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SALN enough to convict Corona - prosecutors

MANILA, Philippines (Jan 20, 2012) - Working on the premise that any asset that a government employee owns but not declared in his Statements of Assets Liabilities and Networth (SALN) is deemed ill-gotten, the prosecutors said that discrepancies in the SALNs submitted by Chief Justice Renato Corona for the period 2002 to 2010 are enough to convince the impeachment court to convict him.

Spokespersons for the prosecution said that through Corona’s SALNs and evidence of existence of undeclared properties owned by him, they would be able to prove that the Chief Justice has amassed ill-gotten wealth.

Prosecution panel spokesman Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada noted that every SALN ends with a sworn statement of the signatory attesting to the veracity and accuracy of the document.

“If there is a single or small discrepancy or any unexplainable item (in the SALN), the oath becomes useless. Even if he (Corona) gives away or returns his assets, the violation, the lie and the ruining of the trust of the people cannot be denied,” Tañada said in Filipino.

“If that is the case, he should not stay a second longer in his post,” he said. “How can he discharge his duties as chief justice if he himself violated his sworn statement in his SALN?”

Lead House prosecutor Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. said that with Corona’s SALN in their possession, it would now be easier to pin him down for ill-gotten wealth.

“It will make our job easier in proving this particular charge, which is Article 2 of our impeachment complaint against him,” Tupas told reporters.

He said records of the Land Registration Authority (LRA) on the properties of Corona and members of his family do not tally with Corona’s assets as declared in his SALN.

He said the Chief Justice did not declare some properties, while others were declared with understated values.

He added that he did not see the 303-square-meter penthouse at the Bellagio Tower in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig that Corona and his wife Cristina acquired in 2009 for P14.5 million and which should be in the chief magistrate’s 2010 SALN.

In his 2010 SALN, the Chief Justice declared his assets at P22.9 million with zero liabilities.

His assets included a condominium unit in Taguig City acquired in 2004 on installment with an assessed value of P1.4 million and a “current fair market value” of P2.4 million and a second Taguig condo unit acquired in 2010 on installment with an assessed value of P3.5 million and a market value of P6.8 million.

It is not clear if the latter condo is the Bellagio Tower penthouse, which, according to LRA records, was acquired in December 2009 under a deed of absolute sale executed by Corona and his wife and Giovanni Ng, finance director of property developer Megaworld Corp., the seller.

Ng acknowledged receipt “in full” of the purchase price of P14.5 million from the Coronas on behalf of Megaworld. The Senate impeachment court has subpoenaed Ng to testify on the transaction. The Coronas’ Bellagio penthouse is now reportedly worth at least P30 million.

Based on official property records, the prosecution claims the Chief Justice and his family own at least 45 condo units, houses and lots in Metro Manila alone. Corona has admitted to owning only five, which he said he had declared in his SALN.

Not in SALN

Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo, also a prosecution spokesman, said the Chief Justice and his lawyers have a lot of explaining to do about his wealth, particularly his failure to include some of his real estate possessions in his SALN.

“If you look at his 2009-2010 SALNs, his net worth was P14.6 million and P22.9 million. I don’t think you can fit in five condominium units here. That is not counting the assets in Quezon City and other areas,” he said.

“The SALNs will show the intentional effort of deceit on the part of the Chief Justice. Honesty, integrity, independence – those are the virtues stated in the Constitution of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. So if he cannot even declare his assets in his SALN, he betrays public trust and should be removed. That’s the main point of Article 2 (of the impeachment complaint),” he said.

“Based on his SALNs, the net assets of the Chief Justice in 2003 was less than P8 million but come 2010, it practically tripled to P22 million. There’s got to be a way though on how he was able to acquire all these properties out of the blue,” Quimbo said. “Necessarily, we have to look at how these purchases were made when in fact we have been able to trace all his income and assets from 1992 to 2002,” he said.

He revealed the panel is also looking into the possible participation of Corona’s children in the concealment of some of their assets.

“There is a potential interplay within the family about selling the properties that have not been declared in the SALN. We have evidence to show that the Corona couple sold properties for P18 million to the children. That’s clearly something that needs to be justified,” Quimbo said.

Another prosecution spokesman, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo, accused SC administrator and spokesman Midas Marquez of deceiving the public with his declaration that Corona has allowed the disclosure of his SALNs.

Marquez made the announcement shortly after the tribunal’s clerk of court, Enriqueta Vidal – on questioning by Sen. Franklin Drilon – agreed to turn over Corona’s wealth statements. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile eventually ordered the surrender of the documents.

“It’s like in a horse race. The horse is already sprinting to the finish line and Marquez tells the public the horse can already start running,” he said.

Tañada, meanwhile, defended Drilon from accusations that the senator did his questioning for the prosecution, which failed to obtain Corona’s SALNs from Vidal. He said Drilon asked his questions in the interest of truth.

He said had Corona been sincere in allowing the disclosure of his SALNs, the impeachment court would not have spent more than three hours trying to convince Vidal to turn over the documents.

He noted that Enrile repeatedly pleaded with Corona’s chief defense lawyer Serafin Cuevas to give his consent to the surrender of his wealth declarations.

“Attorney Marquez should have released it earlier. Under RA 6713, all government officials are required to reveal their SALN. The high court is the only institution that has issued a resolution preventing disclosure of the SALN of its members,” Quimbo said.

‘Spare her’

Tañada also appealed to SC justices to spare Vidal from punishment for turning over Corona’s SALN to the Senate impeachment court.

Tañada said he was bothered by the defense team’s statement that they could not speak on behalf of the 14 other justices despite Marquez’s assurance that no sanction awaits Vidal.

“Even with the assurance of Attorney Marquez, we hope the other justices will not sanction the Clerk of Court,” Tañada said.

“We hope the 14 magistrates will understand that Miss Vidal was not just following the order of Senate impeachment court, she was following the law,” he said.

“He (Corona) is assuring the clerk of court that as far as he is concerned, she has nothing to worry about,” Marquez earlier said.

Cuevas said that Vidal might be reprimanded by the Supreme Court as a whole for her action.

“We can’t stop the other 14 justices from doing so,” defense panel spokesperson Karen Jimeno said.

Tañada explained that Article XI Section 17 of the Constitution requires government officials, including members of the judiciary, to disclose to the public their SALN in the interest of transparency and accountability.

“However, the Supreme Court, through its 1989 resolution, seemed to have exempted judicial officers from being covered by the law,” Tañada said. (