Corona makes changes in 2011 SALN – lawyer

Natashya Gutierrez
The Chief Justice made 'clarifications' in his latest assets statement by putting the acquisition cost of his declared properties, says one of his lawyers

MANILA, Philippines – Impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona made changes in his  2011 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALN), his lawyer said Friday, May 4.

Defense counsel Ramon Esguerra told Rappler that he and the other lawyers on the defense team have yet to see the document, but was told by the chief magistrate on Thursday, May 3, that he has made amendments in his 2011 SALN.

“Our understanding is there have been clarifications made in terms of acquisition cost, the 2 inherited lots in Xavierville. There’s a clarification there that there are actually 2 lots, although these are actually contiguous lots covered by one title, those things just to clarify,” Esguerra said.

Corona has also added new acquisitions like their shares of stocks at the Palm Country Club, according to Esguerra.

He said Corona has not yet shown them his SALN, but what Esguerra knows for certain is that it has been “filed” and it “reflects accurately his assets.”

The SALN of Corona and the 14 SC justices were submitted to the Supreme Court Clerk of Court. April 30 was the deadline of the SALN filing.

SC spokesman Midas Marquez has said the High Tribunal is not disclosing to the public the justices’ SALNs unless allowed by the en banc, as stipulated in an earlier SC ruling.

Different from 2010

One of the charges that Corona is currently facing in the impeachment trial against him is his alleged failure to disclose to the public his SALN as required by the Constitution.

The Articles of Impeachment also accuses the Chief Justice of failing to include some of his properties and violating the anti-graft and corrupt practices law.

The reported amendments in Corona’s 2011 SALN reflects specific differences in his past SALNs.

In his SALNs from 2002-2010, since Corona first joined the Supreme Court as associate justice, Corona left the acquisition column under assets, liabilities and net worth blank.

He only filled up columns for assessed value and current market value. The Xavierville property supposedly inherited by the Coronas is also listed on his past SALNs as one property.

Both issues created some confusion over the course of the trial.

The defense has said that Corona had no intention to hide anything by leaving the acquisition column blank. The acquisition cost can be found in contracts of sale, they said, which are all public documents.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile insisted however, that it is not the fair market value, assessed value, or current fair market value that is important, but rather the acquisition cost of a property.

Our research showed that at least 4 Corona properties are undervalued, based on a comparison between his past SALNs and the deeds of absolute sale for these properties. (View the Corona properties map here.)

The Xavierville property was also a point of contention. Prosecutors counted two Xavierville properties under Corona’s name, while the defense has maintained that the Xavierville property is a single one that is divided into two titles, hence the confusion.

Esguerra emphasized that the changes are mere clarificatory statements.

“He (Corona) does not even want to refer to it as corrections,” he said. “(They are) clarifications.”

SALN not a waiver

Esguerra also disagreed with the view of the Ombudsman that the SALN form allows her office to verify the truthfulness of the declared assets of public officials.

On Sunday, April 29, the Office of the Ombudsman served Corona an order on Monday, April 23 asking him to explain his wealth that amount to at least $10-M.

Rappler reported how the Ombudsman got access to Corona’s dollars through the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), which the office had the authority to probe after Corona submitted his SALN.

Esguerra said the letter did not include any evidence to support the alleged $10-M.

In a press conference on Friday, May 4, the defense spokespersons told the media that Corona has continued to deal with the issue on his own.

They said Corona could choose to file a case with the Supreme Court for the Ombudsman’s grave abuse of discretion or ignore it, although he has not yet decided what to do with the order.

Corona has not yet responded to the letter that he received over a week ago, which asked for a response within 72 hours.

Whether the Ombudsman has jurisdiction to investigate Corona is debatable.

Under the law, the Ombudsman cannot file a case before the Sandiganbayan while an impeachable official is still in office, according to a lawyer who previously worked in the Office of Ombudsman. He did say though that the anti-graft body may send its findings to the House of Representatives to cause an impeachment complaint.

The defense insists that the letter was issued to force Corona to take the witness stand, and to lay the groundwork for a future impeachment revolving around ill-gotten wealth, in the event that he is acquitted in the current one. –