Witness on CJ wealth needs Court clearance

Purple S. Romero
[UPDATED] Clerk of court not allowed to disclose SALN without en banc clearance, says spokesman

MANILA, Philippines [UPDATED] – Will the Clerk of Court of the Supreme Court show up on Wednesday, January 18, at the Senate?

Clerk of Court Enriqueta Esguerra-Vidal has been subpoenad by the Senate to appear on Wednesday, upon the request of prosecutors who plan to ask her to disclose copies of the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona from 2002 to 2010.

Reports say she’s already on her way to the Senate.

But she might need to secure clearance first from the Supreme Court en banc before disclosing the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) of Corona. The most that she is expected to do at the Senate is to inform the judges of a High Tribunal resolution barring public disclosure of justices’ SALN.

Impeachment court spokesperson Valentina Cruz has told reporters that the the subpoena for Vidal was served on Monday, January 16.

SC spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez told a press conference on Tuesday, January 17, that if Vidal was indeed asked to appear, she might need to first seek permission from the SC en banc.

“I would like to think the Clerk of Court would ask directions from the en banc,” he said, adding the same rule would apply to the two other justices who would likely be summoned by the prosecution as well. The two are Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco and Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Lawyers familiar with the workings of the SC told Rappler that Vidal, on her own, may request clearance from the SC to release Corona’s SALN. But they believe that, contrary to Marquez’s statement, a Court clearance is not needed.

Both sides should avoid a situation wherein the en banc would disallow the release of the SALN that is needed in an impeachment trial, the same lawyers said.

The Clerk of Court has copies of all the SALN of the SC Justices, since they are required to submit them to her office every year.

Subpoena SC Clerk of Court

Secret document

On January 16, in his opening statement, defense lawyer Eduardo de los Angeles said that they will prove Corona has complied with the law and filed his SALN with the Clerk of Court. But he also said the Clerk of Court is prohibited from disclosing them.

“The defense will establish that in accordance with law, the Chief Justice annually files his SALN with the Clerk of Court of the Supreme Court, who has legal custody of such documents. We shall show that the Clerk of Court is restricted from disclosing the SALNs by resolutions first issued during the term of Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan way back in 1989,” De los Angeles explained.

In 1989, the SC issued a resolution barring the disclosure of the justices’s SALN to the public, saying litigants may use it to harass them. Various media and non-governement organizations have requested copies of the magistrates’ SALN, however.

Marquez said the SC has already asked judges and justices from the Sandiganbayan, Court of Appeals and Court of Tax Appeals to submit their respective comments on the re-evaluation of the resolution against disclosure.

The SALN of Corona is crucial in establishing whether he had illegally acquired his wealth.

The prosecution said they intend to present on Wednesday documents showing that Corona and his family own at least 45 properties. Among those called to testify on Wednesday, aside from Vidal, are the register of deeds of the local governments of Makati, Marikina, Taguig, Quezon City, Pasay, and Parañaque.

The Chief Justice has insisted that he has only 5 real estate properties and that all are declared in his SALN.

The prosecution said that the disclosure of Corona’s SALN is vital in proving their point that Corona could not have acquired the 45 properties given his salary as a chief justice, which is less than a million a year. – Rappler.com