Prosecutors told: Avoid discussion of Corona’s ill-gotten wealth

MANILA – Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile admonished Wednesday the House prosecution panel to adhere to a previous ruling disallowing it from trying to prove an allegation that Chief Justice Renato Corona has ill-gotten wealth.
The order came after Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo Umali said hours of testimony were meant to show “unexplained wealth.”
Umali was quick to correct himself, saying he meant to say that testimony from Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) director Benito Cataran was meant to show that Corona had failed to disclose his net worth accurately.
“I’m sorry, your honor,” he said.
The Senate ruled to stay away from the charge of ill-gotten wealth after the defense said it was not properly alleged, and that it was based on reports and suspicions and not on ultimate fact.
Umali’s slip came after questioning by Senator Manuel Lapid, who took the floor for the first time since the impeachment trial started.
Cataran had been on the witness stand for hours, answering questions on whether Basa Guidote Enterprises Inc. (BGEI), owned by Mrs. Cristina Corona’s relatives, could have lent the money considering it was not a duly registered corporation.
Prosecutors said Wednesday the P11-million cash advance that BGEI granted Corona in 2003 is “fictitious” since the corporation’s certificate of registration was already revoked when the transaction was made.
Cataran, director of the Company Registration and Monitoring Department of the SEC, the prosecution panel’s witness, said the agency had revoked the certificate of registration of BGEI in April 2003.
In his 2003 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), Corona declared a P11-million cash advance from BGEI. BGEI, he said, is his wife’s family corporation.
“Our theory is that there could not have been any transaction made by Basa Guidote with the Chief Justice because the corporate franchise has already been dissolved or revoked,” Umali, one of the public prosecutors, told the impeachment tribunal.
“This again has relevance to the truthfulness and accuracy of the SALN, which is also reflected in the SALN for 2004,” Umali stressed.
Corona’s liabilities decreased to P10 million in 2005, P8 million in 2006, P6.5 million in 2007, P5 million in 2008, and P3 million in 2009. He had no more declared liabilities in 2010 – the year he was appointed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Senator-judges, however, struggled to see the relevance of Cataran’s testimony.
Enrile also quizzed the prosecution’s witness after the latter said a corporation is already considered dissolved if its franchise is revoked. However, Enrile said that under the law, SEC has no power to “kill” a corporation.
“Since corporation is considered dissolved, we did not ask for reports anymore,” Cataran said, noting that BGEI failed to file general information sheets and financial statements since 1991. He added that he does not know whether BGEI is still operating.
Senator Franklin Drilon said once the corporation franchise has been revoked, corporations are given three years to “wind up.”
Cataran said the corporation is disallowed from conducting its business within the three-year period.
Under the Corporation Code, that corporation can continue to exist “for the purpose of prosecuting and defending suits by or against it and enabling it to settle and close its affairs, to dispose of and convey its property and to distribute its assets, but not for the purpose of continuing the business for which it was established.”
Enrile has asked the SEC to submit a legal memorandum on its authority to revoke and dissolve corporations.
“I think you are misinterpreting corporation law,” he told Cataran. He said a corporation may only be dissolved by its stockholders, or after hearings with the SEC.
Defense lawyer Tranquil Salvador III, at a press briefing while the trial was suspended, said the advance from BGEI was listed in Corona’s SALNs as liabilities.
“Maybe they doubt the existence of Basa-Guidote, or the existence of a loan,” he said, but added that will have to be discussed in court.
Lawyer Karen Jimeno, spokesperson for the defense, when asked about the relevance of the cash advance from BGEI, replied, “We have the same question.”
She said the loan shows Corona had a source of money to buy properties.
She added that even if Mrs. Corona was not listed as a stockholder in the articles of incorporation of Basa-Guidote, that does not mean the Coronas could not have borrowed money from them.
Salvador said, however, that Mrs. Corona had been a stockholder. He said the stockholders in the articles of incorporation can change over time. He stressed that the allegation under Article II of the impeachment complaint against Corona only deals with an alleged failure to disclose his SALNs.
In a press statement released Wednesday, Salvador said “it is plain and simple that Article II of the “Verified” Complaint of Impeachment alleges that Corona failed to disclose to the public his SALN as required under Section 17, Article 11 of the 1987 Constitution.”
The defense still objects to the validity of the complaint and has asked for subpoenas for members of the House to testify on how the complaint was verified.
Defense lawyer Rico Quicho, meanwhile, said that under the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, Corona is only required to file his SALN with the Supreme Court’s clerk of court.
The defense has also objected to a request from the prosecution to have the Senate summon bank officers to inquire about accounts registered under the Coronas. They have said the prosecution seeks evidence that will indicate ill-gotten wealth.
Since the Senate has already decided to disregard ill-gotten wealth in Article II, evidence on that would be irrelevant, the defense said. (Kathrina Alvarez/Jonathan de Santos/Sunnex)

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How to get to this fine-dining restaurant in Clark Pampanga? Once you get to Clark Freeport, go straight until you hit Mimosa. After you enter Mimosa, stay on the left on Mimosa Drive, go past the Holiday Inn and Yats Restaurant (green top, independent 1-storey structure) is on your left. Just past the Yats Restaurant is the London Pub.

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