'Chief Justice Corona's fortune worth 80m pesos'

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Claiming he undervalued his assets, prosecutors on Friday (March 16) said impeached Philippine Chief Justice Renato Corona should have declared a personal fortune of as much as 80 million pesos-more than four times what he put down in his most recent statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

"We believe that his net worth should have been 70 million and 80 million pesos based on our computation of all of his assets and bank deposits that were presented in the trial. He only declared a net worth of 22 million pesos in his SALN in 2010," Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III said at a press conference.

Defense counsel Tranquil Salvador III rejected the prosecution claim.

"That is their own computation. We don't know where they got the values or how they got the computation. We should be given a chance to lay down our evidence. It appears they're preempting our presentation of evidence by making their own explanation of evidence they have presented," Salvador said.

"I just hope this is not a ploy to condition the mind of the public."

Salvador added: "To my mind the statements made by the prosecution are a reaction to the questions of certain senator-judges that their claim of 45 ill-gotten properties of Chief Justice Corona can't be proven. Based on last count and we're only on our fourth day, we're left with only five other properties to be explained."

Tañada said the prosecution used the acquisition costs of Corona's prime real estate assets, such as The Bellagio penthouse and the Bonifacio Ridge prime condo unit, to come up with his "real" net worth. The defense at Corona's impeachment trial said the Chief Justice listed these properties at their assessed and market values, which were markedly lower than their actual values, primarily for tax purposes.

Tañada, a prosecution spokesperson, noted that Corona not only declared less than a quarter of his actual net worth but that he also failed to declare his assets and bank accounts at the year of their acquisition or opening.

"That is the question, why did he deliberately fail to fill up the acquisition cost in all of his SALN?" he said.

Tañada stressed that the prosecution's initial estimate of Corona's net worth did not include dollar accounts estimated to range from $300,000 to $700,000. A temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court has prevented the disclosure of those deposits.

Help from peers

Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, another prosecution spokesperson, said Corona knew his dollar accounts were too big to be justified by his income and allowances, as well as by the money owned by his wife in the Basa-Guidote Enterprises, Inc. This was why he sought the help of his peers in the high court to block the senator-judges from prying into his foreign currency deposits, Angara claimed.

Tañada also said the defense team took pains to bring the Supreme Court's budget and disbursement officer Araceli Bayuga to testify at the Senate trial to show that Corona earned 21.6 million pesos since being appointed to the high court.

"They wanted to show that Corona had a legitimate source of income. This is deception on the part of the defense. They told the public that the Chief Justice had a P25-million income and it is up to you [to determine] where he used it," Tañada said.

Tañada noted that Corona's allowances were spread out over 10 years and that these funds were not allowed to be used to buy assets.

Tañada shrugged off a defense threat to show the SALNs of select senator-judges to prove that these officials were also remiss in filling up the acquisition cost column, just like Corona.

"They (the senators) will convict based on the evidence presented before them. They will not consider their own SALNs," Tañada said. "I'm sure the senators will say 'we are not on trial here' and that they stand by their SALNs. 'Why present our SALNs in an impeachment court?'"

Corona should testify

Angara said the defense would be comparing apples and oranges if it came out with the SALN of legislators.

"Senators and representatives could be brought to the Ombudsman, unlike the Chief Justice and other impeachable officers, who have to be removed from office first before they could be charged in court," said Angara.

Tañada and Angara said that after the defense had presented seven witnesses, it was inevitable that Corona should testify himself and personally explain why he left out his assets and bank deposits in his SALN; why he used deflated figures and kept blank the acquisition value of his assets; why he was "hell-bent" on keeping his dollar accounts secret; and how much of his income and allowances were used to buy his assets.

Abad explains

Angara said that for Corona to claim that other government officials were doing what he was doing would not hold water.

"It's not a valid defense for a thief to say there were other thieves so what he did was just all right. That should not be the case. Your crime is personal to you," Angara said.

He said Corona had no basis to claim that the SALN forms were at fault for being vague.

"All government employees have the same form. The issue is if it was truthfully filled up. So let us not blame the form," said Angara.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad on Friday acknowledged that he only used the assessed value of his pieces of property in his SALN disclosures during all his years in government service.

Following a report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) about his supposed failure to indicate as well the current fair market value and acquisition cost of his property, Abad said he would start doing so when he files his SALN for 2011 this April.

"In the interest of transparency, I will review my previous SALNs and include the acquisition cost and the fair market value, to the extent that the pertinent documents are still available. This will also be reflected in the SALN that I will file in April for year 2011," Abad said in a statement.

Corona's lawyer Ramon Esguerra had adverted to a PCIJ report that Abad did not indicate the current fair market values and acquisition costs of the pieces of property he owned.

"I acknowledge though that with respect to my real properties, I have declared their value based on the assessed value, which has been the basis of the taxes I have paid against these," Abad said.

"In all my years in public service, my attention has never been called to this, whether by the Civil Service Commission, the Office of the Ombudsman or the Commission on Appointments," he added.

Abad said he had been truthful in filing his SALNs since he was a representative for Batanes and when he became a Cabinet member.

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