Forfeiture case filed against CJ Corona

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/13 March) – Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona faces a separate forfeiture case before the Sandiganbayan after a partylist organization and three student councils jointly filed a complaint alleging that Corona’s wealth and bank accounts did not match his stipulated income as a High Court magistrate.

Akbayan Partylist Rep. Walden Bello said on Saturday that the forfeiture case would seek the confiscation of Corona’s properties that were believed ill-gotten.

Bello said the forfeiture case might see Corona appearing before the Sandiganbayan earlier than in the impeachment court after the anti-graft court would have conducted a preliminary investigation.

The forfeiture case is covered by Republic Act 1379, the law that provides for the confiscation of the properties of any public officer or employee believed to have been unlawfully acquired. It was filed two weeks ago by Akbayan and the student councils of the Ateneo de Manila University and the Los Banos and Diliman campuses of the University of the Philippines.

Under RA 1379, the Sandiganbayan has to hand out a decision not later than six months before the next election, said lawyer Ibarra M. Gutierrez III, a law professor at UP, who accompanied Bello here for the Roundtable Discussion on the Impeachment of Chief Justice Corona held at the Ateneo de Davao University.

“Which means, a decision should be made before next year, when the Congressional and local elections would be held,” Bello said.

He said the case was a separate move from the impeachment proceedings but the Sandiganbayan would rule on the validity of a move to confiscate the property of Corona who the complainants have accused of having acquired properties beyond his income.

”It will take a closer look at his statement of assets and liabilities as well as his bank accounts because there’s a big gap between what he has declared in his SALN and what was actually revealed during the impeachment proceedings,” he said

“From what came out in the impeachment proceedings, it turns out that we have both a peso millionaire and a dollar millionaire,” he said, adding Corona has not declared any of these amounts to the BIR.

He said that Corona has bank deposits amounting to P78 million and $1.8 million. “Where did he get all these money, when he only gets only about P92,000 monthly salary. Even this salary would get lower after deductions.”

“We believe that these all belong to the people and should be confiscated in favor of government,” he said.

Bello said the forfeiture case was approved by all members of the prosecution team in the impeachment case.

“This is a separate tract, and a conviction by the Sandiganbayan may likely lead to the filing of other administrative and criminal charges,” he said.

He said the defense panel of Corona in the impeachment case has argued that the forfeiture case was misfiled and should have been docketed at the city fiscal.

Gutierrez countered, however, that a 2005 Supreme Court decision ruled in favor of filing forfeiture cases at the Sandiganbayan. “Even Corona signed this one when he was then an associate justice.”

Bello said that the conviction and removal of Corona was “very critical” in the final objective of the impeachment case “which is to convict former President Gloria Arroyo”.

“We would like to show to the nation that we are able to bring to jail the big crooks in government. We don’t like to continue the impression that the big guys could always get away with their wrongdoings,” he said. (MindaNews)