Corona’s (not so) secret account


The crown's dollars


I expected Annabelle Tiongson, manager of the Katipunan Branch of PSBank, to do as she did. Why shouldn’t she? As Niñez Cacho-Olivarez reported, the bank document that formed the basis for the prosecutors to subpoena Chief Justice Renato Corona’s dollar account at PS Bank came from Tiongson herself. Had the Senate ignored the court ruling enjoining the opening of this dollar account, Tiongson would have been the Clarissa Ocampo of this impeachment trial. But because the Senate honored the Court ruling, the best course of action for her was to deny its authenticity.But should the nation believe her hook, line and sinker?

Of course not. To begin with, no less than Corona, by seeking an order from his colleagues at the Supreme Court to restrain the opening of his dollar account, has himself admitted that the said exists. If it is but a figment of the prosecution’s imagination, as the defense would want us to believe, what is there to be restrained by the Court? Any which way, the mysterious dollar deposit works in favor of the prosecution, and courtesy of the CJ’s actuations at that.

There is  a presumption in our rules of evidence that he who suppresses the presentation of evidence does so because it is against him. Here, the chief justice’s insistence on secrecy can only be because the existence of the dollar account will prove anew that he failed to declare his dollar deposit in his SALN.

In any case, the PSBank dollar account is only icing for the prosecution. What is undeniable now is that Corona did not declare a total amount of P31 million cash in his SALN. The defense insists that SALNs are subject to correction. Cuevas should tell that to the court interpreter in a Regional Trial Court in Davao who was fired because he failed to declare in his SALN a market stall. Said the Court “We have repeatedly held that although every office in the government service is a public trust, no position exacts a greater demand for moral righteousness and uprightness from an individual than in the Judiciary x x x Personnel in the Judiciary should conduct themselves in such a manner as to be beyond reproach and suspicion, and free from any appearance of impropriety in their personal behavior, not only in the discharge of their official duties but also in their everyday life. They are strictly mandated to maintain good moral character at all times and to observe irreproachable behavior so as not to outrage public decency.”

I guess Corona believes that the high ethical standards can only be demanded from lowly court employees and not from the Chief Justice himself.  It is obvious that in Corona’s mind, being primus inter pares, or the first amongst equals, is tantamount to a shield of immunity even for criminal acts.

And lest we forget, the undeclared 31 million in cash is over and above the real estate property that he also failed to declare in his SALN. There were at least three pieces of real estate property that he failed to declare: a condominium unit in Spanish Bay Tower, another unit in Makati at the Columns, and a lot in McKinley Hills. There too is the undervaluation of the Bellagio unit by at least 24 million pesos. Altogether, Corona, the Honorable magistrate, did not declare a total of at least P65 million worth of property.

The question is why. Well, the sage and statesman Jovito Salonga, when he wrote the law requiring the filing of truthful SALNs, knew that property which is not proportional to a public official’s salary is presumed ill-gotten under another statute, the unexplained wealth act. Need we say more?

Perhaps Corona should heed the ruling of his own Court. In another ruling ordering the dismissal of a regional revenue officer for failing to disclose two cars in his SALN, the court said: “(T)he SSAL (sworn statement of assets and liabilities) is not a mere scrap of paper. The law requires that the SSAL must be accomplished as truthfully, as detailed and as accurately as possible  x x x  It serves as the basis of the government and the people in monitoring the income and lifestyle of officials and employees in the government.”