Palace behind Ombudsman’s testimony, claims Corona
Impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona on Friday accused Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales of allowing Malacañang to use her as part of its efforts to persecute the political enemies of President Benigno Aquino III.
Returning to the Senate impeachment court after suddenly leaving it on Tuesday, Corona took the witness stand again and complained that Malacañang used all its “power and resources” to persecute him, apparently for being an ally of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
An angry Morales called a news conference to deny that she had allowed herself to be used. “Never ever,” Morales said. “I never allowed myself to be used.”
Malacañang dismissed Corona’s statements as “fabrications.”
Presidential Political Adviser Ronald Llamas said Corona’s claim about Morales was ridiculous. “Remember, it was Corona’s lawyers who chose to call the Ombudsman,” Llamas said in a text message. “She did not insert herself into the proceedings.”
Corona admitted to having four US dollar accounts, which contained $2.4 million (about P90 million), not 82 accounts containing $10 million to $12 million, as Morales claimed in her testimony two weeks ago. He said he had three peso accounts with P80 million in deposits.
He said he withdrew P34 million from one of the accounts on the day the House of Representatives impeached him last December because he had learned from friends in Malacañang that the administration may order a freeze on his bank accounts.
Corona said that aside from the Office of the Ombudsman, the Palace also exploited the Land Registration Authority, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to produce false information against him.
Under questioning by Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Corona admitted that there was animosity between him and Morales, a retired Supreme Court justice whom President Aquino appointed Ombudsman last year.
“I believe the Ombudsman allowed herself to be used by Malacañang,” Corona said in Filipino.
“She even waved in front of the senators that document supposedly coming from AMLC about my dollar accounts. It did not seem proper since the document was not even authenticated,” Corona said.
Morales stands by story
Llamas denied the Palace ordered a freeze on Corona’s bank accounts. “This is just another tall tale to justify his attempt to take his money and run,” Llamas said.
Morales stood by her findings that Corona had 82 US dollar accounts containing at least $10 million. She did not say how she got that figure, but said the AMLC documents were authenticated.
Morales said certified public accountants assisted her in evaluating the figures in the AMLC report. She said the AMLC’s George Tan signed the report.
“I did not pick it up from the gutter,” Morales said. “It was handed to me by AMLC chief [Vicente] Aquino.”
In the Senate, Corona said he wondered why the AMLC was investigating him in the first place.
“I am not aware of being guilty of a predicate crime,” he said. “I am not under any investigation and there is no court order, yet the Ombudsman released the alleged AMLC report and made a PowerPoint presentation during her testimony.”
Under the Anti-Money Laundering Act, investigators must first establish a suspect’s link to a predicate crime before they can look into his bank accounts.
The law also requires a court order before a suspect’s bank accounts can be opened for scrutiny.
The suspect also needs to be informed that he is being investigated by the AMLC before his bank accounts can be checked.
Corona said Morales’ testimony as a hostile witness of his defense team was preceded by the publication of a report in the Inquirer that the Ombudsman was investigating him in connection with his foreign-currency bank accounts.
He recalled he was in Baguio City for the Supreme Court’s summer session when his office received a sealed envelope from Morales’ office.
“I was being asked to answer within 72 hours. The letter, in bold black letters said, ‘Strictly confidential.’ It was only after I returned from Baguio that I got the letter. But I wonder, if the letter was strictly confidential, how come the Philippine Daily Inquirer had a copy,” he said.
“There was a banner headline with my name on it,” he said. “The story quoted a letter from the Ombudsman. Who would give them that, something that is strictly confidential? It could not have come from me since I would not give [it] to [the] Inquirer.”
Corona said anyone who would leak that kind of information “obviously [did it] for maximum damage to [my] reputation.”
Morales denied leaking the letter to the Inquirer. She said the report sent to Corona’s office was unsealed but this was because the document’s first page needed to be signed on receipt.
Still answering questions from Estrada, Corona admitted he did not vote for Morales as a candidate for Ombudsman last year.
“To be honest, although we were civil to each other, there was an undercurrent of distrust. Or let’s just say we were not allies,” Corona said.
He said he and Morales began to distrust each other toward the end of the term of Chief Justice Reynato Puno in mid-2010.
“One of the contenders [for successor] was Morales’ cousin, [Senior Associate] Justice Antonio Carpio. I think that’s how it began. I realize she sided with her cousin. Of course, she would not choose me,” Corona said.
Corona spoke about an incident before Morales retired. He said Morales sent word through the clerk of court that she wanted a “big budget retirement.”
The “regular” retirement allotment for a Supreme Court justice is “somewhere between P500,000 to P600,000,” Corona said.
Corona said Morales demanded “at least double” this amount.
That was what really got Morales’ goat. “I’m fuming mad,” she said. “He’s a certified liar.”
The Supreme Court retirement committee recommends a P1.5 million allotment for each retiring justice, Morales said. But Corona allocated only P650,000 for her, she said.
Explaining his bank accounts, Corona testified he had around P80.7 million in peso deposits, mostly in “co-mingled” funds.
The deposits can be broken down as follows:
The P34.7 million proceeds from the sale of the Sampaloc lot owned by Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc.
The 10 million deposit earned in interest over 11 years.
The P15 million savings of his daughter Charina entrusted to him and his wife, Cristina, before she left for the US 10 years back.
The P6 million to P8 million in “co-mingled” funds now deposited in a Bank of the Philippine Islands account.
The P4 million earnings that his daughter Carla, a licensed physical therapist, earned in the United States.
The P2 million in savings of his son Francis.
Co-mingled funds for interest
Corona explained that his family went for co-mingled funds because the larger the deposit, the larger the interest earnings.
Corona also mentioned the “Coronado fund” entrusted to him by his late mother before she succumbed to cancer in 1995.
He said this fund—he did not disclose the amount—was used for his mother’s cancer treatment and funeral expenses.
The remaining balance is now being used to finance his ailing elder brother Arturo’s medications and hospital expenses.
Corona said he had been investing in foreign exchange since the 1960s when the peso-dollar exchange was only P2:$1.
Corona said he did not report his US dollar accounts in his financial disclosures because the Foreign Currency Deposit Act (FCDA) guaranteed the confidentiality of such accounts.
He said there appeared to be a conflict between the FDCA and the law on the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).
Corona said he pored over SC decisions about which of the two, the SALN law or FCDA, prevails, and did not find any existing jurisprudence. “I relied on it on good faith,” he said.
Senators Francis Pangilinan and Franklin Drilon grilled Corona, zeroing in on his nondisclosure of $2.4 million and P80 million in his SALNs, the main charge against him.
But Corona managed to wiggle out by invoking the confidentiality of the dollar accounts under the FCDA, and claiming that the peso accounts were “co-mingled funds.”
Asked which should prevail, the Constitution, which mandates the disclosure of SALN, or the FCDA, he said the SALN may be declared as “may be provided by law” and this is where the FCDA comes in. With reports from Norman Bordadora and TJ Burgonio