House prosecution accuses defense panel of trying to stop BIR chief from testifying

January 24, 2012 11:13 pm 

By Lilybeth G. Ison

MANILA, Jan. 24 — What’s in the income tax returns (ITRs) of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona that his lawyers prevented them from being presented before the Senate impeachment court today?

The House prosecution panel posed this question as they lashed out the defense for asking the Senate impeachment court to expunge from the records all evidence pertaining to the ill-gotten wealth of Corona and his family.

The impeachment trial of the Chief Justice adjourned early Tuesday after the defense panel submitted to the Senate a memorandum asking the senator-judges to stop the prosecutors from presenting evidence on Corona’s assets since it was not part of Article 2 of the impeachment complaint.

"Huwag na tayong magpaligoy-ligoy pa, ang puno’t dulo kung bakit naudlot ang paglilitis sa hapong ito ay ayaw nilang maisumite ang tax returns ni Chief Justice Corona. Ayaw nilang masuri ito ng impeachment court at higit sa lahat ayaw nilang matunghayan ito ng ordinaryong Pilipino," said Marikina City Rep. Miro Quimbo, one of the spokesmen of the prosecution.

Quimbo questioned why the defense suddenly filed a memorandum questioning the prosecution's evidence related to the ill-gotten wealth issue against the chief justice, which according to them, is clearly alleged under Article 2 of the impeachment complaint filed against the top magistrate.

He noted that the filing came a day after the prosecution announced that Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) Commissioner Kim Jacinto Henares was to take the witness stand on Thursday (Jan. 26) to testify on the ITR and other tax records of the Coronas.

According to Quimbo, the BIR chief was in fact already in the Senate today in compliance with the subpoena earlier issued to her by the impeachment trial court.

"Ano bang meron sa ITR ng kagalang-galang na chief justice at nagkumahog silang (defense) pigilan ang pagsiwalat nito sa pamamagitan ng pagkuwestyon sa Article 2 na matagal na naman nilang tinanggap na bahagi ng Articles of Impeachment?" he asked.

Quimbo said the chief justice should order his lawyers to allow the presentation of his tax records and other evidence in connection with his supposed ill-gotten wealth if he is not hiding anything.

"Kung sinasabi ng kampo ni CJ Corona na legal, moral, malinis at produkto ng kanyang sariling pawis ang pagkakabili ng mga ari-arian na nasa kanyang pangalan, ang ITR ang magpapatunay na ang perang ginamit niya sa pagbili nito ay mula sa kanyang legal na kita na ayon sa batas ay deklarado sa ITR," he pointed out.

The prosecution alleged that Corona has acquired several properties which he failed to declare in his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) since 2002.

A close scrutiny of his net worth declarations versus his land and condominium purchases showed that these were "grossly out of proportion" to his lawful income, they claimed.

Through records from the BIR, the prosecution said they will prove at the very least that Corona’s tax payments do not match the information he declared in his SALN.

Meanwhile, House Deputy Speaker and Quezon Rep. Lorenzo "Erin" Tanada III, also spokesman of the prosecution panel, said they were taking the statements propounded by Senator-Judge Miriam Defensor Santiago in Tuesday’s trial to be favorable the cause of the prosecution.

"Why should we be cowered by what Senator Santiago had stated? In fact we take her statement as pushing our objectives," said Tanada at the press conference, after the impeachment trial was adjourned.

The Quezon solon also said that the defense panel's tactic of delaying the case has somewhat taken the edge today as the prosecution was prevented from presenting its seven witnesses ready to take the stand.

"The attempts of the defense to tie down Article 2 of the complaint to the mere filing of the SALN will prevent us for getting to the truth. Article 2 goes beyond SALN. We should be able to connect the dots. The story that the SALN weaves is not complete without comparing it to the Chief Justice’s Income Tax Returns," he noted.

Tanada said that income, whether from the chief justice's salary as a government official or from his other investment undertakings must be properly declared.

He said that the rise of Corona's net worth or even assets, "without the concomitant increase in his income or liabilities, for that matter, and the proper payment of taxes would be questionable and pierces right through the Chief Justice’s integrity."

The House prosecution panel earlier said that the Chief Justice has demonstrated a disturbing pattern of lies and deception in his SALNs, which have been made public for the first time since he joined the Supreme Court in 2002.

They claimed that the inconsistencies found in Corona's SALNs showed that the chief justice allegedly lied under oath not only when he concealed ownership of several high-priced properties, but also when he failed to disclose in his SALNs that his wife Cristina was a board member of the state-owned John Hay Management Corp. (JHMC) from 2002 to 2006.

"This bolsters our allegation that he (Corona) is not fit to be the country’s top magistrate. He lacks all the qualifications of a member of the Supreme Court — a person of proven competence, integrity, probity and independence," said Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara, one of the spokesmen of the prosecution panel.

Based on his SALN, Corona did not declare that his wife Cristina was appointed to the JHMC the same year he was named to the Supreme Court by then President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2002.

It was only in his 2007 SALN that the Chief Justice had indicated Mrs. Corona was also a government official.

The wife of the Chief Justice was chairperson and president of JHMC from 2006 to 2010.

Angara said the non-disclosure of the chief magistrate in his SALN constitutes falsification and dishonesty under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and Republic Act (RA) 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

Section 8 of RA 6713 provides that "it shall be the duty of every public official or employee to identify and disclose, to the best of his knowledge and information, his relatives in the government in the form, manner and frequency prescribed by the Civil Service Commission (CSC).

"The country does not deserve Mr. Corona to be the head or even a member of the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land. How can you respect someone who is supposed to uphold the law and the Constitution, but first to violate them?" said Tanada.

The Senate impeachment trial will resume on Wednesday at 2 p.m. (PNA)

LAP/LGI

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