Sandigan justice: Corona should not be tried for perjury
A Sandiganbayan justice contends that impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona should not be tried for perjury and false declarations in his Statements of Assets and Liabilities Networth (SALN).
Associate Justice Samuel Martires penned the dissenting opinion to the majority decision of the Special Division of Five which found probable cause to hold Corona on trial for perjury and false SALN declarations.
Corona is charged before the Sandiganbayan of eight counts of perjury and eight counts of violations of Republic Act 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials, which require public officials to file truthful SALNs.
The Ombudsman in its information said based on banking documents, Corona’s actual cash deposits ballooned from P1.337 million in 2002 to P137.9 million in 2010. The discrepancy between Corona’s actual cash deposits and his declared wealth in his SALN amounted to P134.4 million.
The Ombudsman also cited the Land Registration Authority (LRA) records on several properties owned by the Corona spouses in Quezon City, Makati City and Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City, and established that these were significantly undervalued by P17.297 million.
In sum, the Ombudsman came up with a conservative estimate of P130.336 million in Corona’s unexplained wealth.
The Ombudsman accused Corona of perjury for failure to include the numerous peso and dollar bank accounts in his 2003-2010 SALNs, a condominium unit at the The Columns, Makati City in his 2004-2009 SALNs, and a condominium unit at Spanish Bay Tower in Taguig City in his 2005-2009 SALN.
Corona also allegedly underdeclared a condominium unit in Bellagio I in Taguig City in his 2010 SALN with an acquisition cost of P6.8 million when the true acquisition cost is P14.51 million. In his SALNs from 2003 to 2009, Corona also undervalued his property at La Vista in Quezon City with an acquisition cost of P3 million when its actual is P11 million.
Corona was also charged with violation of RA 6713 for not filing true and detailed SALNs for 2003-2010 due to thee discrepancies between his declared wealth and actual bank deposits. He also failed to declare his real assets in Makati, Taguig and Quezon City.
According to his dissenting opinion, Corona should not be charged for the crime, citing the lack of legal basis and authority for the Ombudsman to file the charges.
For one, Martires said the Ombudsman did not grant to Corona the protection of RA 6713 which states that a review committee in the concerned agency should screen the SALN and determine whether the document is complete and in proper form.
Martires said the committee can also grant the public official “corrective action” regarding his or her SALN.
“This corrective remedy is an ‘exculpatory or protective clause’ which is similar to the extenuating circumstances provided under the Revised Penal Code. It is an enforceable right granted by law to a public official or employee which cannot be taken for granted, ignored, or denied irrationality without transgressing his Constitutional right to due process,” Martires said.
Martires said that, according to the records of the case, Corona was denied this protection by the Ombudsman.
“The Ombudsman simply disregarded the clear directive of Section 10 to let accused Corona correct the inaccuracies or deficiencies in his SALN,” Martires said.
The Justice also said at the time the Ombudsman was investigating the SALN of Corona, the Supreme Court had created a committee to review the SALN of its court personnel.
He said the Ombudsman should have forwarded its findings to the Supreme Court review committee which under RA 6713 has the mandate to review SALNs.
“Whatever omissions or mistakes were discovered on the SALN of Corona do not amount to fraud because ‘not all false statements are considered to be fraudulent.’ Neither did those omissions constitute a criminal wrong for what was allegedly violated is an ethical standard that defrauded no one,” Martires said.
“And even on the worse supposition that the omissions in the SALN will qualify as a fraudulent statement still, it is not a valid reason to justify the denial of this corrective remedy to the accused,” he added.
“Assuming that Corona is still within the ambit of the law despite his removal from office, it would have been most prudent for the Ombudsman, after gathering all the evidences against Corona, to have referred his SALN to the Review and Compliance Committee of the Supreme Court to afford the accused the opportunity to avail of the corrective remedy provided for by law,” Martires said.
Secondly, Martires said RA 6713 grants upon the Civil Service Commission (CSC) the responsibility to transmit all cases for prosecution to the proper authorities for appropriate action.
Martires cited the legislative records during the joint congressional deliberation on the said provision. According to Martires’ opinion, “the idea of granting the Ombudsman the authority to administer and enforce the law was apparently not acceptable to the members of the joint committee from the House of Representatives.”
Martires said this does not lessen the power of the Ombudsman to prosecute cases according to the Constitution. But its power to prosecute cases of violations of RA 6713 is “dependent on the transmittal of cases from the CSC,” he said.
“Unless muddled by the fog of a sleepy mind, this provisions can easily be understood even by a high school student,” Martires said.
Martires said the Ombudsman should then have acted only upon the transmittal of the case by the CSC to the antigraft body.
“Without the transmittal from the CSC, which is a precondition for the filing of cases, there is nothing for the Ombudsman to prosecute and it cannot just on its own proceed to prosecute a case without treading into the prohibited path of ‘usurpation of authority,'” Martires said.
“The foregoing considered, I vote to dismiss the complaint against Renato Corona for lack of probable cause,” Martires concluded.
Justice Tang’s decision
The resolution finding probable cause penned by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang dismissed as taken out of context and misleading Martires’ dissenting opinion which relied heavily on legislative records.
In elucidating her point, Tang cited “Southern Cross Cement Corp. v Phil Cement Manufacturers” where the Supreme Court teaches that “legislative records should be approached with extreme caution” and that “it is easy to selectively cite passages, sometimes out of the proper context, in order to assert a misleading interpretation.”
“The effect can be dangerous,” according to the Supreme Court decision cited by Tang.
Tang also said to require the Ombudsman to wait for a transmittal of cases by the CSC would “undermine and diminish the power of the Ombudsman” as investigator of errant acts by a public official as mandated under the Constitution and the Ombudsman Act.
Tang said another Supreme Court decision–“Carabeo vs Sandiganbayan”–stated that the review committee, which Martires said should have granted corrective remedies to a public official, clearly stated that such corrective measures only pertain to form, and not to substance.
“They refer to mere formal defects in the SALNs. The review and correction do not go into the substantive defects, i.e., whether the assets were falsified or misdeclared,” Tang said.
“Plainly, the prosecution of a concerned government official for violation of RA 6713 is not dependent on, and/or contingent to, the action taken by the said official or employee’s head of office. The proposition that the Ombudsman, upon the discovery of any irregularity or incompleteness of data in a submitted SALN, must first refer the same to the appropriate agency for ‘the necessary corrective action’ is not supported by RA 6713. In fact, it is inconsistent with the teachings of the supreme Court,” Tang said.
Tang said the Special Division of Five in a vote of 4-1 found that “there is probable cause that perjury and violation of RA 6713 were committed and that accused is probably guilty thereof.” Marc Jayson Cayabyab/AU
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