prosecutedBy Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
President Benigno Aquino III doesn’t like the idea of Renato Corona escaping criminal prosecution after being fired as Chief Justice by the Senate impeachment court on Tuesday.
Laws for the common folk should be equally applied to those who wield influence, Mr. Aquino said on Friday.
Sparing Corona the ordeal of prosecution would be veering away from that principle, Mr. Aquino told reporters in Jaro, Iloilo province, Friday.
The President said someone had told him to just forget about bringing criminal charges against Corona, as the former Chief Justice had been punished enough through removal from the highest office in the judiciary.
But that, Mr. Aquino said, would just be a “return [to the old system].”
Lawmakers, including Mr. Aquino’s allies, are divided on the prosecution of Corona after his removal from office. Those who oppose prosecution have urged Mr. Aquino to stand down lest he be seen as “too vindictive.”
But the administration need not introduce new proceedings against Corona, as the Office of the Ombudsman is already investigating him for hidden wealth and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) is looking into his admitted bank accounts for potential breach of tax laws.
“Even Delsa Flores said that she was punished,” Mr. Aquino said. “What [she] committed was a relatively smaller violation. Is it right to just forget about the bigger violation?”
Delsa Flores was the court interpreter who was dismissed from the service 15 years ago for not reporting a market stall in her financial disclosure. Her retirement benefits were declared forfeit and she was permanently barred from public service.
Flores’ market stall was worth only a few thousand pesos. In contrast, Corona did not report $2.4 million and P80 million in bank deposits. For that, the Senate impeachment court, voting 20-3 on Tuesday after 44 days of trial, fired him from the judiciary.
While the Constitution prescribes only removal from office, Corona’s conviction for lying in his financial disclosures exposed him to prosecution for breaking the disclosure law and the code of ethics for public servants.
“We have the same rights, we have the same obligations,” Mr. Aquino said. “There should be equality and we should keep the blindfold on the eyes of Lady Justice.”
After addressing the First International River Summit here, Mr. Aquino faced the press for the first time since Corona’s fall.
Mr. Aquino had refused to recognize Corona as Chief Justice because his appointment by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2010 was unconstitutional, though ruled otherwise by the Supreme Court.
The President’s allies impeached Corona in the House of Representatives in December after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the government’s travel ban against Arroyo, who was trying to leave the country amid investigations for corruption and electoral sabotage.
The filing of electoral sabotage charges against Arroyo in court and an order for her arrest defeated the TRO. Arroyo is detained in a state-run hospital in Quezon City. Corruption and ethics charges have also been brought against her in connection with a broadband Internet deal between her administration and a Chinese telecommunications company.
Investigations going on
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad on Thursday said initiating criminal proceedings against Corona would no longer be necessary because of the cases already pending against the magistrate.
“The fact of the matter is that, as a result of revelations made during the course of the impeachment trial, certain agencies like the Office of the Ombudsman and the Bureau of Internal Revenue had initiated their own processes to look into possible violations of laws and rules over which they have jurisdiction and mandate to look into,” Abad said in a text message to the Inquirer on Thursday.
“I don’t think that now that judgment has been rendered by the impeachment court, these processes will also terminate,” Abad said.
Secretary Ronald Llamas, President Aquino’s adviser on political affairs, said that following Corona’s conviction, the cases against him in the Office of the Ombudsman should proceed.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said it was up to the Ombudsman to determine if there was prima facie evidence to bring charges against Corona.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima supports Mr. Aquino’s stand on the criminal prosecution of Corona.
“I don’t think it is wise and healthy for a nation that just because one proceeding has been concluded, the rest should be forgotten,” De Lima said on Friday. “If there are cases that need to be filed, and if there is sufficient evidence, then the cases [should] be filed.”
Commenting on the recommendation of some senators that Corona not be prosecuted for hidden wealth and tax evasion, De Lima said: “That’s the problem [with us] Filipinos. We’re too compassionate. We forget and forgive at once.”
But what about accountability, De Lima asked. “Some are saying removal—that’s accountability,” she said. “We still have laws to enforce. If someone disobeyed the law, [he] should be put to task.”
BIR Commissioner Kim Henares said on Friday that the investigation of Corona and his wife, Cristina, for unpaid taxes began in February right after she testified in the impeachment trial.
Corona’s daughter Carla and son-in-law Constantino III are also being investigated, Henares said.
But for Sen. Edgardo Angara, the government had already exacted the “highest penalty” from Corona; it should now strive for an “effective and complete closure” of the case.
Angara advised President Aquino against allowing the prosecutorial arms of the government to proceed with a “campaign of vindictiveness” lest he be seen as “too vengeful and vindictive.”
“The overall perspective is that the state has already exacted the highest penalty from a public servant by ousting him from the highest position as magistrate, and perpetual ban (from holding public office),” Angara said in a phone interview. “I think that should be enough punishment, and the state should not appear to be on a campaign of vindictiveness against him,” he said.
But tax liability is another matter, Angara said. “It is not for the Chief Justice to [evade] taxes,” he said. “There are tax implications on [the undeclared] money,” Angara said. The government should take “what is proven in excess of his income,” he said. With reports from Jerome Aning, Michael Lim Ubac and Ronnel W. Domingo
First posted 7:29 pm | Friday, June 1st, 2012
Tags: Budget Secretary Florencio Abad , Delsa Flores , First International River Summit , Judiciary , News , Office of the Ombudsman , Politics , President Benigno Aquino III , Prosecution , Renato Corona , Senate impeachment court