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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Philippine Chief Justice can't afford condos but has it?

Philippines - Malacañang on Saturday stepped up the pressure on the alleged corrupt, former-President Arroyo puppet, Chief Justice Renato Corona to disclose his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), claiming that Corona's salary as a government official would not have been enough for him to pay for the purchase of a luxury condominium unit worth more than P14 million (US$317,000).

By Budget Secretary Florencio Abad's reckoning, if an official does not earn enough to buy a multimillion-peso property (plus a few others, as alleged by the House prosecution panel in Corona's impeachment trial) then the properties may have been acquired through other means.

"If it's true that he owns not just the Bellagio penthouse but possibly other real properties in pricy locations and knowing that the income alone from government service will not afford the Chief Justice the ability to acquire those assets, a reasonable mind can only conclude that the Chief Justice may have other sources of income outside of government or that those properties may have been acquired some other way," Abad said in a text message.

"That it why it becomes even more compelling for the Chief Justice to publicly disclose his SALN. Otherwise, inquiring minds will begin to speculate," he said.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said a government official's salary would really not be enough to buy a premium piece of property unless he has received a sizeable inheritance or has returns on investments made before entering government.

The Palace officials made the remarks after the publication of Corona's SALNs from the years that he served in Malacañang, which placed his net worth at almost P15 million in 1992 and at P14 million in 2002. The news media Inquirer obtained the data from a source privy to the House prosecution panel's evidence in Corona's impeachment trial.

Abad said he has yet to see Corona's SALNs for 1992 and 2002 while Valte said the declaration should be in the records of the Office of the President. She said she would look into the records to see if the Palace had the same figures.

Aquino administration officials and anti-Corona partisans have been harping on Corona's failure to make public his SALN since joining the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court spokesperson Midas Marquez has explained that high court justices have not published their SALNs since a 1992 resolution of the Narvasa court restricting the release of the SALNs of justices and judges to shield them from acts which may "endanger, diminish or destroy their independence and objectivity in the performance of their judicial functions."

Court order needed

Justices of the Supreme Court are obliged to submit documents concerning their assets and liabilities to the clerk of court every year. Since the 1992 resolution, parties requesting a copy of a judge's or a justice's SALN have to secure a court order.

Since the outcry for Corona to disclose his SALN, two Supreme Court justices have released details of their SALNs. Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Maria Lourdes Sereno furnished the Kaya Natin [eng: We can do it], one of the groups demanding that Corona produce his SALNs to show proof that he can afford to buy a pricy condominium, summaries of their SALNs.

House prosecutors are timing to present Corona's alleged ownership of expensive real estate as evidence of corruption in his impeachment trial to start a week from now in the Senate.

According to Valte, it would not be possible to afford a P14-million luxury condominium unit - let alone a few other pieces of premium property - while living on a government salary for roughly 20 years.

"Not unless it could be shown there was an inheritance while in service," Valte told state-run radio dzRB.

Valte also said having the means to buy a property like Corona's alleged 300-square meter unit at the Bellagio development in Bonifacio Global City would depend on the pieces of property that he already owned upon entering government service.

"If only on a government salary, it really wouldn't be enough," she said.

Meanwhile, Marquez did not answer calls and text messages to his phone, asking for comment on the latest sally from Malacañang.

Ernesto Francisco Jr., one of Corona's lawyers, also declined to comment as he was withdrawing from the Chief Justice's legal team.

He declined to reveal the reasons for his departure, saying only that he would formalize it on Tuesday.


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