Enrile: CJ not yet off the hook on 'ill-gotten wealth'

by Ira Pedrasa, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Jan 25 2012 06:22 PM | Updated as of Jan 26 2012 03:04 PM

Burden of proving Corona's wealth may shift to defense

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - Did the senator-judges come up with a Solomonic solution to an impasse that had set back the trial for days now?

In an interview with ANC, Presiding Judge and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said the impeachment court's ruling on Wednesday on the nature of article 2 of the impeachment complaint does not preclude them from later on assessing that Chief Justice Renato Corona may have illegally acquired properties.

He said: “ill-gotten wealth is a conclusion. So they [prosecution] have to present evidence and that’s why the factual matter that requires evidence is in 2.2 and 2.3.”

He said the prosecution should be able to prove “that [Corona] has not included several properties in his SALN [statement of assets, liabilities and net worth]. Let’s see if they can do that. Then later, the burden proof will be on the defense side.”

Senator-judges decided to drop article 2.4 of the complaint, which had been the rallying cry of the prosecution in their effort to seek a Corona conviction for betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.

The particular paragraph reads in full: “Respondent is likewise suspected and accused of having accumulated ill-gotten wealth, acquiring assets of high values and keeping bank accounts with huge deposits. It has been reported that Respondent has, among others, a 300-sq.-meter apartment in a posh Mega World Property development at the Fort in Taguig. Has he reported this, as he is constitutionally-required under Art. XI, Sec. 17   of the Constitution in his Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN)? Is this acquisition sustained and duly supported by his income as a public official? Since his assumption as Associate and subsequently, Chief Justice, has he complied with this duty of public disclosure?”

They retained, however, 2.2 and 2.3, which accuses Corona of failing to "disclose to the public his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth as required by the Constitution," and that "some of the properties of Respondent are not included in his declaration of his assets, liabilities, and net worth, in violation of the anti-graft and corrupt practices act."

This is also precisely the reason why the impeachment body allowed the testimony of Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares, who presented the income tax returns of Corona and those of his wife.

Enrile said they can determine later, based on the evidence presented, if Corona has the capability to buy the properties. The burden of proof will later shift to the defense, he added.

Corona's decision resolved impasse

Meantime, Senator-judge Ferdinand 'Bongbong' Marcos Jr. said it was Corona's ponencia which gave them the idea how to resolve the impasse on the presentation of evidence in connection with his alleged ill-gotten wealth.

In an interview with ANC, Marcos said they made use of Corona’s ponencia on July 15, 2003 in deciding that “if the recorded income can’t support the expenditure, then there’s presumption of ill-gotten wealth.”

Ironically, the ruling is about turning the Marcoses’ money, stashed in Swiss banks, over to the government.

Marcos said this only means there is no need to present evidence specific to ill-gotten wealth, but merely to look if Corona has not disclosed all his properties in the SALN.

Asked how he felt reading his family’s name in the case at present, Marcos said: “We have to abide, that’s the law. It gave us a remedy to the problem presented to us.”

Not yet out of the story

In a separate press conference, prosecution spokesperson Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III said “the senator judges just set it [paragraph 2.4] aside and will consider it at the proper time and that’s clear.”

He said it was clear from Corona's income tax declarations presented by Henares that Corona does not have enough income to buy the different properties. He said Henares’ testimony is not yet over.

Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said: “I suppose that at the end of the day, it will be very difficult for the senators not to allow ‘yung ill-gotten wealth. Kasi ‘pag naipakita mo na through the ITR na ‘walang panggagalinang pera ‘to eh,’ so ang magiging tanong ngayon ng taumbayan: ‘Wala naman palang panggagalingang pera ‘to dahil ang sweldo nito ay ganito eh paanong nakabili siya ng P11 million na mga properties?”  It will go down sa ganyang isyu.”

Prosecution spokesman Miro Quimbo also claimed Corona does not have other sources of income other than being a member of the Supreme Court. There is no record of his other incomes, he said.

Henares also noted that Corona’s wife, Cristina, purchased an P11-million property at the posh La Vista subdivision in Quezon City in 2003 despite not having declared any income prior to the transaction.

Henares said Corona's wife, Cristina, registered with the bureau as a one-time taxpayer for the property transaction in Sept. 9, 2003.

However, she said: "She was not registered as taxpayer. And therefore, for all legal purposes as far as BIR is concerned, she has not earned any income prior to Sept. 9, 2003."

Corona's SALNs show that he purportedly got an P11-million cash advance from a company owned by Mrs. Corona and her relatives, but that the cash advance had been repaid by 2010.