Friday, 04 May 2012 13:04
Recently, it was reportedthat Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales -- acting on several complaints filedwith the Office of the Ombudsman -- served an order, dated April 20, 2012, toSupreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona to explain allegations that he has atleast $10 million in bank accounts. Carpio-Morales gave Corona 72 hours to explain in writing how heacquired several peso and dollar accounts in various banks.
The order stated: “This office finds that there is reasonableground to proceed further with the conduct of an inquiry vis-à-vis the chargesthat you, during your incumbency as a public officer, accumulated wealth thatis purportedly grossly disproportionate to your salary and other lawfulincome.”
Corona denied owning $10million. However, he indicatedthat he would not comply with the order because the “Ombudsman has nojurisdiction over the Chief Justice.” But Carpio-Morales insisted that she has jurisdiction: “The OmbudsmanAct empowers me to go over all complaints against all government officials,[regardless] of how the complaints were elevated to the office,” she said. She got a boost from Sen. MiriamDefensor-Santiago, a renowned constitutionalist, who said during a radiointerview that the Ombudsman could investigate impeachable officials.
In an attempt to deflect theOmbudsman’s order, Corona accused President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III oforchestrating Carpio-Morales’ adverse action in retaliation to last week’sSupreme Court affirmation of its decision last November 2011, which ordered thedistribution of the 4,915-hectare Hacienda Luisita to the 6,296farmworker-beneficiaries. The sugar estate is owned by P-Noy’s maternal family, the Cojuangcos.
But how could Corona accuseP-Noy of conspiring with the Carpio-Morales when the investigation intoCorona’s unexplained wealth was initiated long before the Supreme Court issued itsfinal ruling last April 24, 2012?
In my article, “It’stime for Corona to face the music”(March 22, 2012), I wrote: “It wasrecently reported in the news that the Office of the Ombudsman requested theAnti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) for a copy of Corona’s bank depositsincluding the dollar accounts. The news report said that the Ombudsman’srequest was precipitated by a complaint filed last February 17 by a group ofindividuals asking for an investigation of Corona for possible violation ofRepublic Act 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and for possibleviolation of Republic Act 9160, the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
“It is interesting to note that at the bottom of theSALN form, there is a paragraph that serves as a waiver, which reads: ‘I herebyauthorize the Ombudsman or his duly representative to obtain and securefrom all appropriate government agencies, including the Bureau of InternalRevenue, such documents that may show my assets, liabilities, networth,business interests and financial connections, to include those of myspouse and unmarried children below 18 years of age living with me in myhousehold covering past years, to include the year I first assumed officein the government.’”
Little did Corona realizethat while the Senate impeachment court could not access his “secret” dollaraccounts without his written permission per Republic Act 6426, his signedwaiver in his SALN authorized the Ombudsman to look into all his peso anddollar accounts.
During the testimony ofPhilippine Savings Bank President Pascual Garcia III at Corona’s impeachment trial,he said that a Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) examiner told the bank to put a“PEP” notation on Corona’s bank records. “PEP” stands for “PoliticallyExposed Person,” which is required under AMLC rules to be placed on the recordsof elected and appointed public officials. However, sources said thatCorona was at one time – or may still be – under investigation by AMLC.
Garcia testified that Coronahad peso deposits of P8.5 million in 2009 and P29.6 million in 2010. However, Corona only declared P2.5 million in 2009 and P3.5 million in 2010 inhis SALNs, which was one of the bases for the impeachment complaint againsthim.
Under the Anti-MoneyLaundering Act of 2001 (Republic Act 9160), banks and similar institutions arerequired to report to AMLC within five working days any “suspicioustransaction” – or “covered transaction” — that exceeds P500,000 within onebanking day. Under RA 9160, “money laundering” is defined as: “A crime whereby the proceeds of an unlawfulactivity are transacted or attempted to be transacted to make them appearto have originated from legitimate sources.”
Could it be possible thatCorona has violated the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA)? The Ombudsman’s investigation wouldcertainly yield evidence if Corona has indeed violated AMLA.
But the Ombudsman is notallowed to file charges against Corona before the anti-graft court, Sandiganbayan, for as long as he is theChief Justice. He can only beremoved from office through a constitutional impeachment process.
Since the Senate impeachmenttrial of Corona is still ongoing, the Ombudsman could only investigate thecomplaints filed against him. However, the House prosecution team said that the investigation intoCorona’s alleged $10-million bank deposits could be the “game changer” inCorona’s impeachment trial, which will resume on May 7.
Prosecution spokesman Rep.Juan Edgardo Angara reportedly said that the prosecution team could stillpresent the dollar deposits as evidence before the impeachment court becausethe prosecution made reservation on Corona’s “foreign currency accounts” whenit rested its case.
*What if Corona was acquitted?
Rumors abound that Coronamay already have secured the vote of eight senator-judges for hisacquittal. If he is acquitted, theHouse of Representatives could try to impeach him again come December 13, 2012– one year after the first impeachment complaint was filed.
By that time the Ombudsman’sinvestigation would have been concluded and a report submitted to the House. This could trigger another impeachmentcomplaint against Corona for “unexplained wealth” and, possibly, moneylaundering, which if proven in an impeachment court, these seemingly “friendly”senator-judges would have difficulty justifying a vote for acquittal.
If that would come to pass,it would be a double whammy for Corona – removal from office throughimpeachment and criminal charges before the Sandiganbayan,which could end in a conviction… and imprisonment.
Can’t the $10-million mansee the handwriting on the wall?
by Perry Diaz
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