Parties told: Define bounds of Corona’s non-disclosure of assets

THE impeachment court directed Thursday the defense and prosecution panels in the trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona to submit their positions on what Article II — the allegation that Corona failed to disclose his net worth — covers.
The defense has a continuing objection to prosecutors presenting evidence to alleged ill-gotten wealth; a charge they say is not contained in the complaint.
Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero asked lead prosecutor Niel Tupas Jr., one of the authors of the impeachment complaint, to submit a memorandum clarifying Article II.
Article II states that the Chief Justice is guilty of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution for failing to disclose his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).
Escudero said the prosecution panel stated in Article II that Corona: 1) failed to disclose his SALN, 2) failed to declare properties in SALN, and 3) properties may have been acquired as ill-gotten wealth.
Asking for clarification, Escudero said the rules state that “each article must accuse the respondent of a singular act.”
Former justice Serafin Cuevas has raised the same argument, saying Article II only deals with his client’s alleged failure to file his SALNs.
Those SALNs are now in the hands of the impeachment court, and Cuevas has said this proves Corona followed the law. He said any evidence to show ill-gotten wealth would be inadmissible since that allegation was not made properly.
He said complaints have to be based on ultimate facts, and based on personal knowledge that the allegations are true. But the prosecution has been alleging ill-gotten wealth based on reports. “The basis of the allegation is suspicion,” he said.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile agreed with this assessment, saying it would be problematic to argue on “secret bank accounts” and the allegedly illegal acquisition of assets. He allowed questions on Corona’s unit at the Bellagio in Taguig City, however.
He said Cuevas can object each time ill-gotten wealth is brought up, and then he will rule on each. He also noted the continuing objection from the defense.
He added it remains to be seen whether the impeachment court will accept land titles and other documents as proof.
Senator Alan Peter Cayetano said he had doubts on the charges contained in Article II because the prosecution panel stated “reports that some properties not declared in SALN.”
“How did you know (properties were not declared in SALN) when you saw SALN only yesterday?” Cayetano asked Cavite Representative Elpidio Barzaga Jr., a member of the prosecution panel.
Corona’s SALN was submitted by the prosecution panel’s witnesses — Supreme Court Clerk of Court Enriqueta Vidal and Palace records office head Marianito Dimaandal — on Wednesday.
Cuevas further argued that Corona “cannot be accused of having committed a crime based on suspicion.”
“I’m trying to figure out what the prosecutors are charging the Chief Justice of. I just have to be fair. I asked the defense counsel hard questions. When they were asking for a subpoena I believed in their cause but now that I have some doubts, I’d just like to clarify,” Cayetano explained.
Cuevas has said once the prosecutor moves to formally offer the documents as evidence, “that is the time we will oppose and pick up a quarrel with the prosecutors.”
The former Supreme Court justice said the prosecution can enter any evidence they want to, but whether these fall within the articles of impeachment is another thing entirely.
Among the documents submitted to the court on Thursday were land titles for Corona properties in Taguig City, Quezon City, and Marikina City.
Lawyer Jose Roy III, in a press briefing, meanwhile, said property on Bonifacio Ridge in Taguig City is also inadmissible as evidence since it is not owned by Corona, but by his daughter Ma. Charina.
He said the Coronas are not “super-rich people” but have money. He added land values are usually lower than market price but that these are based on assessments from the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
Cuevas said the same thing later Thursday, saying it is common practice to undervalue land. Neither said, however, that Corona undervalued his properties.
Roy also pointed at the prosecution needing witnesses to verify allegations in the impeachment complaint, considering some of them are listed as complainants in the impeachment case. He said their signature on the complaint should mean they personally know that there was wrongdoing.
“If you know that that’s true, then you should testify (to it yourself),” he said.
Roy stressed the confusion over what falls under Article II could have been avoided had parties agreed to hold a preliminary hearing before the trial.
“We had reservations but were forced to go into trial,” he said.
Corona was impeached on the strength of a complaint signed by 188 members of the House in December but his lawyers said the complaint was invalid because there was no attempt to determine probable cause. (Sunnex)

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