Defense: Cash under Corona’s name not all his

Natashya Gutierrez
The law says, however, that all assets of the CJ's wife must also be declared in his SALNs

EXPLANATIONS. Defense counsels of Chief Justice Renato Corona hold a press conference to explain cash under Corona's name. February 16, 2012.

MANILA, Philippines – The three bank accounts under the name of Chief Justice Renato Corona which he closed on the very day he was impeached by the House of Representatives do not contain his own money. The money belongs to Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc (BGEI), the corporation owned by his wife’s family.

This was according to defense spokesperson Tranquil Salvador III.

He said in a press conference that Corona withdrew the cash that day as people might think he owned it.

“Considering the situation, ang iisipin ng tao baka personal na iyan,” he said. “That was the intention — protektahan ‘yun dahil inaamin naman eh, sa Basa-Guidote iyun eh.” (Considering the situation, people might think it’s personal. That was the intention — to protect it [the sums] because it’s being admitted anyway that the money is owned by Basa-Guidote.)

Salvador also said that BGEI is almost completely owned by Corona’s wife Cristina. He said Cristina was involved in ongoing lawsuits involving Basa-Guidote, and that the money from the company was moved under Corona’s name for protection.

The 3 bank accounts in question are all from Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank).

Fake text message

In a supposed text message to a “media personality,” Cristina Corona confirmed that the cash in the 3 accounts was not her husband’s, but BGEI’s. The money was supposedly owned by BGEI and came from an expropriation of a property in Manila. Her husband had to keep it under his name because she was often in Baguio.

“It’s not his funds, that’s why it’s not in his SALN,” the reported text message said.

The news spread across Twitter and was reported by the news website, abs-cbnnews. It was later confirmed however that the text message did not come from Cristina.

Defense lawyers issued a statement that denied the text came from the Chief Justice’s wife. “I have not done that and I have not interacted with any media since the impeachment case has been referred to the Senate for trial,” Cristina Corona said in a statement. “I hope media outfits are responsible enough to check and verify your sources before issuing any report. Please be fair.”

It appears that it was Cristina, however, who withdrew the money.

PSBank Katipunan branch manager Annabelle Tiongson testified that Corona had written an authorization letter allowing his wife to close all 3 accounts last December.

Joint filing?

The 2010 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) of Corona listed P3.5-M under cash and investments, but the BGEI accounts largely owned by Cristina allegedly had P19.73-M by the yearend of 2010.

When asked why the amount was not declared in the SALNs of the Chief Justice, considering it was his wife’s, defense spokesperson Karen Jimeno verified that Corona’s SALN was filed jointly with Cristina, but said the fuller explanation will come in due time.

“Joint filing pagka-asawa mo, yes, ‘yun ang kailangan natin tanungin kay Chief Justice Corona kapag panahon na ng defense magpresenta ng ebidensiya,” said Jimeno. “Kung sa Basa-Guidote yan at sa pangalan ng asawa mo to, kung bakit hindi yan kasama sa SALN…Dapat andun, yes, I agree.”

(Yes, you file jointly if you’re married. That’s what we need to ask Chief Justice Corona when the time comes for the defense to present its evidence. If (the money is) Basa-Guidote’s and it’s under the name of his wife, why is it not in the SALN… It should be there, yes, I agree.)

Jimeno also asked the public to be patient and assured the media there is an explanation. She said they could not yet talk about it now since it would be delving into the merits of the case.

Salvador, in a separate interview, however, contradicted Jimeno and denied the SALNs were not filed jointly.

Hindi po. Ang SALN, individual kung public officer ka. Kaya kami ay nagtataka rin kanina kung bakit pati ang mga bank deposits ni Misis ay titingnan rin,” said Salvador.

(No. The SALN should be filed individually if you’re a public officer. That’s why we were wondering awhile ago why even the bank deposits of Mrs Corona will be scrutinized.)



The law, however, disagrees with Salvador.

Under the Code of Conduct for public officials, Rule 7 on public disclosure commands public officials, including their spouses, to declare everything in the officials’ SALNs.

The rule states that “every official and employee…shall file under oath their statement of assets, liabilities and net worth and a disclosure of business interests and financial connections including those of their spouses and unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in their households.”

The impeachment court has subpoenaed the bank accounts of Cristina Corona in PSBank.

Relevance

Lead counsel Serafin Cuevas argued that the testimony of PSBank president Pascual Garcia III is irrelevant and should therefore not be admitted. Cuevas said the complaint includes SALNs only up until 2010.

The account under Corona’s name holding P17-M was opened on June 29, 2011. It was not included in the subpoena of the court, but was revealed by PSBank’s Garcia.

The two others, however, were opened in 2010.

The account with an ending balance of P7.15-M at the end of 2010 was opened on Sept 1, 2010. It had an initial balance of P7-M. The other account with an ending balance of P12.58-M by the end of 2010 was opened Sept 22, 2009 and had an opening deposit of P8.5-M.

Cuevas contradicts defense statements

Corona’s defense counsels have continuously argued that the complaint does not include accurate filing. They maintain that the issues included in Article 2 are only the filing of the SALN and its disclosure to the public.

They have said the discrepancies are a small issue, and insist there are legal remedies that allow the person filing the SALN to rectify it.

However, Presiding Officer Juan Ponce Enrile emphasized that Article 2 includes the truthfulness of the disclosure.

“Whether it’s a deposit, cash on hand, including your real properties, you ought to include that in your SALNs,” Enrile told Cuevas. “My understanding of Article 2 is that it alleges non-disclosure of SALN of that year and non-inclusion of the assets of that taxable year.”

Cuevas, contrary to the statements of other counsels, agreed. “Correct your honor!” he said.

The defense is expected to explain the pattern of inconsistencies in Corona’s SALNs when they get the chance to present their evidence. They continue to question the admissibility of the evidence and testimonies regarding bank accounts, saying the documents were acquired illegally and should therefore be inadmissible in court.

Corona’s counsels have constantly said they have an explanation. – Rappler.com

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