Ombudsman to file cases vs Corona couple

Posted on January 30, 2014

THE OFFICE of the Ombudsman is set to file criminal and civil charges against former Supreme Court chief justice Renato C. Corona and his wife Cristina after finding probable cause to charge the couple over their alleged unexplained wealth amounting to more than P130 million.

In the 22-page resolution of a special panel of investigators approved by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales yesterday, the Office of the Ombudsman found probable cause to indict the Corona couple for ill-gotten wealth and falsification of public documents, in particular Mr. Corona’s Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).

The resolution of the Ombudsman said Mr. and Mrs. Corona’s actual cash deposits ballooned to P137.94 million in 2010 from P1.34 million in 2002.

“In sum, the Office of the Ombudsman determined that the Coronas’ unexplained wealth is at least P130,336,212.88... The amount of P130,336,212.88 is a conservative estimate as it includes their cost of living allowance commensurate to their social stature and expenses entailed by their travels abroad,” the resolution read.

The resolution came almost two years after Mr. Corona was removed from office following a guilty verdict by the Senate impeachment court for failing to fully disclose his assets in his SALN, and betraying the public trust.

It was in December 2011 when allies of Mr. Aquino in the House of Representatives impeached Mr. Corona. The following year, the Senate convened as an impeachment court and presided over a highly charged trial that lasted nearly four months.

Mr. Corona was the first high-level Philippine official to be removed from office after impeachment and conviction by an impeachment court.

Mr. Corona was appointed Supreme Court Associate Justice on April 2002, and then Chief Justice in 2010.

Mr. Corona’s trial was resurrected recently following allegations by some senators that President Benigno S. C. Aquino III had tried to pressure them and even bribe the senator-judges -- in the form of the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) worth as much as P100 million -- allegedly to convict Mr. Corona.

The Ombudsman resolution said Mr. Corona violated Republic Act (RA) 1379 and will face eight counts of perjury and eight counts of violation of Section 11 of RA 671 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials.

A special panel of investigators determined that from 2001 to 2011, the Coronas earned a total income of P30.37 million, of which P27.15 million was earned by Mr. Corona as a Justice of the SC, a member of the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET), and member of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET).

Meanwhile, his wife, Cristina earned P3.22 million for the period 2007-2010, based on the Alpha List submitted to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) by the John Hay Development Corp. (JHDC) where Mrs. Corona was employed.

The resolution cited the Land Registration Authority (LRA) records on several properties owned by the Coronas in Quezon City, Makati City and Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City, which were established to be significantly undervalued by P17.29 million.

The Ombudsman’s resolution also pointed out certifications from Trade and Industry department saying the Coronas have no existing business registered in their name.

This, even as Mr. Corona’s SALN for 2003-2009 disclosed that his wife is connected with the Basa Guidote Enterprises, Inc. On the charges for perjury, the resolution found that the sworn declarations in Mr. Corona’s SALNs were false, as he allegedly failed to include the numerous peso and dollar bank accounts (in his 2003-2010 SALNs), a condominium unit at The Columns, Makati City (in his 2004-2009 SALN), and a condominium unit at Spanish Bay Tower in Taguig City (in his 2005-2009 SALN).

The resolution also noted Mr. Corona was found to have only declared P6.8 million as the acquisition cost of a condominium unit in Bellagio I in Taguig City in his SALN for 2010, when the true acquisition cost is P14.51 million.

In his SALNs from 2003 to 2009, “[Mr.] Corona also undervalued the property located at La Vista in Quezon City by P8 million,” the resolution said.

Mr. Corona was also charged with violation of RA 6713 or Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials, for allegedly not filing true and detailed SALNs for 2003-2010, when the value of his declared cash assets and the actual bank deposits had substantial discrepancies and his real assets in Makati, Taguig and Quezon City were not declared.

Mrs. Morales directed the filing of a petition for forfeiture with the Sandiganbayan. -- I.C.C. Delavin