5 contradictions in Corona’s defense

Natashya Gutierrez

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The lawyers of the Chief Justice are expected to prove his innocence, but have so far triggered more questions than answers

MANILA, Philippines — It is the defense panel’s turn to prove the innocence of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

But 3 trial days have passed, and Corona’s lawyers have done little to clarify his side.

From “irrelevant” witnesses to perplexing statements, here are 5 issues the defense has contradicted itself on.

#1 Evidence relating to Article 2.4

The biggest confusion the lawyers of the Chief Justice have created is a result of their apparent decision to now address Article 2.4 of the impeachment complaint, which deals with Corona’s alleged ill-gotten wealth.

The defense has insisted since the first week of the trial that Article 2.4 should be dropped, since it does not fall within the prosecution’s main allegation that Corona failed to disclose his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN).

The impeachment court eventually sided with the defense and prohibited the presentation of evidence relating to ill-gotten wealth.

Yet, the defense has introduced 3 witnesses to talk about the source of the Chief Justice’s wealth.

Chief Judicial Staff Officer Araceli Bayuga, Senate Electoral Tribunal Secretary Irene Guevarra, and Girlie Salarda of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal were all called to testify on the allowances received by the Chief Justice.

When asked by senator-judges what the purpose of presenting Bayuga was, lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas replied that “it will explain the other alleged deficiencies brought about by the evidence of the prosecution, that he could not have acquired this amount of properties because his income does not justify the acquisition thereof.”

Senator-judge Antonio Trillanes IV asked, “You are actually reviving article 2.4, is that the case?” Cuevas gave a vague answer by saying that was Trillanes’ personal assessment.

The witnesses however testified that allowances cannot be used for personal expenses – disproving Cuevas’ purpose in presenting them.

#2 Befuddling Vicente

When defense witness Demetrio Vicente took the stand last Tuesday, March 13, he was meant to prove that the Marikina property owned by the Corona couple was actually his.

Instead he left the court with more questions than answers.

Vicente said he bought the property in 1990. But it was listed in Corona’s SALN in 1992 as a donation.

Vicente said he has been paying for all taxes of the property since 1990. But it is still Corona’s wife’s name that is listed in all tax declarations. And the deed of absolute sale, while in Vicente’s name, was notarized by an unlicensed lawyer.

Vicente told the court he paid P509,985.00 for the property in 1990, and the real estate tax of P2,594.88. But he did not insist on the transfer of the title to his name as he supposedly could not afford the P2,599.92 needed for transfer tax.

Imbis po na si Mr. Vicente ay nakapgdala ng masmalinaw na explanation, lalo pang tila lumabo yung usapan kung nagkaroon ba talaga ng paglipat ng property (Instead of Mr Vicente shedding light on the issue, it only created further confusion on whether the property was transferred or not),” said prosecution spokesperson Romero Quimbo.

If anything, the defense witness seemed to have helped the prosecution.

#3 Deed of sale vs transfer

The defense argues that the non-disclosure of the Marikina property in Corona’s SALNs (other than in his 1992 SALN), is due to the fact that Vicente had already signed the absolute deed of sale of the property as early as 1990.

Thus, on this basis, it was no longer theirs.

However, the defense, in earlier arguing why Corona did not include his Columns property in Makati in his SALNs, said it was because he had only signed the absolute deed of sale in 2004, but had not yet taken possession of it.

The Columns property was not declared in his 2005 SALNs.

The defense appears to contradict itself on what point it believes a property should be declared. Is the basis the deed of sale, possession, or convenience?

#4 No more talk on verified complaint

On Day 27 – the first day the defense was scheduled to present evidence contesting the charges against Corona – his counsels sparked a discussion with the court on the validity of the impeachment complaint.

They argued it was railroaded by lawmakers who did not have time to read its contents before signing it, hence it is invalid.

Presiding officer and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, along with other senator-judges, all agreed it was too late to raise such a complaint. The prosecutors had already rested their case after all, and they maintained the senate impeachment court had jurisdiction over the complaint after it had been verified by the House of Representatives.

The defense was then allowed to present its witness, Navotas Rep Tobias Tiangco, after Cuevas promised the court that Tiangco would not testify regarding the complaint’s validity.

Yet Tiangco’s whole testimony revolved around the rushed complaint and how he didn’t believe it had probable cause – in effect saying the complaint was defective.

#5 Foreign accounts, please

After much debate regarding the legality of opening the Chief Justice’s Philippine Savings Bank dollar accounts, the impeachment court decided to respect the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court barring its examination.

But in a press conference on February 12, Corona’s counsels promised the public that they would open them in due time.

Bubuksan n’ya lahat ‘yan dahil hindi n’ya ninakaw ‘yan… Relax lang kayo, Ginoong Pangulo (He will open all his accounts because it is not stolen money… Relax, Mr. President),” defense counsel Dennis Manalo said in the press conference, reading off a statement.

In a media blitz last March 7, Corona himself said he would explain the dollar accounts and need not sign a waiver. “Di na kailangan i-waive eh.  Kasi ako na mismo magpapaliwanag eh.  Di ko naman maipapaliwanag yun ng hindi ko bubuksan eh (There’s no need for me to waive it. Because I myself will explain them. Obviously, I won’t be able to explain it if I don’t open it),” he told GMA 7.

On Wednesday, senator-judges reminded the defense of their promise, to which Cuevas replied hesitantly.

“Well I have not yet concretely and positively arrived at the ultimate conclusion,” said the lead counsel. “That will depend on the progress of the proceedings and the nature of our evidence.”

If never revealed, it would probably be the most significant contradiction of all. – Rappler.com


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Natashya Gutierrez

Natashya is President of Rappler. Among the pioneers of Rappler, she is an award-winning multimedia journalist and was also former editor-in-chief of Vice News Asia-Pacific. Gutierrez was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders for 2023.