MANILA, Philippines - A key member of President Aquino’s Cabinet said yesterday the government has evidence to prove that Chief Justice Renato Corona has ill-gotten wealth that could not have been acquired with his salary in the judiciary, and the evidence would be presented by the House prosecution team in the impeachment trial.
“The House prosecution panel obtained documents that would show that Corona may have amassed ill-gotten wealth, including at least four multimillion-peso real estate properties,” Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Ronald Llamas said in a statement.
Corona, who was appointed to the Supreme Court (SC) in 2001 and promoted to chief justice in May 2010, “could not have paid for (the properties) out of his salary and allowances as an associate justice and chief justice of the SC,” Llamas declared.
Llamas believes that the government’s case is “very strong” and that all of the pieces of evidence – including documents on a P14.5-million penthouse unit at the Bellagio condominium in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig – could withstand “the most rigorous scrutiny” by the senator-judges in Corona’s trial.
Corona said yesterday that his acquisition of the Bellagio unit was aboveboard.
Llamas said the impeachment complaint “is the product of thorough research and inputs submitted by concerned citizens who could no longer stand the willful and deliberate trampling of the Constitution and the rule of law by Corona,” Llamas said.
“The impeachment complaint is not the complaint of 188 representatives of the people against Corona. It is the complaint of the overwhelming majority of Filipinos who want Corona removed because they want a clean, honest and impartial judiciary,” Llamas said.
“Corona sits in the High Tribunal on the basis of an illegal appointment by disgraced former President Arroyo who now faces serious charges of electoral sabotage and plunder during her nine years of misrule,” Llamas said.
He said that apart from being a midnight appointee as chief justice, “Corona has shown obvious partiality and bias for Arroyo in 19 cases brought before the Supreme Court.”
Llamas was reacting to the recent statement of court administrator and spokesman Midas Marquez that his (Llamas’) admission that Corona’s likely acquittal by the Senate sitting as an impeachment court was an indication that the cases against him are weak.
The Cabinet member said he was merely talking of likely outcomes in the trial, and “an acquittal is a possibility, just as a conviction is also a distinct - and very real - possibility.”
“For the SC spokesman to speculate that the senator-judges would dismiss the complaint because it is weak is very unseemly, and preempts the decision of the Senate. He has no authority to spread rumors about how the senator-judges would vote,” Llamas said.
Zeroing in on Corona’s SALN
Meanwhile, the House prosecution panel will ask the Senate impeachment court to subpoena Corona’s statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for 2010.
“They are refusing to release the SALN despite our repeated appeal. We have no option but to ask the impeachment court to subpoena it during the trial,” panel spokesman Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo told a news conference.
Quimbo said prosecutors want to find out if Corona made a “proper declaration” of the 300-square-meter penthouse unit at the Bellagio Tower in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig, which the Chief Justice and his wife acquired in 2009 for P14.5 million.
“We want to ask him how they purchased the property, if they had the legal means to acquire it. We will prove that they did not have such means,” he said.
Quimbo said under the law on forfeiture, an asset is deemed ill-gotten if its owner does not have the legal resources to own it.
He said they would also ask the impeachment court to subpoena sales documents and witnesses from Megaworld Corp., owner of the Bellagio condominium complex.
“We want to find out if P14.5 million was the correct selling price for the Coronas’ penthouse. The unit is now worth at least P30 million. We do not think it was worth only P14.5 million two years ago. The difference between the selling price for the Coronas and prevailing market prices could have been a gift to the Chief Justice and his wife,” he said.
In his answer to the impeachment complaint, the Chief Justice acknowledged declaring a 300-square-meter property in his SALN but gave no other details.
Two other panel members, Reps. Erin Tañada of Quezon and Juan Edgardo Angara of Aurora, said they did not believe that two to three congressmen would testify for Corona’s defense.
“Good luck to them, if they do testify,” Angara said.
They also took exception to statements from some senators that they are violating the sub-judice rule of the Senate in revealing the Coronas’ Bellagio penthouse.
“This is a case of the people versus the Chief Justice. The people have a right to know,” Tañada said.
Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., who heads the prosecution panel, said he and his colleagues did not touch on the merits of the impeachment charges in revealing the Bellagio penthouse.
“We only stated a fact as alleged in the complaint. Further, the people have the right to know the facts in an impeachment proceeding, which is actually the power of the sovereign people,” he said.
Tañada also said they would agree to a pre-trial conference but not to Corona’s proposal for a preliminary hearing on how the House impeached him.
“That motion is clearly intended to delay the trial proper,” he said.
He said a pre-trial conference could expedite the trial as the prosecution and the defense could agree on issues that no longer have to be proven. - With Jess Diaz -