Lito Lapid question floors prosecution: Loan or cash advance?
An exasperated Senator Manuel “Lito” Lapid unexpectedly took the floor for the first time in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona yesterday with just one question.
Was the P11 million that Corona and wife Cristina purportedly took from Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc. a loan or a cash advance?
By asking this, Lapid inadvertently made a prosecutor admit he was out to prove that the Coronas possessed “unexplained wealth,” a charge whose presentation the Senate acting as tribunal had decided it could not allow because it was not included in Article 2 of the impeachment complaint.
Lapid’s question was not even addressed to the witness, Director Benito Cataran of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Looking impatient, Lapid told Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile that he wanted the prosecution to explain why it had been grilling Cataran for more than an hour on whether the Basa-Guidote continued to exist.
Cataran testified that the company, supposedly owned by the family of Cristina Corona, had been inactive since 1991.
Mindoro Oriental Representative Reynaldo Umali said the prosecution believed that it would be improbable for the Coronas to obtain a cash advance from an inactive company.
Umali added that since neither the Chief Justice nor his wife were shareholders of the company, “We could not understand. That’s why we want this clarified here.”
“So, it’s no longer relevant whether the company closed or not? Or whether the couple borrowed money,” Lapid asked in Filipino.
Umali explained that a company could only loan money after its board approved the application.
“There is a process that needs to be followed. There must be a board resolution but there is no such resolution. And the SEC had indicated that (Basa-Guidote’s) license had been revoked and had not complied with requirements since 1991,” the prosecutor said.
“If that’s the case, are you telling me that you’ve been asking a lot of questions (tanong kayo nang tanong) and we’ve been here for several hours already just to make it appear that the P11 million was a loan? Or a cash advance,” Lapid deadpanned.
Umali said the P11 million (considered a liability) was not reflected in Corona’s statements of assets, liabilities and net worth from 2003 to 2009. This would be a violation of a government requirement for him to do so.
A buzz in gallery
The prosecutor added that even Cristina Corona who was supposedly engaged in real estate during that period, appeared not to have made tax payments to the Bureau of Internal Revenue at the time referred.
“So, all of this is a puzzle to us. Where did the P11 million really come from? Because we are trying to establish here (the case of) unexplained wealth,” Umali said.
The revelation caused a buzz in the gallery since the impeachment court already passed a resolution barring the prosecution from proceeding with paragraph 2.4 of Article 2 of the impeachment complaint that accused Corona of acquiring “ill-gotten wealth.”
“That’s all. Thank you very much,” Lapid, looking elated at the surprise admission he had just elicited. To smiles and winks from colleagues, the former movie star returned to his seat, which he rarely left to take the podium during regular session.
Case of nondisclosure
“Is that the purpose of the prosecution,” Enrile queried Umali.
The prosecutor’s disclosure also attracted the attention of the lead defense counsel, Serafin Cuevas.
“I thought there was already a resolution denying the prosecution from presenting evidence of unexplained wealth very clearly,” Cuevas complained.
Sensing his mistake, Umali clenched his right fist near his face and winced.
“Your Honor, I clarify that the case is nondisclosure,” he explained.
“May I caution everybody to respect the rulings of this court. We have already ruled that paragraph 2.4 is not permissible to receive any proof. So kindly adhere to the rules of this court,” Enrile reminded the prosecutor.
Umali sheepishly offered an apology.
“So ordered,” Enrile replied sternly and banged the gavel.
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