Graft court on Corona case: SALN not a weapon | Inquirer News

Graft court on Corona case: SALN not a weapon

/ 05:50 AM November 04, 2022

Graft court on Corona case: SALN not a weapon

TELL THE TRUTH Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona swears to tell the truth in his Senate impeachment trial on May 22, 2012, a week before senators voted 20-3 to convict him. —SENATE FILE PHOTO

The Sandiganbayan on Thursday repeated a warning by the Supreme Court that the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) should not be used as a “weapon for political vendetta” against civil servants as it ruled to junk the P134-million civil forfeiture case against the late impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona.

In a 48-page decision more than eight years after the case was filed by the Ombudsman, the antigraft court said that Corona’s family had proven that his alleged ill-gotten wealth was all legally acquired from working in the private sector and the government for 45 years.


It said that Corona acquired funds “other than his lawful income in government service.”


The civil forfeiture case was filed in 2014 by then Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, who is also a former Supreme Court associate justice who had served on the bench under Corona.

It stemmed from the late chief justice’s alleged “unexplained wealth” amounting to P134.4 million that “way exceeded the assets” that Corona and his wife, Cristina, declared on their SALN.

After Corona died in 2016 at 67, he was represented in the case by his widow and their children Francis Corona, Ma. Carla Beatrice Castillo and Charina Salgado.

“For the future’s worth, as stressed by the Supreme Court in Re: Ma. Cristina Roco Corona, the SALN is a tool for public transparency and never a weapon for political vendetta,” the Sandiganbayan said, quoting from the high tribunal’s decision in January 2021 granting Corona’s widow’s petition to release his retirement benefits despite his impeachment and conviction.

“The Filipino people live, toil, and thrive in a democracy, but the rule of law should not stand parallel to the rule of the mob. Toe this line, and the nation may eventually behold the laws that the Courts have forever sworn to uphold battered and bent,” the Sandiganbayan said, still quoting the Supreme Court.

Corona’s questioned SALN was the main basis for the Senate impeachment court to convict him in a 20-3 vote on May 29, 2012, five months after he was impeached by the House of Representatives.


The three senator-judges who voted to acquit him were the late senators Joker Arroyo and Miriam Defensor Santiago, and now President Marcos.

The Sandiganbayan said some of the undeclared cash assets in Corona’s SALN included his dollar deposits, which he and his wife insisted were “absolutely confidential in nature,” in accordance with the Foreign Currency Deposit Act.

The Corona couple told the court that they had been working and saving money since the early 1960s and that their pooled dollar investments increased their foreign currency holdings.

The Sandiganbayan ruled that the P134.4 million of the Corona family’s peso and dollar deposits and their P17.5 million worth of real properties in Quezon City, Taguig and Antipolo, Rizal, were all legally acquired. The court acknowledged that the total amount was not declared in the ousted chief justice’s SALN.

‘Errors in good faith’

The Sandiganbayan said that the issue was whether the Coronas had properties “manifestly out of proportion to their lawful income and thus, presumed to have been unlawfully acquired,” not that they were undeclared.

“Considering that the real evil sought to be addressed is the accumulation of ill-gotten wealth, our legal system should guard against the weaponizing of SALNs where errors were made in good faith,” the Sandiganbayan said.

It said that the pursuit of ill-gotten wealth “should not be mindless as to be oppressive towards anyone.”

Not paupers

The decision was written by Associate Justice Arthur Malabaguio, who was appointed by former President Rodrigo Duterte to the court on March 4 this year.

Concurring with him were Associate Justices Oscar Herrera Jr., the division chair, and Michael Frederick Musngi, both appointees of the late President Benigno Aquino III in 2011 and 2016, respectively.

“In this case, it is unquestionable that respondents did not enter the government service as paupers and that Chief Justice Corona was a successful lawyer,” the decision read.

It cited his work in the corporate sector and as professor at the Ateneo de Manila School of Law.

The Sandiganbayan also referred to “voluminous bank certifications” presented by state prosecutors themselves showing that Corona’s bank accounts had deposit amounts withdrawn or redeemed by the couple after they earned “obtainable interest.”

It said that the late chief justice “indicated consistently and in good faith” the assessed values and fair market values of their real properties in his SALNs.

Assailed by Aquino

The court ruled that nondeclarations on SALNs are “innocuous mistakes” that were not tantamount to having ill-gotten wealth, “though they signify a degree of carelessness.”

The Sandiganbayan decision and the Supreme Court ruling, which it cited, did not say who had weaponized the SALN, although it was publicly known that Aquino resented Corona’s appointment as chief justice by his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Arroyo appointed Corona on May 12, 2010, two days after the presidential election.

The appointment was immediately assailed by Aquino, who said that it violated the constitutional ban on “midnight appointments.”

At his inauguration, Aquino broke tradition by choosing Morales, not the chief justice, to administer his oath of office because he said he disagreed with the court ruling that exempted the high court from the ban on midnight appointments.

In August 2010, Aquino revoked all of Arroyo’s so-called midnight appointments—except Corona’s.

Aquino appointed Morales as Ombudsman a month after she retired from the Supreme Court in June 2011.

A month after she filed the forfeiture case against Corona, the Sandiganbayan ordered a freeze on the alleged unlawfully acquired Corona assets.

When it dismissed the civil case, the Sandiganbayan on Thursday also lifted its writ of preliminary attachment on the disputed assets.

The SALN was also used to remove Aquino’s chief justice appointee, Maria Lourdes Sereno, in 2018.

The Supreme Court itself voted to oust her on by upholding a quo warranto petition against Sereno filed by then Solicitor General Jose Calida, who cited her incomplete SALNs that he said invalidated her appointment in the first place. —WITH A REPORT FROM ANA ROA OF INQUIRER RESEARCH


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Sandigan throws out forfeiture cases vs late ex-CJ Corona: Assets not in SALN not ‘unexplained wealth’

TAGS: CJ Corona, Corona, Graft, SALN, Sandiganbayan

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