Citing a lack of evidence, the Sandiganbayan has dismissed the P134 million forfeiture case against the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, his widow Cristina, and their children.
In a 48-page decision, the anti-graft court said Corona’s P134 million worth of peso and dollar bank deposits, as well as his real estate properties worth P17.5 million, were legally acquired, and that the non-declaration of these in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) had been rectified.
The dismissal came eight years after the then 67-year old Corona succumbed to cardiac arrest at The Medical City in Pasig City on April 29, 2016, after years of battling diabetes.
The case was an offshoot of an impeachment trial against him over his alleged misdeclarations in his Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth.
In 2012, the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, convicted Corona for betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution over the non-declaration of several assets, including real estate properties in his SALNs, causing his removal from the Supreme Court.
The Sandiganbayan, however, said the Corona family was able to prove that the former Chief Justice had been gainfully employed for almost 45 years and that he had funds other than his lawful income in government service.
At the same time, the former Chief Justice’s wife, Cristina was a former salaried employee and one of the owners of Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc. (BGEI) and now its inheritor, the Sandiganbayan said.
It added that the Corona couple received in trust for BGEI the total purchase price of the expropriation proceedings held in 2001.
“These funds were then pooled with their children,” it said.
“These enabled them to acquire real properties in their names and earn a substantial amount of cash assets. At most, respondent Chief Justice Corona may be held guilty of simple negligence for having failed to ascertain that his SALNs were accomplished properly, accurately, and in more detail. Such an administrative case could have been imposed upon him, however, it was preempted by his death,” the Sandiganbayan said.
“Such innocuous mistakes [of failure to declare assets] may be addressed by the customary corrective action enabled by Section 10 of RA No. 6713, as in this case. While the SALN is an instrument that ensures accountability, the review and compliance procedures work as a buffer that prevents the haphazard filing of actions against public officials and employees,” the court added.
As for the failure to declare these assets, the anti-graft court: “Such non-declarations or misdeclarations are innocuous mistakes that do not signal the accumulation of unexplained wealth, though they may signify a degree of carelessness.” (See full story online at manilastandard.net)
“Besides, it is a long jump to conclude the amount of P134 million worth of alleged undeclared cash assets just by merely adding the end amounts appearing on the subject bank accounts without considering the other money market placements,” the Sandiganbayan said.
The anti-graft court added: “Despite admitting that these other sources of funds were not declared in his SALNs, it is important to stress that the issue here is not the misdeclaration of entries or filing of the correct SALN but whether or not the respondents have accumulated properties manifestly out of proportion to their lawful income or salary and thus, presumed to have been unlawfully acquired.”