A Guide: The charges vs Corona

The prosecution considers Article 2 of the impeachment complaint as its strongest case against the Chief Justice

LAST WITNESS: Chief Justice Renato Corona seeks to defend himself before the court

MANILA, Philippines -From the original 8 articles of impeachment, the prosecution in March dropped other articles against Chief Justice Renato Corona to focus on stronger charges and shorten the trial.

When he testifies Tuesday, May 22, the Chief Justice is expected to address charges contained in articles 2, 3, and 7 of the Articles of Impeachment. 

ARTICLE II: RESPONDENT COMMITTED CULPABLE VIOLATION OF THE CONSTITUTION AND/OR BETRAYED THE PUBLIC TRUST WHEN HE FAILED TO DISCLOSE TO THE PUBLIC HIS STATEMENT OF ASSETS, LIABILITIES, AND NET WORTH AS REQUIRED UNDER SEC. 17, ART. XI OF THE 1987 CONSTITUTION.

The prosecution panel considers Article 2 as its strongest case against Corona.

In his 2010 SALN, Corona declared 5 real properties: 1) a house and lot in Xavierville in Quezon City; 2) a unit at the One Burgundy Plaza along Katipunan Avenue, also in Quezon City, 3) a unit at The Columns in Makati; 4) a penthouse unit at the Bellagio in upscale The Fort in Taguig City, and 5) another unit at the Bonifacio Ridge, also at The Fort.

Corona also declared “cash and investments” amounting to P3.5 million.

The prosecution panel presented property titles, deeds of sale, bank documents and testimonies of various property developers, government and bank officials to show the following:

1) the Chief Justice belatedly declared a number of his real estate properties;

2) he undervalued his properties in his SALN;

3) he did not accurately declare his peso and dollar deposits.

Deeds of sale for The Columns, Bellagio, and Bonifacio Ridge were executed in 2004, 2005, and 2009, respectively. But all these properties were only declared in Corona’s 2010 SALN.

The defense panel argued that although these properties had been sold to the Corona couple much earlier, they were only “deemed accepted” in 2010.

For The Columns, in particular, the defense cited leaks and unfinished windows as supposed reasons for the late “acceptance” of the unit. The defense raised the same issues in the couple’s late acceptance of the Bellagio property.

The prosecution also questioned Corona for declaring undervalued properties in his SALNs.

Since he joined the Supreme Court in 2002, Corona never declared the acquisition cost of his properties. He only filled up the columns in the SALN form for assessed value and current fair market value. (Acquisition cost is the selling price of the property, as shown in the deed of sale.)

Based on the Deeds of Sale, the 4 condominiums he declared in his 2010 SALN have a combined worth of P42.1-M.

In his SALNs, Corona put the total value of these properties to about P13.1-M only. (Read the full story here.)

The Bellagio, Taguig City

In addition to the 5 properties he declared in his 2010 SALN, the prosecution alleged that Corona also owns various properties under the name of his children.

Among them are the P18-M La Vista property in Quezon City that his daughter Carla supposedly bought from her parents in 2010, and the property in McKinley Hill that is under the name of Corona’s daughter Charina. The prosecution questioned his daughters’ capacity to aquire the posh properties.

Corona’s bank accounts, on the other hand, were exposed through two different channels.

Based on testimonies of Bank of Philippine Islands (BPI) and Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) officials, Corona has at least P31-million deposits in his peso time deposits. He only declared P3.5-M in “cash and investments.”

The defense panel has used the Basa Guidote Enterprises Inc. (BGEI), the disputed family corporation of his wife Cristina, to justify his multi-million peso deposits. BGEI is known to have an asset of at least P34.7 million as of 2001. His lawyers said he didn’t declare it in his SALN because it was not his money. 

Yet, while everyone thought Corona’s dollar accounts could no longer be disclosed on account of a Supreme Court order, Ombudman Conchita Carpio-Morales dropped a bombshell on May 14 and accused him of having US$10-M dollar deposits, citing transaction records from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC). Members of the prosecution panel said Corona’s dollar accounts is the most important issue now.

Flip-flopping in PAL case

ARTICLE III: RESPONDENT COMMITTED CULPABLE VIOLATIONS OF THE CONSTITUTION AND BETRAYED THE PUBLIC TRUST BY FAILING TO MEET AND OBSERVE THE STRINGENT STANDARDS UNDER ART. VIII, SECTION 7 (3) OF THE CONSTITUTION THAT PROVIDES THAT “[A] MEMBER OF THE JUDICIARY MUST BE A PERSON OF PROVEN COMPETENCE, INTEGRITY, PROBITY, AND INDEPENDENCE” IN ALLOWING THE SUPREME COURT TO ACT ON MERE LETTERS FILED BY A COUNSEL WHICH CAUSED THE ISSUANCE OF FLIP-FLOPPING DECISIONS IN FINAL AND EXECUTORY CASES.

In Article 3, the prosecution panel intended to cast doubt on Corona’s competence, integrity, probity, and independence as a chief justice.

The prosecution blamed Corona for the Supreme Court’s flip-flopping decision in the row between the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (FASA) and the Philippine Airlines (PAL).

In October 2009, the SC ruled in favor of FASAP. It was supposed to be final and executory. PAL’s lawyer Estelito Mendoza asked for a reconsideration of the “final” ruling. In January 2010, then Associate Justice Renato Corona of the Court’s third division granted the motion. But he would later inhibit from the case. The case remains pending.

The prosecution sought to present PAL vice-president for Sales Exequiel Javier to testify on the perks that Corona got from PAL, particularly a PAL “Platinum Card” that gave him “unlimited courtesy travel” “on the highest class of service.” The prosecutors believe it was among Corona’s motivations to favor PAL.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile barred the prosecution from presenting PAL VP for sales Enrique Javier to testify on Corona’s travel perks. However, Javier was able to submit as evidence documents on Corona’s travel perks.

Article 3 of the impeachment complaint cited other instances where Corona supposedly violated standards for members of the judiciary, but the prosecution panel decided to drop the charges following Senate’s action on the PAL executive’s testimony.

Protecting Arroyo?

ARTICLE VII: RESPONDENT BETRAYED THE PUBLIC TRUST THROUGH HIS PARTIALITY IN GRANTING A TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER (TRO) IN FAVOR OF FORMER PRESIDENT GLORIA MACAPAGAL-ARROYO AND HER HUSBAND JOSE MIGUEL ARROYO IN ORDER TO GIVE THEM AN OPPORTUNITY TO ESCAPE PROSECUTION AND TO FRUSTRATE THE ENDS OF JUSTICE, AND IN DISTORTING THE SUPREME COURT DECISION ON THE EFFECTIVITY OF THE TRO IN VIEW OF A CLEAR FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH THE CONDITIONS OF THE SUPREME COURT’S OWN.

Article 7 completes the “storyline” of the prosecution panel. In the end, the prosecutors felt it was imporant to show the link between Corona and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who named him chief justice in May 2010.

On Nov 15, 2011, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on a government-issued travel ban against Pampanga Rep Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The former president tried to leave the country on the same day, but the Department of Justice (DOJ) ordered airport authorities to defy the SC order. A non-bailable electoral sabotage case was later filed against Mrs Arroyo. She is now under hospital arrest.

Presented as prosecution witness, DOJ secretary Leila De Lima said Corona played a special role to allow the Arroyo couple to escape charges.

De Lima cited incidents mentioned in the dissenting opinion of Supreme Court Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno dated Dec 13, 2011. Sereno is the first appointee of President Benigno Aquino III to the Supreme Court.

De Lima cited two examples showing Corona’s special role:

1) Corona supposedly confirmed the order of Justice Presbitero Velasco to the Supreme Court Clerk of Court not to promulgate Sereno’s dissenting opinion.

2) Corona supposedly sent his handwritten corrections of a draft SC resolution on the Arroyos’ compliance with the conditions for the TRO. Corona’s version of the resolution said the Arroyos have complied with the conditions, contradicting the discussion in the SC en banc meeting. Corona reportedly ordered that his version be promulgated.

The prosecution also presented Arroyo’s doctor Juliet Cervantes to testify that the former President was on the road to recovery when she wanted to leave. It was meant to bolster the prosecution’s theory that Arroyo meant to escape, not seek medical treatment abroad.

The prosecution wanted Justice Sereno to testify, but the Senate court refused to issue a subpoena. – Rappler.com

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