Mistake in Corona SALN without malice?It seems that the strategy of the defense in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona ’s strategy is leading towards admission that yes, he made “inadvertent mistake” in the filing of his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth but that is not an impeachable offense.
This line of reasoning first surfaced in the March 14 hearing when Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano followed up on the point raised by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV that the issue is not whether the income of the chief justice was huge, or his wealth was earned legitimately or not, but whether what was stated in the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth are true and accurate.
Cuevas replied, “Even assuming there is discrepancy or quite a difference in the making of the return which may be considered inaccurate, Your Honor, that is not a ground, in our thinking, for impeachment.”
Cuevas would repeat the same argument in the succeeding days last week saying that the mistake could be “inadvertent” and “without malice.”
The same argument was echoed by Karen Jimeno, one of the defense team’s spokesperson, during a press conference on Corona’s failure to declare the acquisition cost of his properties in his SALN.
Jimeno said, “If the other government officials, including impeachable officers, failed to fill out everything (including the acquisition cost column), the question that arises is, is that an impeachable offense?”
Corona is charged of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.
Jimeno further said the law allows an official to correct figures in his or her SALN. If there were errors, she said, in the Chief Justice’s SALN, he could still rectify them.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson in the March 14 hearing reminded the Court of the provision in the Constitution on the “Accountability of Public Officers.”
Article XI, Section 17, states “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.”Lacson said when one submits “ a declaration under oath,” the data should be true and correct.
Cuevas agreed:” Tama po. Sapagkat kung hindi ganoon, walang katuturan, walang kahulugan ang provision na yan. (Correct. Because if not, that provision is useless.)”
On the follow up question of Sen. TG Guingona, Cuevas said, “By accurate we do not mean centavo per centavo, peso per peso.”
He added,” Because there are cases on the point already wherein the exact amount do not tally and yet it was considered filed through mere inadvertence, simple negligence. It is not a ground for administrative case.”
The problem with the excuse that the defense is laying down – that the mistake was not intentional and it was committed without malice- is that, the discrepancy is HUGE.
There were a few properties worth millions that were not included in his SALN.
The discrepancy in the cash and investment is so glaring. The amount Corona stated was P3.5 million. What was uncovered so far in his peso accounts in Philippines Savings Bank and Bank of the Philippine Islands totals P31.7 million.
That does not include the dollar deposits which is a subject of a temporary restraining order by the Supreme Court. The document that the prosecution got showed $700,000 which sources said was just the initial deposit. Unverified reports said the account now contains $1.8 million. If true, that would not be less than P70 million.
A VERA Files source said the total amount of the dollar accounts is “mind boggling.”
If the discrepancy is in the tens of millions of pesos, I doubt if the mistake is “inadvertent” and “without malice.”