MANILA, Philippines - Are Chief Justice Renato Corona's dollar accounts and transactions related to the Manila city government's purchase of a P34.7 million lot of Basa-Guiodote Enterprises Inc. (BGEI) from Mrs. Cristina Corona?
An analyst said this could be cited by the defense as the principal source of Corona's dollar accounts and transactions as reflected in an Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) report testified to by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales last Monday and Tuesday.
“If I were the defense, I will have to explain where the funds in those [alleged] dollar accounts came from. Did these come from the sale of the [Basa Guidote Enterprises Inc. lot], that is why there is a P34 million?” University of Sto. Tomas Faculty of Civil Law Dean Nilo Divina told dzMM on Thursday.
In his Philippine Daily Inquirer column on Thursday, former Arroyo spokesperson Rigoberto Tiglao posed a theory: “So how much did Corona have in his bank accounts, and did he report this in his [statement of assets, liabilities and net worth]? While only a guess, it would be the biggest and last of Corona’s banking transactions reported: $687,433.”
The amount came from the report testified by Carpio-Morales as allegedly sourced from Corona’s bank accounts. Tiglao explained that the Ombudsman used “laymen’s ignorance of banking transactions” by reporting on “transactional balances.”
Carpio-Morales said these transactional balances were worth at least $10 million.
Tiglao explained that Carpio-Morales’ presentation did not show account balances, but she instead added all transactions including withdrawals and deposits. “The net result of these, what’s left, is your bank balance at a given time,” he explained.
Tiglao then posed another theory. The exchange rate in 2001 was P51 against the dollar. If Corona’s biggest banking transaction is $687,433, this would then amount to P35 million.
“Doesn’t that figure remind you of the P34.7 million payment by the Manila government for the Basa-Guidote property, which the Chief Justice’s better-half, Cristina Corona, received and claimed she was holding in trust, and therefore was not their asset?” he asked.
Last week, the defense team presented witnesses who testified on the transfer of shares of stock in BGEI from Basa family members to Corona's daughter, Carla, to explain how the Coronas were able to purchase real properties using BGEI funds.
Carla became the major stockholder of the company of her mother’s relatives, the Basas, in 2003 after the Basas lost a libel case against Mrs. Cristina Corona.
Corona’s wife sold a BGEI property in Sampaloc to the city of Manila in 2001 for P34.7 million, which was later deposited in one of Corona's bank accounts.
Defense lawyer Judd Roy said Carla later entrusted the funds from the sale “to a custodian,” as agreed to by “family members.”
Divina said Corona’s defense will have to explain if the money in those accounts is just being held in trust.
He said the issue now goes beyond the amounts, noting too that Carpio Morales presented only transactional balances. Corona will have to disclose how much are in his dollar accounts, he stressed.
And if it is his, “why was it not included in the SALN?” he asked.
He said that the argument, therefore, shifts to the question: “Is it impeachable?” He said that senator-judges will have to contend whether or not the non-declaration of deposits amount to a betrayal of public trust.
The Constitution provides that an official can be convicted if there is culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.
Constitutionalist Joaquin Bernas explained earlier that “the word 'other' modifying 'high crimes' indicates that every offense in the list must be a 'high crime.' This meaning is dictated by the principle of legal construction that the word 'other' makes the meaning of all those enumerated of the same level of gravity. In legal gobbledygook this is the eiusdem generis rule.”
The rule literally means “of the same kind.”
Divina said he has no doubt that Corona will testify on Tuesday as what his defense lawyers have mentioned. UP Law Professor Victoria Avena earlier said she doubts Corona will appear.
“I feel that it was all just part of the build-up of the defense, to build the climax,” Divina said, referring to early statements from the defense that Corona does not need to be presented before the court.
He said the public, until then, will know if the Ombudsman’s report is indeed the bombshell that many say it is. “She will not stake her reputation, everybody knows she’s a woman of integrity.”
Divina is not dismissing the fact, however, that there is a reason why the defense presented Carpio-Morales as a hostile witness. “Corona is intelligent…It could be that Corona also has a bombshell on Tuesday.”
On the sidelines of the Octave Mass and Novena at the Supreme Court this morning, defense lawyer Dennis Manalo told reporters: “If there’s a so-called legal expert saying the CJ will not testify, I don’t see the reason why not? The chief defense counsel [Serafin Cuevas] was very clear on that.”
He said they are now “cross-checking” everything in the Ombudsman report and “we saw a lot of questionable details.”
Manalo said there is no need to “rehearse” Corona, since the truth “need not be rehearsed.”
He said Corona’s fate will now be in the hands of the Senate court. “Hopefully, the truth will be enough to save him…That’s the only consideration.”