A critic of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona lamented over Twitter, â€œBut Corona is using the law for his own protection.â€ Eureka! Coronaâ€™s critic had the answer to the dilemma dividing the sentiments of the entire nation. Indeed, if the law cannot protect the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, then the law cannot protect anybody in the country. Equal protection of the law applies to everybody including Corona. As stated in Article III, Section 1,2,3, of the Bill of Rights:
Section 1. No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.
Section 2. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable, and no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.
Section 3. (1) The privacy of communication and correspondence shall be inviolable except upon lawful order of the court, or when public safety or order requires otherwise, as prescribed by law.
(2) Any evidence obtained in violation of this or the preceding section shall be inadmissible for any purpose in any proceeding.
On the last day of his testimony at the impeachment trial, Corona claimed that apart from the violations committed by the prosecution, the Office of the Ombudsman was in violation of his rights and other laws as stipulated in the constitution, which includes the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) and the dollar secrecy law:
â€œI am not aware of being guilty of a predicate crime,â€ he said. â€œI am not under any investigation and there is no court order, yet the Ombudsman released the alleged AMLC report and made a PowerPoint presentation during her testimony.â€
Under the Anti-Money Laundering Act, investigators must first establish a suspectâ€™s link to a predicate crime before they can look into his bank accounts.
The law also requires a court order before a suspectâ€™s bank accounts can be opened for scrutiny.
The suspect also needs to be informed that he is being investigated by the AMLC before his bank accounts can be checked.
Technically speaking, the prosecution and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales did not have authority to look into Coronaâ€™s accounts without the waiver allowing access to his bank accounts that he only issued on the 25th May 2012. This means that the manner with which they gathered the evidence used in their investigation into Coronaâ€™s accounts was in violation of the Constitution particularly Coronaâ€™s right to privacy.
It is interesting to note that the prosecution is now relying heavily on the presentation by defense hostile witness, Ombudsman Morales to secure his conviction. According to prosecution spokesman Congressman Miro Quimbo, the AMLC report supposedly obtained for the Ombudsman was enough evidence and that whatever results Coronaâ€™s waiver would produce would be of no use to them. However, the evidence presented by the Ombudsman should not even be admissible for any purpose in any proceeding including Coronaâ€™s impeachment trial as stipulated in Section 3.2 of Article III.
Even more bizarre, something highlighted by Senator Chiz Escudero, is the fact that the prosecution is not interested in checking the accuracy of the unauthenticated AMLC report on which Ombudsman Morales based her spurious interpretation. Escudero was in disbelief upon hearing that the prosecution does not need the waiver from Corona at all considering that it was the issue of access to Coronaâ€™s account that caused the Senators a lot of stress during one of their earlier caucuses at the start of the trial.
The prosecution had almost caused branches of government to collide with each other when they insisted the court subpoena Coronaâ€™s dollar accounts — a request which would have put the Senate court in violation of the dollar secrecy law. One can be forgiven for thinking that prosecution is afraid to find out that the Ombudsmanâ€™s report might not match whatâ€™s in Coronaâ€™s account. It likely means that they are afraid that Corona could be telling the truth.
The Senator Judges are likewise not interested in looking into Coronaâ€™s account now that it is finally open for inspection citing that â€œthe court is hearer of factsâ€ and not supposed to produce evidence for the defense and the prosecution. It seems no one is interested in the truth after all. The golden opportunity to find out if Corona is telling the truth about his dollar accounts and peso accounts with co-mingled funds is being ignored to be able to stick to their self-imposed deadline to end the trial by 31st of May.
How can the Senators arrive at an objective decision when they donâ€™t want to look at all the facts? This would constitute a denial of due process.
Some say that the point of contention now is whether or not the Senators will agree to Coronaâ€™s interpretation of the Foreign Currency Deposit Republic Act 6426 or the dollar secrecy law and the The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act 6713 that covers the law on filing the Statement of Assets, Liability and Network (SALN).
Corona was very clear in his response to a bewildered Senator Kiko Pangilinanâ€™s question on which law takes precedence, is it the SALN or the dollar secrecy law? The Chief Magistrate of the Supreme Court did not even see a conflict in the two laws because the SALN law includes the words â€œas may be provided by lawâ€ and that particular law in Coronaâ€™s case is the dollar secrecy law, which requires absolute confidentiality of the depositorâ€™s accounts. To be sure, here is the part of the laws on disclosure of the SALN under Art. XI, Section 17:
A public officer or employee shall, upon assumption of office and as often thereafter as may be required by law, submit a declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities, and net worth. In the case of the President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Cabinet, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Commissions and other constitutional offices, and officers of the armed forces with general or flag rank, the declaration shall be disclosed to the public in the manner provided by lawâ€
How can you argue with that? It is crystal clear that Corona was just following the law when he did not include his dollar deposits in his SALN and as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; it is expected of him to do so. I canâ€™t imagine any of the Senators — except, perhaps, for Senator Drilon and Pangilinan — making a big deal of this unimpeachable offense considering it is Coronaâ€™s money, which he simply invested in US currency.
His salary had already been taxed and his dollar deposits would have been presumably taxed accordingly. Besides, now that we know that he only has a measly total of $2.4 million dollars – not $12 million, as earlier reported, we can all sleep at night knowing that he has not siphoned public funds into his accounts. And letâ€™s not forget what Corona kept repeating during his testimony. If he really wanted to hide his money, he would not put it under his name. A CPA-Lawyer even claims that Corona did not have to include his dollar deposits in his SALN:
Estrella Martinez, a CPA-lawyer who served in the BIR for 32 years, on Thursday said Corona was under no obligation to reveal such accounts because of the Foreign Currency Deposit Act (Republic Act No. 6426).
Martinez, an expert on SALNs having spent years at the BIR and with a master of law degree in taxation from the University of the Philippines, said foreign currency deposits have â€œno place in the SALNâ€ because of the strict rules of RA 6426.
That partly explains why, she said in a paper given to the Inquirer, â€œin all my 32 years as a tax collector, I have never encountered a government official declare his dollar deposits in his SALN.â€
â€œA dollar deposit cannot be declared as assets in the SALN because this will not affect his net worth,â€ she wrote. â€œIt is of judicial notice that increase in net worth is taxable under Section 24 of the Tax Code, because net worth comprises such acquisition in â€˜pesoâ€™ only.â€
Martinez added: â€œSome passive income, like interest on dollar deposit, has been subjected to a final withholding tax, which the dollar depositor is not mandated to declare in his income tax return or SALN. This dollar transaction will just appear in an alpha list submitted to the BIR.â€
There you go. Martinezâ€™s explanation is easy enough to understand. I hope the Senators will not make things too complicated for them when they decide on Coronaâ€™s verdict.
Coronaâ€™s critics do lament about a lot of things against him but most of it is grossly exaggerated. Their failure in pinning down Corona has to do with their defiance of the law and in going against someone who knows how to use the law to protect himself.
[Photo courtesy Washington Examiner.]