By Perry Diaz
Recently, it was reported that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales — acting on several complaints filed with the Office of the Ombudsman — served an order, dated April 20, 2012, to Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona to explain allegations that he has at least $10 million in bank accounts. Carpio-Morales gave Corona 72 hours to explain in writing how he acquired several peso and dollar accounts in various banks.
The order stated: “This office finds that there is reasonable ground to proceed further with the conduct of an inquiry vis-à-vis the charges that you, during your incumbency as a public officer, accumulated wealth that is purportedly grossly disproportionate to your salary and other lawful income.”
Corona denied owning $10 million. However, he indicated that he would not comply with the order because the “Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over the Chief Justice.” But Carpio-Morales insisted that she has jurisdiction: “The Ombudsman Act 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. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a renowned constitutionalist, who said during a radio interview that the Ombudsman could investigate impeachable officials.
In an attempt to deflect the Ombudsman’s order, Corona accused President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III of orchestrating Carpio-Morales’ adverse action in retaliation to last week’s Supreme Court affirmation of its decision last November 2011, which ordered the distribution of the 4,915-hectare Hacienda Luisita to the 6,296 farmworker-beneficiaries. The sugar estate is owned by P-Noy’s maternal family, the Cojuangcos.
But how could Corona accuse P-Noy of conspiring with the Carpio-Morales when the investigation into Corona’s unexplained wealth was initiated long before the Supreme Court issued its final ruling last April 24, 2012?
In my article, “It’s time for Corona to face the music” (March 22, 2012), I wrote: “It was recently reported in the news that the Office of the Ombudsman requested the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) for a copy of Corona’s bank deposits including the dollar accounts. The news report said that the Ombudsman’s request was precipitated by a complaint filed last February 17 by a group of individuals asking for an investigation of Corona for possible violation of Republic Act 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and for possible violation of Republic Act 9160, the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
“It is interesting to note that at the bottom of the SALN form, there is a paragraph that serves as a waiver, which reads: ‘I hereby authorize the Ombudsman or his duly representative to obtain and secure from all appropriate government agencies, including the Bureau of Internal Revenue, such documents that may show my assets, liabilities, networth, business interests and financial connections, to include those of my spouse and unmarried children below 18 years of age living with me in my household covering past years, to include the year I first assumed office in the government.’ ”
Little did Corona realize that while the Senate impeachment court could not access his “secret” dollar accounts without his written permission per Republic Act 6426, his signed waiver in his SALN authorized the Ombudsman to look into all his peso and dollar accounts.
During the testimony of Philippine 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 “Politically Exposed Person,” which is required under AMLC rules to be placed on the records of elected and appointed public officials. However, sources said that Corona was at one time – or may still be – under investigation by AMLC.
Garcia testified that Corona had 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 in his SALNs, which was one of the bases for the impeachment complaint against him.
Under the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001 (Republic Act 9160), banks and similar institutions are required to report to AMLC within five working days any “suspicious transaction” – or “covered transaction” — that exceeds P500,000 within one banking day. Under RA 9160, “money laundering” is defined as: “A crime whereby the proceeds of an unlawful activity are transacted or attempted to be transacted to make them appear to have originated from legitimate sources.”
Could it be possible that Corona has violated the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA)? The Ombudsman’s investigation would certainly yield evidence if Corona has indeed violated AMLA.
But the Ombudsman is not allowed to file charges against Corona before the anti-graft court, Sandiganbayan, for as long as he is the Chief Justice. He can only be removed from office through a constitutional impeachment process.
Since the Senate impeachment trial of Corona is still ongoing, the Ombudsman could only investigate the complaints filed against him. However, the House prosecution team said that the investigation into Corona’s alleged $10-million bank deposits could be the “game changer” in Corona’s impeachment trial, which will resume on May 7.
Prosecution spokesman Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara reportedly said that the prosecution team could still present the dollar deposits as evidence before the impeachment court because the prosecution made reservation on Corona’s “foreign currency accounts” when it rested its case.
What if Corona was acquitted?
Rumors abound that Corona may already have secured the vote of eight senator-judges for his acquittal. If he is acquitted, the House 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’s investigation would have been concluded and a report submitted to the House. This could trigger another impeachment complaint against Corona for “unexplained wealth” and, possibly, money laundering, 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 through impeachment and criminal charges before the Sandiganbayan, which could end in a conviction… and imprisonment.
Can’t the $10-million man see the handwriting on the wall?
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“The world suffers a lot. Not because of the violence of bad people, but because of the silence of good people!” – Napoleon