Sunday, February 5, 2012

News Update Corona SALN accurate - defense

The camp of Chief Justice Renato Corona is standing by the accuracy of his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) and is ready to prove it at the proper time. In a press conference yesterday at the Ateneo Law School in Makati City, spokespersons for the defense panel maintained that all of the alleged non-declaration and undervaluation in the SALN of the Chief Justice as claimed by the prosecution panel could be explained. The prosecution has alleged that Corona failed to declare various properties in his SALN, that some of his declarations were made as an afterthought, and that he undervalued some of his properties. On the 11th day of the impeachment trial of Corona at the Senate last Thursday, the prosecution claimed that Corona did not properly declare his condominium units and other properties in his SALN, which was basis for his impeachment under Article 2 of the eight Articles of Impeachment filed against him. This triggered a debate over the rules on the SALN and what constitutes an impeachable offense. “We are standing by it, that it (SALN) was accurate,” defense counsel Tranquil Salvador III said in Filipino. “When we lay our evidence, we will show that there is no basis (for their claims).” He said that even if there is an incorrect entry in the SALN, proof of actual intent to deceive is needed before a concerned official can be held liable. He said the law on SALN provides for corrective measures in cases where errors and omissions have been committed in good faith. Citing jurisprudence, the defense panel noted that an official found guilty of making wrong entries in his SALN only faces suspension and forfeiture of salaries for six months. Salvador also said the prosecution was jumping to conclusion with its allegation of undervaluation of Corona’s Burgundy Plaza condominium unit in Quezon City. He said the court has yet to determine which of the two - assessed value or market valuation - should be used as basis for determining the value of Corona’s Burgundy unit. The Chief Justice purchased the unit in 1997 but declared it in his SALN only in 2003. Salvador emphasized that the unit was purchased before Corona was appointed to the Supreme Court and that “there is an explanation” for its late inclusion in his SALN. The issue of Corona’s ownership of numerous properties is one of the major cases raised by the prosecution against the Chief Justice. But on Thursday, the senators asked the prosecution to explain why it had announced that Corona had 45 properties when it could prove the existence of only 24. Senators Francis Escudero and Jinggoy Estrada confronted lead prosecutor Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. about the list of 45 properties. Tupas said it was the Land Registration Authority which put the figure at 45. Lawyer Karen Jimeno, another spokesperson for the defense, said that they knew from the start that only five properties were actually owned by Corona. “When it came out, we already knew the truth. We were just waiting to present our evidence. We didn’t want to violate the rules on impeachment,” Jimeno said during the same press conference. A third lawyer for the defense, Rico Paolo Quicho, denounced what he said was the fishing expedition being made by the prosecution. “I think that should not be allowed because we are at this point of the proceedings where the complainants and prosecutors should have already made known their evidence, their witnesses and the purpose for the testimonies of their witnesses. We should not allow them to fish for information... otherwise, you are violating due process of the accused,” Quicho said. Jimeno added that the objections of the defense panel to the subpoenas were not meant to suppress the truth as claimed by the prosecution but merely in compliance with the process provided for under the rules of court. The prosecution has asked the Senate to issue subpoenas for information regarding several bank accounts of Corona in PS Bank and the Bank of the Philippine Islands as part of its presentation for Article 2 of the Articles of Impeachment when the trial resumes on Monday. The defense panel has objected to this move by the prosecution, which they said was irrelevant and immaterial to the allegations contained in Article 2. “We don’t know why they’re are introducing this. We filed an opposition on the basis that this is immaterial and irrelevant. What they want to prove again is ill-gotten wealth of paragraph 2.4,” Jimeno said. Article 2.4 of the Articles of Impeachment alleges that Corona amassed ill-gotten wealth during his term in the Supreme Court. “Another basis of objection is the violation of basic due process rights of Chief Justice Corona because they can’t even identify specifically what they are asking for. They don’t know the figures in there and how they differ from what is in the SALN. They are fishing for information and evidence that they don’t even know will show violation on the part of Chief Justice Corona,” Jimeno said. In the case of the foreign currency deposits, Jimeno said that the disclosure of information about this could only be made after a waiver has been issued by the depositor. Jimeno said that the ploy of the prosecution to introduce the bank accounts of Corona in the impeachment trial is a sign that they do not have any strong evidence to prove its allegations under Article 2. Salvador also lamented that the “trial” outside the courtroom has damaged already the reputation of Corona. “When this is over, whether he is acquitted or convicted, it doesn’t matter anymore. His reputation may have already been destroyed,” Salvador said. If ever Corona is acquitted, Salvador said he can no longer go against those who besmirched his reputation. “Will he able to go after the 188 (congressmen) for malicious prosecution? I don’t think so. He has no remedy. They want to destroy his reputation,” he said. Do a Clinton Prosecution spokesman Marikina Rep. Romero Federico Quimbo, meanwhile, challenged Corona to do a Clinton and face his accusers in the impeachment court. He was referring to the US president who attended his own impeachment trial over the Monica Lewinsky scandal. “Precisely, we wanted the Chief Justice to be present much like how impeached officers in other jurisdiction are made to be present in court, so that they can deny it firsthand, just like President Clinton showed up at this own impeachment, the president of the most powerful democracy in the world,” Quimbo said after the impeachment trial last Thursday. “We were hoping that he could make those denials not on the steps of the Supreme Court but here where it actually matters,” Quimbo said. But Sen. Joker Arroyo argued that in the Clinton case, the US impeachment court eventually dismissed the case because the alleged wrongdoing was not an impeachable offense. Arroyo recalled that even the case of perjury against Clinton was deemed not an impeachment offense. “In the issue of perjury, the US Senate said it was not an impeachable offense, that it is not such a magnitude that we should remove a popular president,” Arroyo told The STAR yesterday. But while Corona might not have committed a “high crime,” the Senate impeachment court can still remove him from office for “dishonesty,” according to Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada. “At this point of the hearing, we have established a pattern of intentional concealment. CJ Corona concealed all acquisition costs of all the properties he and his wife, Cristina Corona, acquired after 2002,” he said. --with Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz