Corona urged to come clean on US properties
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II on Wednesday urged impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona to come clean on his reported properties in the United States and stop flip-flopping on the issue, saying the people deserve to know the truth.
“Ano ba talaga (what is the real score), Chief Justice Corona? Does your family own the properties or not?” Gonzales asked. “The Filipino people deserve an explanation. They deserve to know the truth.”
Gonzales said the House of Representatives’ prosecution panel was studying the possibility of including Corona’s properties abroad in its rebuttal after the defense shall have completed presenting its evidence at the impeachment trial in the Senate.
Journalist Raissa Robles reported in her blog that a certain “Renato C. Corona” was linked to two addresses in Tampa, Florida, and Mountain View, California, but the Chief Justice flip-flopped on whether he and his family owned the properties.
Although the prosecution panel is still studying the possibility of including Corona’s properties abroad in its rebuttal, Gonzales said the Chief Justice owed the public a “convincing” explanation as a result of Robles’ “alarming report.”
“The Chief Justice must convince the public that he does not own the US properties. He should come up with a convincing explanation otherwise people would think he is again hiding something,” he said.
Corona vehemently denied owning any property in the United States, then admitted that the residences mentioned in Robles’ blog were just his family’s “temporary mailing addresses” while they were on a visit there.
The next day, however, Corona changed his statement, saying one of his daughters had indeed bought a house in the United States. Armed with property documents, Robles said the house was in the City of Roseville in Placer County, California.
But Gonzales said Corona’s turnabout was a bit strange.
“Buying property abroad is not an ordinary occurrence that one can easily forget. I’m sure he has been to the place,” Gonzales said.
He said the prosecution was convinced that Corona owned the US property considering that it was also under the name of his daughter Maria Charina, who, according to his defense counsels, was also the owner of a 203-square-meter lot in McKinley Hills in Taguig City bought for P6.2 million.
“We wouldn’t be surprised if the Chief Justice also owns the Placer County house looking at how he made the McKinley property appear to be owned by Maria Charina,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales said the prosecution believed that Corona used his children as dummies to hide his unexplained wealth.
In the case of the McKinley property, he said, there was evidence showing that the Chief Justice signed as owner in the reservation agreement and paid it in 27 installments, as shown by the receipts.
In another blog entry, Robles said she had information that Maria Charina bought the US property in 2008, 22 days before she acquired the McKinley lot.
Robles also noted that Maria Charina was the sole owner of the property because, surprisingly, her husband had signed a waiver.
Senator Gregorio Honasan said it was possible that the impeachment court could admit evidence on the alleged properties of Corona in the United States.
Asked in a phone interview whether the prosecution could still raise the issue of the US properties as part of its rebuttal, Honasan said: “[Before the prosecution rested] they made reservation on the dollar accounts; everything is subject to approval of the court.”
The senator said, in effect, that as long as it could be shown that the properties had links to the dollar accounts of the Chief Justice, the prosecution could submit the evidence, but subject to the concurrence of 23 senator-judges.
“All, everything, subject to the approval of the court in caucus, or in open court through the presiding officer,” Honasan said.
No longer possible
Sought for comment, the defense lawyers disagreed.
“No more, even on rebuttal, since it is not a matter subject of presentation of defense evidence,” defense lawyer Tranquil Salvador III said.
Salvador insisted that the prosecution could not just link to the dollar deposits of the Chief Justice the California property bought by Maria Charina, a physical therapist in the United States.
5 dollar accounts
“I believe so. Besides, there is no certainty that they will be allowed to present evidence on the alleged dollar deposit,” said Salvador.
At the trial, the prosecution claimed that Corona was keeping five dollar accounts with Philippine Savings Banks (PSBank), but these were shielded from scrutiny by a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court on February 9.
The TRO was sought by both Corona and PSBank, but the Supreme Court decided to grant PSBank’s request.
The Senate subsequently voted to respect the TRO, which then barred the prosecution and senator-judges from eliciting information on the dollar accounts allegedly held by Corona in PSBank and were subject of a subpoena that had been earlier obtained by the prosecution.
Armed with the Supreme Court order, PSBank president Pascual Garcia III clammed up during his testimony at the trial, refusing to disclose the contents of the dollar accounts because of the strict provisions of the Foreign Currency Deposits Act.
Garcia, however, released information relating to peso accounts owned by the Chief Justice.
Before resting its case on February 28, the prosecution reserved the right to present evidence on Corona’s dollar deposits since the issue remained pending at the high tribunal.
To prove his innocence, Corona himself told the media that he would be opening his dollar deposits. “Whether or not there was a TRO from the Supreme Court, I said I will open it in due time and the due time is next week. I have always said there is no problem with my dollar deposits because I can explain it,” Corona said in a dzBB interview on March 7.
At the time, Corona went on a media blitz ahead of the turn of the defense to present its evidence, which began on March 12.
The impeachment trial resumes on May 7.