Coronas' cash: US$2.4M plus P80M

by Ira Pedrasa,

Posted at May 25 2012 04:33 PM | Updated as of May 26 2012 08:30 AM

Chief justice says he won't resign

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - Chief Justice Renato Corona on Friday admitted having US$2.4 million, including interest earnings since the early 1970s, plus P80 million in commingled funds.

“I never, at any time, had 10, 11 or 12 million [US] dollars,” Corona said, denying a claim by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales that he had "transactional balances" of $10 million-$12 million in his dollar accounts.

Answering questions from senator-judges, Corona said his dollar accounts now total $2.4 million. He said he began investing and trading in dollars since the late 1960s when he was still working with the private sector.

In the mid-1970s, he said the Central Bank issued a circular allowing individuals to invest in foreign currencies.

His P80-million peso deposits, on the other hand, include P34.7 million from the sale in 2001 of a real property of Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc. in Manila, P10 million interest earnings, as well as money earned by his daughters Charina and Carla, and son-in-law, Francis.

Asked why the money of his children was placed in one account, Corona said “the bigger the deposit, the bigger the interest.”

The P80 million also includes a “Coronado fund,” which came from his late mother.

Corona only declared between P2.5 million-P3.5 million in investments and cash in bank in his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALNs) from 2002-2010.

The impeachment complaint accuses him of failing to disclose his real assets, liabilities and net worth.

Dollars, pesos

Several times, he was asked by senator-judges why he did not declare his dollars plus a big part of the peso deposits in his SALNs.

Corona said: “Based on my study of the Foreign Currency Deposit Act (FCDA), the requirement of confidentiality is guaranteed.”

He cited a study by a former Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) official, Estrella Martinez, which reportedly found that not a single public official has declared his or her dollar and other foreign currency deposits in any SALN.

A big chunk of his peso deposits was not declared because “it is not ours,” he said. The P34.7 million BGEI money is being held in trust by his wife.

The family feud over BGEI was widely reported during Corona's impeachment trial.

“We never denied na sa Basa-Guidote [money] yan. The thing is, the money is intact. Here and now, I acknowledge na hindi sa amin yan,” Corona said.

He said he got a cash advance of P11 million from BGEI, which he returned by 2010. The money was used to purchase a real property which, he said, is not even in his name.

Asked why he withdrew big amounts on December 12, 2011, the day was impeached, he said: “Marami po akong naiwang kaibigan at kumpare sa Malacañang [at sinabing] ifi-freeze daw ang assets. Siguro, kung kayo rin, pangangalagaan nyo ang perang pinag-ipunan at ang perang hindi sa inyo.”

Why not declare in SALN?

Senator-judge Francis Pangilinan asked him: “You’re saying there’s absolute confidentiality. But it seems the P22 million [declared from 2002-2010] is very far from the $2.4 million or P80 million?...What is wrong if you don’t declare it.”

Corona said the confidentiality clause in the FCDA is absolute.

Pangilinan, however, pointed out that the Constitution provides that “under oath, we must declare all assets, liabilities and net worth.” He asked: “What’s more important, the law or the Constitution?”

Corona answered: “The Constitution also provides the words [in section 17, Article 11] ‘as may be provided by law’.”

He said the SALN Law is also in conflict with the FCDA.

“I don’t want to sound legalistic. Ang legalistic po dyan, sasabihin, yung isa general law, yung isa special law, merong specific guarantee of confidentiality yung isa, yung isa naman ay wala. Pero, alam po ninyo kung ngayon lang po ako nag-ipon ng mga dollars na yan, maaring sabihin po ninyo totoo yan eh, pero matagal ko na pong iniipon yung mga dolyares na yan kasi dun po namin iniinvest yung aming pera,” he said.

Wasted opportunity

Senator-judge Alan Peter Cayetano asked if Corona and the defense will produce documentary evidence to support his testimony.

Corona said, “my account manager with the [Bank of the Philippine Islands] can answer. The accountant was already working with me when my account was still with Far East Bank [and Trust Co.].” BPI later bought Far East Bank.

At the start of Friday's hearing, Corona submitted an unconditional waiver opening his bank accounts. The Senate only took note of the waiver, saying the impeachment court cannot produce any evidence for either party.

Senator-judge Francis “Chiz” Escudero later asked the prosecution why it chose not to use the waiver to open Corona's bank accounts.

Lead House prosecutor Niel Tupas Jr. said: “On the part of the prosecution, nag-rest na kami. We are relying on the Ombudsman and AMLC [Anti-Money Laundering Council] report…We are already getting ready for closing.”

Escudero pointed out, however, that senator-judges even had to debate among themselves during the early part of the trial whether to open or not the dollar accounts of Corona.

“Now you don’t want to look [into the accounts],” he said, adding it was a lost opportunity to know the truth about Corona's dollar accounts.

Corona asks to be discharged

After Escudero’s questioning, Corona then asked the Senate that he be discharged because he was not feeling well.

He had agreed to return to the impeachment court against his doctors' advice. He was brought to The Medical City and placed under intensive care after he testified last Tuesday and stayed there until Friday noon.

After his testimony on Tuesday, Corona made an unceremonious exit from the Senate floor, which many described as a "walkout." On Friday, he apologized for his acts, saying he was suffering from hypoglycemia and felt disoriented after his 3-hour opening statement. 

Corona vs Carpios

Corona also lambasted several of his critics in some of his answers to senator-judges.

He detailed the animosity between her and Carpio-Morales which, he said, was further highlighted in their bid for the post of chief justice following the retirement of Justice Reynato Puno.

Then-President Arroyo picked Corona as chief justice and appointed him during the election appointment ban in May 2010. The Supreme Court later ruled that its members are not covered by the appointment ban.

Corona also said he noticed Carpio-Morales always took the side of her cousin, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, in the high court's rulings. Mr. Carpio was also his rival for the post of chief justice.

Corona also accused the Ombudsman of allowing herself to be used by the Palace in its bid to remove him as chief justice.

“Palagay ko, nagpagamit ang Ombudsman sa Malacañang…Winawagayway niya ang isang dokumento allegedly from the AMLC [Anti-Money Laundering Council] na hindi naman authenticated,” he said.

He noted the allegation of Carpio-Morales first came out in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, even if the information was supposed to be confidential.

He said he received a directive from Carpio-Morales to explain the alleged $10 million in a sealed envelope. The order had the words written in bold, capital letters: “STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL”.

Unexplained wealth

“Maximum damage to the reputation yun e,” he said, in reference to rthe Ombudsman's allegations of unexplained wealth.

Asked if he will still call for Carpio-Morales’ resignation if it is proven she lied, Corona answered in the affirmative.

Asked if he himself will resign, he said: “Hindi po.”

Responding to questions from Senator-judge Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Corona said his impeachment has sent chilling effects on the judiciary. He said the Aquino administration has violated the separation of governmental powers in an attempt to impose a “dictatorship.”

“Diktadura na ang susunod,” he said.