MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Money and assets held in trust should be declared by government officials in the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net (SALN) worth that they file annually, according to the Civil Service Commission (CSC).
A SALN manual produced by the CSC, with the help of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and the US Agency for International Development, said trust arrangements must be disclosed in SALNs, as required by law.
"You must declare assets which you are held as trustee, trustor, or beneficiary under a trust agreement," the manual says. It defines a trust as an arrangement where property is registered under the name of the real owner but is being held by another person.
It also gave examples on special contracts aside from trust agreements that should be declared in SALNs.
The SALN baseline declaration form dated March 16, 2009 has a specific portion for trust arrangements.
However, the CSC has been allowing the use of the old SALN form that dates back to 1994 that does not include the declaration of trust agreements.
The CSC has also deferred use of the new SALN form, pending a review amid complaints from government officials.
Section 8 of Republic Act No. 6713 requires public officials and employees to declare their assets, liabilities, net worth and financial and business interests, including those of their spouses and of unmarried children under 18 years of age living in their households.
Atienza on witness stand
The defense team of Chief Justice Renato Corona on Thursday presented former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza as a witness in Chief Justice's impeachment trial in the Senate.
Atienza told the court that the city government of Manila paid P34 million to Corona's wife, Cristina, who acted as agent of a company owned by her family.
Atienza said Mrs. Corona used a 1987 letter authorizing her to represent Basa Guidote Enterprises Inc. (BGEI) in the sale of its lot in the city of Manila in 2001.
He added that Mrs. Corona recieved a 5% commission from the deal as an agent of BGEI.
Atienza said the city government paid P34 million to Mrs. Corona, with the contract saying the payment was made "in trust for" BGEI.
He said the sale was consummated despite nothing in the 1987 letter showing that Mrs. Corona was specifically authorized to receive payment of sale for properties.
Enrile: Why was Mrs. Corona paid, not BGEI?
During Atienza's cross-examination, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile repeatedly asked the former Manila mayor why the check was made in the name of Mrs. Corona and not BGEI itself.
Atienza said he did not find anything wrong with the practice, which he claimed as a move "to protect" the local government.
He also told Enrile he doesn't know what exact position Mrs. Corona held in BGEI.
He also later admitted before Senator-judge Franklin Drilon that he does not know what happened to the P34 million payment to BGEI, with the cash allegedly making its way into the personal bank accounts of the Chief Justice.
Senator-judge Franklin Drilon raised the same question why the cheque was made in the name of Mrs. Corona.
"Bakit dito, ang tseke ay binigay kay Cristina Corona, in trust for BGEI," he asked Atienza.
"Siya po ang kausap namin, siya ang bahala sa hahantungan ng tseke," the former Manila mayor replied.
"Di nyo naisip na ang cheke ay diniposito ni Mrs Corona sa kanyang account?" Drilon said.
"Di ko po alam iyon," Atienza said. "Di ko alam noon ang nangyari sa cheke. Ngayon alam ko na."
Chief defense counsel Serafin Cuevas later argued that there's no evidence that the P34 million was deposited to the Coronas' personal bank accounts and insisted that it was received by Mrs. Corona "in trust."
Cuevas also said the transaction should no longer be questioned because it was consummated.
Lead prosecutor Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. told the court that the money should have been declared in her husband's SALN because she allegedly treated the cash "as her own."
Cuevas, however, said it is not yet known if Mrs. Corona filed her own SALN.
Drilon: Coronas should be on witness stand
Drilon, meanwhile, said it should have been indicated that Mrs. Corona was holding the P34M in trust or deposited in the name of BGEI.
"Funds mixed up," he said.
He also said there may have been irregularities in the sale of the BGEI property.
"There's a certain degree of negligence in failing to inquire into certain documents," he said, referring to Atienza's statement on the witness stand that he did not see a specific BGEI board resolution that authorized Mrs. Corona to enter into an agreement with the city government.
"I wish we could go to the heart of the issue. I wish Chief Justice Corona and Mrs. Corona could take the witness stand," Drilon added. "The best person to respond to the questions certainly is the Chief Justice. Unfortunately they have not been presented."
Burden on defense
Dean Amado Valdez of University of the East College of Law said the burden of evidence now rests on the defense, specifically, on the Coronas themselves to explain the P34 million.
"The problem here is on the part of the defense. If they will say it is not owned by Corona, therefore, they betrayed their relatives," he told ANC Primetime.
"At the same time, if that P34 million exists and they were treating it as their own, then the prosecution is right that since it was in their account, it should be declared in the SALN," he said.
"Either way, there is a reflection in the character of the Coronas being implied here," Valdez said.
"It is necessary for the Coronas to explain. They still have to explain that the account is in the name of Mrs. Corona and it is specifically stated in the account that it is Mrs. Cristina Corona in trust for the corporation," he added. "They should be able to clearly say that and have evidence to show that they are transparent in their finances from the beginning."
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