Ombudsman evidence vs Corona ‘poison’–Sandigan justice
A Sandiganbayan Justice contends that the evidence used against Chief Justice Renato Corona in his impeachment trial are “fruits of a poisonous tree” and could not be used against him in his perjury trial before the anti-graft court.
In his 62-page dissenting opinion to the Special Division of Five resolution finding probable cause against Corona, Associate Justice Samuel Martires said the court cannot be bound by the Ombudsman’s evidence because these were used in Corona’s impeachment trial which has a “political nature.”
Corona was impeached by Congress in 2012 on false declarations of wealth in his Statement of Assets and Liabilities Net Worth (SALN).
“The Ombudsman based its resolution (finding probable cause) from the proceedings during the impeachment trial of accused Corona. Regrettably, whatever evidence was presented during the impeachment trial is political in nature while judicial proceedings involve legal judgement that is based on laws and rules on evidence,” Martires wrote in his opinion.
He added that Corona’s bank documents obtained by the Ombudsman were used only for the impeachment proceedings and not intended for any other court cases.
Martires said Corona’s bank documents are not public, and are actually protected by absolute confidentiality under Republic Act 1405 or the “Law on Secrecy of Bank Deposits,” and under RA 6426 or the “Foreign Currency Deposits Act.”
“To the mind of this Court, the General Waiver relied upon by the Ombudsman was issued during the impeachment trial to the Impeachment Court, which, however, did not direct the concerned banks to submit statements or records of accused Corona’s bank accounts,” Martires said.
“Such general waiver is limited to the impeachment proceedings, and was not intended to be used beyond such proceedings,” he added.
He added that the Ombudsman obtained the bank documents without Corona’s consent or any court order.
“Considering that there is no showing that a specific consent or authority was given by the accused Corona to the Ombudsman or the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), there is likewise neither authority nor legal basis for the Ombudsman or the BIR to obtain the bank records of accused Corona,” Martires said.
The Ombudsman’s stinging evidence against Corona is a 17-page report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), which detailed Corona’s $12 million in “fresh deposits” in five banks where he maintained 82 dollar accounts between 2003 and 2012.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales submitted a copy of the AMLC report to the Senate impeachment court in 2012 when she served as hostile witness for the defense.
Morales testified on the AMLC report as part of the Ombudsman’s findings into Corona’s alleged ill-gotten wealth.
Martires compared the bank documents the Ombudsman obtained as “fruits of the poisonous tree” which must be “disregarded by the Court.”
“This Court cannot likewise consider the bank documents gathered by the Office of the Ombudsman for its authority is only to gather documents from government agencies and not from private institutions,” Martires said.
“The bank documents never became public in nature, and were therefore protected by absolute confidentiality of bank deposits… Hence, whatever documents the Ombudsman has gathered from banks are considered ‘fruits of the poisonous tree’ and must therefore be disregarded by the Court,”
Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, who penned the 36-page resolution finding probable cause to try Corona for perjury, said whether or not the Ombudsman’s documents can be presented as evidence should be discussed during the trial proper.
She said the finding of probable cause need only rely on the weight of evidence to show that the accused is probably guilty, and not yet guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
“It is premature to determine the admissibility and weight of the prosecution’s evidence against the accused since the trial of these cases has yet to start. At this time, the task of the Court is simply to determine the existence/absence of probable cause,” Tang said.
“The validity and merits of a party’s accusations or defense, as well as admissibility of testimonies and evidence, are better ventilated during the trial proper,” she added.
Tang also took exception to Martires’ observation that the Ombudsman’s evidence obtained from banks are “poisonous fruits,” saying the Ombudsman under the law has access to bank accounts and records for any inquiry into the wealth and financial connections of a public official.
She said if the Ombudsman’s powers were only limited to obtain information from appropriate agencies, then “all that the corrupt public officials would do is deposit their unlawfully acquired money in bank accounts to place them beyond the pale of scrutiny.”
“To restrict the power of the Ombudsman to gather information only from ‘appropriate government agencies’ could lead to absurdity and subvert the objective of the law,” Tang said.
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 his 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.
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