Malacañang on Friday welcomed the Sandiganbayan’s reported ruling that found probable cause to put former Chief Justice Renato Corona on trial for perjury for allegedly misdeclaring his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN), which was among the issues raised against him.
In a text message, Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said the anti-graft court’s decision only affirmed the Aquino Administration’s position to have Corona impeached and undergo an impeachment trial.
“That our belief then has been validated now by the fact of the indictment. It shows that our position has always been grounded on facts and not blind animosity against the former chief justice Corona as he would have the public believe,” Valte’s text message read.
In a separate statement, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the grounds for Corona’s indictment were the same ones that led to his conviction.
“We note that the indictment is based on the same offense that merited the former [Chief Justice’s] conviction in the impeachment trial. Let the ends of justice be served,” Coloma added.
Corona, who is also facing a P130-million forfeiture case before the anti-graft court, was impeached by Congress in 2012 for false declarations in his SALN.
He was described by President Benigno Aquino 3rd as a midnight appointee of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
On Thursday, Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang said the anti-graft court’s Special Third Division found probable cause to try Corona for perjury for the alleged misdeclaration of his SALN.
Corona was charged with eight counts of perjury and eight counts of violation of Republic Act (RA) 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
“There is probable cause that he has committed the crime… My recollection is that there are certain [pieces of]propert[y]that he failed to include in his SALN for a number of years based on the documents submitted,” Tang said.
No legal basis
An associate justice of the Sandiganbayan, in his dissenting opinion on the Corona case, said the Office of the Ombudsman proceeded to file the cases without following the procedural structures set forth by RA 6713.
In his 62-page dissent, Associate Justice Samuel Martires said he did not find any ground to pin down the former Chief Justice.
“After a careful review of the law and the records of this case,” Martires found no ground against Corona for three reasons–that there was no legal basis for the filing of charges, that Corona cannot be charged for perjury under the Revised Penal Code or be charged both for perjury and breach of conduct and the Ombudsman lacked authority to file the cases.
He said the 15-page complaint of the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office (FIO) and the 22-page joint resolution of the Ombudsman’s special panel of investigators in 2014, which the Ombudsman approved on January 28, 2014, did not show that Corona’s SALN was reviewed by the Review and Compliance Committee of the Supreme Court in line with the procedure under RA 6713.
“What is clear is the reference in the Joint Resolution to the impeachment trial and the documents the Ombudsman had gathered from banks and government agencies,” Martires added.
“In short, the Office of the Ombudsman proceeded to file these cases without following the procedural structures set forth by RA 6713,” he said.
Corona, who was impeached in 2011, is accused of perjury and violation of Section 8 of RA 6713.
Martires said it would have been most prudent for the Ombudsman to have referred Corona’s SALN to the Supreme Court’s Review and Compliance Committee after gathering evidence to provide him an opportunity to avail of the corrective remedy provided by law.
He added that the Ombudsman “simply disregarded the clear directive of Section 10 to let the accused Corona correct the inaccuracies or deficiencies in his SALN,” noting that when the Ombudsman was investigating Corona’s SALN the High Court already formed a panel that will review the SALN of court personnel.
“There was therefore no cogent reason for the Ombudsman not to forward the result of its investigation to the Review Committee of the Supreme Court unless it had other reasons for disregarding the clear instructions of the law,” Martires said.
He argued that Corona cannot be charged for perjury because it carries a lighter penalty than the one provided for in RA 6713.
Martires said the provision under RA 6713 that if the violation is punishable by a heavier penalty under another law, then the person shall be prosecuted under the latter statute “is clear and unambiguous and only a Humpty Dumpty can whimsically attach a different meaning to this provision.”
Under the Revised Penal Code, perjury is punishable by up to two years in prison.
Meanwhile, violation of Section 8 of RA 6713 carries a penalty of up to five years imprisonment or a P5,000 fine or both and in the court’s discretion, disqualification to hold public office.
“The filing of SALN is covered by Section 8 of RA 6713. Clearly, the penalty provided by RA 6713 for violation of Section 8 is much heavier than the penalty for perjury under the Revised Penal Code,” Martires said.
While the Ombudsman’s constitutional power to initiate probes as well as to prosecute was not removed or lessened by RA 6713, its power to prosecute cases stemming from violations of RA 6713 is dependent on the transmittal of cases from the Civil Service Commission (CSC), Martires argued.
“This can be picked up without difficulty from the language of Section 12 that the CSC ‘shall transmit all cases for prosecution arising from violations of this Act to the proper authorities for appropriate action’ and unless muddled by the fug of a sleepy mind, this provision can easily be understood even by a high school student,” he remarked.
“In short, without the ‘transmittal’ from the CSC, which is a precondition for the filing of cases, there is nothing for the Ombudsman to prosecute and it cannot just on its own proceed to prosecute a case without treading into the prohibited path of ‘usurpation of authority,’” Martires said.
Further on, he mentioned that the Ombudsman’s office based its resolution on the impeachment proceedings against Corona.
“Regrettably, whatever evidence was presented during the impeachment trial does not bind this court, for an impeachment trial is political in character while judicial proceedings involves legal judgment that is based on laws and the rules on evidence,” Martires said.
He added that the anti-graft court cannot consider the bank documents gathered by the Office of the Ombudsman because it is only authorized to gather documents from government agencies, not from private institutions.
Further, Martires pointed out, the bank documents were obtained without court order or Corona’s consent and thus were protected by bank secrecy laws.
He said, “Whatever documents the Ombudsman has gathered from banks are considered ‘fruits of the poisonous tree’ and must therefore be disregarded by the court.”
“[T]he absence alone of the requisite ‘transmittal’ from the Civil Service Commission which is one of the conditions precedent before a case for violation of Sections 7, 8 and 9 can be filed by the Ombudsman against the accused Corona is, by itself, sufficient ground for the outright dismissal of these cases,” Martires added.