As I See It

Corona’s own Yamashita treasure

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The senator-judges of the impeachment court are to render their decision on the guilt or innocence of Chief Justice Renato Corona as this is being written, and I don’t see how anyone of them, including Senators Joker Arroyo and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, can acquit him unless the senator-judge is thoroughly biased, deaf and blind, gullible, or stupid. One of the accusations against Corona is that he did not include all his assets in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth. Well, he himself admitted that he did not include $2.4 million and P80 million in bank deposits in his SALNs as required by the Constitution, though he made some feeble excuses for not doing so. Mere “palusot,” in the words of Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas.

Perhaps realizing that their client has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, the defense lawyers have shifted tactics. Now they are saying that if Corona is found guilty, his crime is not an impeachable offense and that he should not be booted out of the Supreme Court but given a much lighter penalty.

A defense lawyer, Eduardo de los Angeles, went so far as to suggest that assuming that Corona’s noninclusion of his dollar deposits in his SALNs was not “justified,” he should be penalized not with impeachment but only with “a fine not exceeding P5,000 or imprisonment not exceeding five years or both.” That’s the equivalent of a slap on the wrist.

He forgot that the same Supreme Court of which Corona is the Chief, dismissed an employee for not including in her SALNs a market stall that she owned. A market stall is a far cry from the P80 million and $2.4 million that Corona did not include in his SALNs. Is there one law for ordinary employees and another for Supreme Court justices?

Corona clearly violated the Constitution by not including all his assets in his SALNs as the Constitution mandates. The punishment for violation of the Constitution by officials like the Chief Justice is impeachment. And impeachment means removal from office. Now the defense panel wants the impeachment court to punish him with a slap on the wrist.

In closing arguments last Monday, prosecution lawyer Fariñas demolished one by one Corona’s many “palusot.”

Corona claimed that he had been saving dollars since the exchange rate was P2 to $1 “in the late 1960s.” That was how he accumulated $2.4 million, he said.

Fariñas said the P2:$1 exchange rate prevailed from 1948 to 1959. Does that mean Corona started saving dollars when he was in grade school?

According to Fariñas, Corona graduated from Ateneo High School only in 1966, from college in 1970, and from the Ateneo law school in 1974. The 1969 exchange rate when Corona was in college was already P3.90:$1, said Fariñas.

Corona “wants us to believe that when he was in Grade 4 in 1959, he was such a visionary that he already started buying dollars. It is clear that he was lying to the Senate,” Fariñas added.

The Ilocos lawmaker also demolished Corona’s defense that the Foreign Currency Deposits ACT (FCDA) which guarantees the secrecy of dollar deposits did not make it necessary for him to declare his dollar accounts.

Fariñas said only banks, not depositors, were bound by the FCDA’s confidentiality provisions. Furthermore, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees requires the disclosure of all assets “such as investments, cash on hand or in banks, bonds and the like… Even cash kept in a baul (trunk) or bank should be declared in the SALN. Even if a defense witness insists that there is no other official who declared his dollars in his SALN, the amount can be converted into pesos. You don’t have to say it’s in dollars. The Chief Justice is making palusot.”

Fariñas asked: “What violation of the FCDA [is committed] if the Chief Justice rightfully declares his cash? He owned up to $2.4 million on hindsight because he was caught. Even if he bought dollars at P2:$1 he could not have accumulated that amount.”

Why did Corona borrow P300,000 for a car when he claims he had millions? Fariñas asked. Why did he borrow P11 million from Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc. when he has huge dollar and peso deposits? Why borrow if he has millions?

On his P80 million deposits, Corona said he did not include these in his SALNs because they were “commingled funds.” They were not all his, Corona claimed. Some of them belonged to his children and to BGEI.

“Why were these deposited in his name?” Fariñas asked. “They could be deposited in joint accounts.”

If Corona was converting his pesos into dollars, how come the savings of his US-based daughter sent to the Philippines were converted into pesos to form part of the “commingled” peso deposits? Shouldn’t her savings be in dollars?

“It’s confusing,” Fariñas said. “It’s really difficult to make excuses. We tend to contradict ourselves when we do not tell the truth.”

Corona also said that he and his wife were saving their earnings in dollars and not in real estate because of their sad experience with their relatives, the Basas, with whom they had a long-running family feud.

“So why did they sell a property to their daughter? Carla has lots of money! A house and lot were sold to her for P19 million. Clearly, it was a palusot,” Fariñas said.

Corona has “woven a fantastic tale in his desperation to explain his incredible wealth,” said lead prosecutor Rep. Niel Tupas in his own closing argument. It can be compared to the fantastic tale of former President Ferdinand Marcos to explain his wealth: that he had found the Yamashita treasure.

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