MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/21 January) – It is now understandable why the prosecution panel wanted to tackle first the second article of impeachment against Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, and why the defense panel had tried to insist that the presentation of evidence should follow the arrangement of the allegations as stated in the impeachment complaint.
The second article, which alleges, among others, non-disclosure by Corona of his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs), eventually proved to be the chief magistrate’s veritable can of worms.
By disclosure, the prosecution means not merely filing but making the documents available to the public as provided for in Article XI, Section 17 of the 1987 Constitution.
The hearings on Wednesday, January 18, and on Thursday, January 19, where prosecution witnesses released the SALNs and titles showing Corona’s properties, exposed the weakest link perhaps on the side of the defense. While the impeachment court is yet to evaluate the probative value of those documents, the defense panel knows the effect has been quite lethal and damaging to their cause.
Defense lead counsel former Associate Justice Serafin Cuevas maintained the release of the SALNs has bolstered their case in that it shows his client is hiding nothing. Cuevas, however, omitted a crucial observation: some of the properties appear to have been undervalued, and some were only reflected [in the SALNs] years after these were acquired.
For example, Corona undervalued his condominium unit at the Bellagio in Taguig by P8.5 million. It was bought for P14.5 million in 2010, but was declared at only P6 million.
In 2004, the Corona couple purchased a condominium unit in Makati, and in 2005, in Taguig. But these properties only showed up in his SALN in 2010. At the very least, the Chief Justice’s failure to declare all his assets amounts to falsification of documents, a glaring violation of the Constitution which requires accuracy in SALNs.
Since the registrars of deeds themselves in the cities where the properties are located certified that Corona or his family own these properties, the documents are presumed to be true and correct unless proven otherwise.
Further, Corona has to explain why he did not mention in his SALNs from 2002-2006 that his wife Cristina was working for the government-owned and -controlled John Hay Management Corp. She was appointed to this GOCC in 2002 by then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and became its chair in 2007.
The SALN law requires public officials to disclose if they have family members and relatives working in GOCCs or government agencies.
It seems the Chief Justice has a lot of explaining to do. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)