Acquittal and absurdity-A A +A
Sunday, May 27, 2012
IN THE 2010 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) submitted by Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, his listed net worth was P22,938,980. A big bulk of that amount was for his properties worth P18,438,980. For his cash, he came up with P4,500,000. If I would consider those SALN entries at their face value, I would say Corona is rich, he being a millionaire, but not very. That can be par for the course for a long-time bureaucrat like him.
That perception changes, considerably, however, with his recent admission that he actually has $2.4 million in four bank accounts, plus P80.7 million in what he described as “commingled” funds or money he is holding in trust for Basa-Guidote Enterprise Inc. and his children Charina, Carla and son-in-law Francis. That account also includes the “Coronado” fund given to him by his late mother in 1995.
The dollar accounts, converted into Philippine currency, are roughly P100 million.
That means Corona had around P180 million that he did not declare in his SALN. Let us just say the P80.4 million was really “commingled” funds.
Corona’s net worth would have been richer by P100 million. Imagine if he included that in his SALN. Would the people have perceived him still as a man of “modest” means?
Also, had he been truthful in his SALN, wouldn’t he have been questioned early on about his wealth, especially when his name was being considered by the Judicial and Bar Council in 2010 as the country’s next chief justice? What this shows is that a government official’s temperament in filling up his SALN could mean the difference between choosing a person of high integrity or a scoundrel to sensitive government posts.
Can a judge acquit a person based on an absurdity? This is an interesting question as the Senate acting as impeachment court decides on the future not only of Chief Justice Renato Corona but also of the country. He is being made to answer mainly for Article 2 of the Articles of Impeachment that House prosecutors submitted to the impeachment court. It stated thus:
“Respondent committed culpable violation of the Constitution and/or betrayed the public trust when he failed to disclose to the public his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth as required under Section 17, Article 11 of the 1987 Constitution.”
Corona, in his testimony last week, admitted non-disclosure of cash in peso and dollars amounting to around P180 million. But he wisely tried wiggling out of the mess he created by arguing that he did not include his dollar accounts in his SALN because the confidentiality of dollar accounts under the Foreign Currency Deposits Act was absolute. He also claimed that his non-disclosed cash amounting to P180.7 million was “commingled” funds, meaning not only his.
I agree with Sen. Francis Pangilinan when he said thus: “This kind of legal reasoning renders the SALN law and the constitutional provisions on full disclosure of assets, liabilities and net worth useless. It opens the floodgates for all corrupt public officials to open dollar accounts and commingle peso accounts with their relatives to justify the filing of SALNs that are completely and totally inaccurate.”
In short, Corona’s reasoning was not only self-serving but also absurd if one considers the intent of the law. Will he be acquitted based on this line of reasoning? Let’s see.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 28, 2012.