Corona shows up for tax probe, slams AquinoBy Christine O. Avendaño, TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Finally showing up to respond to the multimillion-peso tax evasion case filed against him, ousted Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona on Thursday blamed the Aquino administration for his current legal woes and warned his former colleagues in the high court that they might suffer the same fate if they don’t toe the line of Malacañang.
Corona also asked why the government has not yet implemented the high court decision under his watch that ruled for the distribution of the Aquino-Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita to farmer beneficiaries.
“Six months after the decision of the Corona court had become final in connection with the Hacienda Luisita, I am wondering why until now the lands are not yet distributed to the pitiful farmers, not even a single piece,” Corona said.
Malacañang scoffed at Corona’s claims that his hearing on tax evasion charges was a continuation of his persecution by the Aquino administration, suggesting that he was singing a tired old song.
“Who sang ‘Lumang Tugtugin (old tune)’? I think that’s Apo [Hiking Society],’’ presidential spokesperson Secretary Edwin Lacierda said, chuckling.
Lacierda added that Corona was aware that his removal from office did not preclude the filing of a criminal case against him.
Corona arrived with his wife Cristina at the Department of Justice (DOJ) to finally hand over and subscribe to his counter-affidavit to the P120.5 million tax evasion case filed against him by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).
The DOJ panel had given Corona until yesterday to hand his counter-affidavit after he failed to appear in its three hearings or his case will be resolve based only on the BIR evidence.
Corona’s daughter Carla and her husband Constantino had submitted last week their respective counter-affidavits to the BIR complaint that they owe the government over P30 million in undeclared taxes.
Speaking to reporters after he subscribed to his counter-affidavit before DOJ panel members led by Senior State Prosecutor Roseanne Balauag, Corona said he went to the DOJ to “belie the malicious and baseless accusations against me.”
“What is happening today is just another chapter of the just concluded impeachment trial,” he said in Filipino, referring to the Senate trial that found him guilty of not reporting his true income in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.
He said the decision of the Senate impeachment court was “highly political.”
Corona reiterated that his trial was a result of the “decision of the Corona court” on the issue of Hacienda Luisita and “my personal crusade for law and justice” and an “independent judiciary.”
The DOJ panel granted the appeal of Corona’s lawyer, Anacleto Diaz, that his client’s counter-affidavit to be kept confidential and away from the prying eyes of the media, a development which was assailed by Malacañang.
“It’s surprising that he’s attacking the President and yet he wants his counter-affidavit to be confidential. I talked to Secretary Leila de Lima about that. That can’t happen. A preliminary investigation is public in character and all the documents attached to it are public documents,’’ Lacierda said.
Malacañang also disputed Corona’s claims that the government has failed to implement the Supreme Court’s ruling on the distribution of Hacienda Luisita.
Lacierda said Agrarian Reform Secretary Gil de los Reyes has already undertaken an inventory to determine the farmer-beneficiaries.
The high court in May ordered the distribution of the remaining 4,300 hectares of the plantation to 6,296 farmers.
The Supreme Court justices voted 8-6 rejecting the bid by the family of Mr. Aquino to secure at least P5 billion in compensation for Hacienda Luisita and affirming a November 2011 that valued the vast sugar estate at around P196 million on 1989 prices.
In November last year, the high court voted for the distribution of the estate to the farmers.
Balauag set the next hearing on Nov. 16, giving BIR and Corona’s lawyers 20 days to respond to the counter-affidavits.
‘Lots of documentary evidence’
Meanwhile, Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares, who was at the DOJ for his biweekly news conference, shrugged off the protestations made by Corona on the tax evasion case against him and his family.
Henares said the case of Corona would only be political if the BIR had no evidence against him.
“Our case against him is backed with a lot of documentary evidence,” she told reporters.
“You will have to present evidence if you have not committed any offense,” Henares also said.
Corona’s lawyer, for his part, said it was not a mere denial of the charges against him but also contained “factual and legal evidence.”
Corona also paid the Supreme Court an unexpected visit yesterday, as the Judicial and Bar Council was interviewing aspirants to the Associate Justice position at the high court premises.
It turned out that Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin had invited Corona to attend an annual trick or treat event in his office, where the invited guests included Associate Justices Roberto Abad, Teresita De Castro and Presbitero Velasco.