MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/14 February) – There is an anecdote that tycoon Lucio Tan once asked a friend who was wearing an expensive watch what the time was. His friend replied: “It’s 2:30.” Mr. Tan looked at his own watch which any man on the street can afford to buy and exclaimed: “Oh, mine said it’s 2:30 too.”
The message of the anecdote is that somebody like Mr. Tan doesn’t need to buy expensive things to prove he is rich. Whether he wears a Swiss-made timepiece or an ordinary robot-assembled one is not an issue. It won’t hide the fact that his name has already landed on Fortune Magazine’s list of the world’s wealthiest people.
There are rich people too who, for different reasons, don’t like to flaunt their affluence. They choose to maintain frugal lifestyles, maybe for security reasons in an increasingly dangerous environment.
Many however love to show off their wealth. They build mansions where they may not even spend many days of their lives, buy a fleet of cars, and throw parties regardless of whether there’s a reason to party or not.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona seems to belong to the group of rich people who like to feign relative poverty. Granting his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth and income tax returns are grossly inaccurate as alleged by the House prosecution in the impeachment trial, Corona looks like a timid millionaire.
Not only has the Chief Justice hidden from public knowledge some highly-priced real estate properties or apparently undervalued those that he divulged; he also did not reveal his several bank accounts (in peso and dollar denominations) that run into tens of millions of pesos, assets that would have remained under wraps if not for the impeachment trial.
Corona is yet to explain – and explain he must – why he omitted the existence of these huge amounts of money in his SALNs and income tax returns. If these came from legitimate sources, there is no reason why he should conceal it. In a material world, earning millions either through hard work or by sheer luck, like winning in a lottery, can be a source of pride.
True, many rich individuals understate their real worth to evade paying big taxes. But it is now the job of the government to prove that these people are paying less than what is due, and the law is clear that they should pay for such crime.
For high officials however, acts like those committed by Corona are not simply violations of the law because if they were, the process of impeachment would not have been provided for in the Constitution. It would have suffice to do away with immunity from suit [while in office] and subject such acts to ordinary judicial proceeding.
It can be inferred from this that impeachment seeks to exact a much higher level of accountability, something that is beyond the pale of what is written in the statute books. This is why the Constitution requires certain officials accused of committing “high crimes” to face not the regular judicial bodies but a political arm – the Senate sitting as an impeachment court – whose mandate directly comes from the people.
One of the grounds for the impeachment is quite clear: Corona hid his true net worth from public knowledge. Unfortunately for him, Sec. 17, Art. XI of the 1987 Constitution says he cannot do it while he is in office. The logic is obvious even to non-lawyers: for violations of the Constitution, resort to constitutional remedies. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)