The admission of Chief Justice Renato Corona yesterday that he owns $2.4 million in four banks and another P80 million “co-mingled” funds in three peso accounts drew calls for his conviction as well as acquittal in Negros Occidental.
Corona, who returned to the Senate impeachment trial yesterday, submitted an "unconditional" waiver authorizing the impeachment court to open his peso and dollar bank deposits, and apologized for suddenly leaving the witness stand on Tuesday.
Corona, a diabetic, explained that he suffered from hypoglycemia, a sudden drop of blood sugar that made him dizzy and prompted him to leave the session hall without the permission of Senate President and Presiding Officer Juan Ponce Enrile.
He denied his action was a walkout, adding “I still have to read two pages of my statement.”
Corona admitted owning US$ 2.4 million but “never at any time” having US$ 12 million deposit in only four and not 82 dollar accounts.
He did not declare his dollar deposit in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) due to the “absolute confidentiality” as provided by Republic Act 6426 or Foreign Currency Deposit Act, he said.
”My peso accounts have P80 million in commingled funds because it includes funds from the Basa-Guidote property sale,” Corona added.
The defense and prosecution made a formal offer of evidence yesterday, paving the way for the oral arguments on Monday and the Senate’s verdict on Tuesday.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, who is from Bacolod and a member of the House prosecution team, told the DAILY STAR, “It’s over. The admission of Corona of a $2.4 million dollar account as well as an P80 million peso account is very damning, indeed, because they are obviously not included in his statement of assets, liabilities and networth (SALN).”
Colmenares said Corona’s submission of his unconditional waiver has also become moot and academic because the impeachment trial is already about to end. “This is done in bad faith in his wish to prolong the proceedings and divert the attention of the public,” he added.
“In my assessment, the senators are going to convict . Public opinion is for conviction not acquittal,” said Negrense professor, Rowena Guanzon, of the University of the Philippines Law Center Institute for the Administration of Justice.
She said Corona “did not state how much dollars was in his savings since he became justice. Whatever his explanation, the fact is that he did not disclose his dollars and millions in pesos in the banks in his SALN, therefore he did not declare his true net worth.”
Corona admitted having $2.4 million and P80 million and his reasons for not declaring such amounts in his SALN are not convincing, Alex Ozoa of the Negrenses for the Conviction of Corona said.
“In my mind he does not deserve to continue as chief justice. It would be good for the country if he resigns now,” Ozoa said.
Rep. Julio Ledesma IV (Neg. Occ., 1st District) said it’s “elemental – is his SALN a faithful, disclosure of his financial affairs?”
In his 2010 SALN, Corona reported only P3.5 million in cash.
“By his testimony today, Mr. Corona has proposed that a 1974 law is supreme over the requirements of the 1987 Constitution. He has made his legal legacy a Get Out of Jail Free Card for all officials who are plunderers and crooks. They will merely have to park their ill-gotten funds in foreign currency accounts to immunize themselves from the effects of our anti-graft laws,” a Malacañang said in a press statement.
But Felomino Tan, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Negros Occidental chapter, said he believes Corona will be acquitted, pointing out that all that is needed are the votes of eight of the 23 senators in favor of the chief justice.
Tan said he believes the chief justice acted in good faith in accordance with the law, pointing out that under the foreign currency law he was not required to disclose his dollar accounts.
Gia Arinday, clerk of court of Bacolod Regional Trial Court Branch 54, also said the chief justice had not violated the law since his dollar accounts are covered by the confidentiality clause in the foreign currency law for dollar accounts and his pesos accounts consisted of “co-mingled funds”.
In co-mingeled accounts you do not declare what is not yours, she said.
She also said Corona had not stolen any amount from the judicial funds, and should be acquitted.
Corona’s lawyer, Ramon Esguerra, said the impeachment trial would come down to the “purported non-disclosure of the dollar and peso deposits (of Corona)” which the defense maintains is not an impeachable offense because it could be corrected.
“It does not amount to the very serious crimes provided for in the constitution that will constitute betrayal of public trust and other high crimes,” Esguerra said.*CPG/PNA