Ombudsman move vs Corona hit

Chief Justice Renato Corona

MANILA – The camp of Chief Justice Renato Corona decried on MOnday as black propaganda and a witchhunt the move of the Office of the Ombudsman, directing Corona to explain his alleged $10-million bank deposits.

Corona’s lawyers – Ramon Esguerra, Tranquil Salvador III and Rico Paolo Quicho – said the move was part of the government’s efforts to influence not just the public but also the senator-judges, as the Senate impeachment court is set to resume trial on May 7.

“Obviously a witchhunt. I thought I would read such a report only in a white paper, but it’s also in the newspaper,” Quicho told The STAR, reiterating that Corona does not own $10 million.

He also echoed the defense camp’s statement that the petitioners’ claims before the Ombudsman were no different from the phony list of the Land Registration Authority (LRA) that initially listed 45 properties of Corona and his wife Cristina.

During the defense’s presentation of evidence at the Senate, Corona’s lawyers established that the Chief Justice only had five properties as correctly stated in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs).

Corona’s lawyers also reiterated that the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over the Chief Justice since he is an impeachable officer.

“(As such) no criminal investigation can be made during his tenure. That’s too elementary,” Quicho said.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago frowned on the move of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales.

“I would think that it is unfortunate at this time because he is being asked to fight a battle at two fronts – first, in the impeachment where the penalty is removal from office and disqualification from public office, so he should be allowed first to defend himself on that front,” Santiago said in a radio interview.

She said the Ombudsman can come in once the impeachment court finds Corona guilty of the charges, adding that the move complicates matters because there will be two investigations concerning the same subject.

However, Santiago is still hoping that Corona will make good on his promise that he will explain the issue on the alleged dollar accounts before the impeachment court.

“As a former trial judge, I think if the Chief Justice appears, it will strengthen his defense. But if his own lawyers or if the Chief Justice himself sees that it will not help his defense, that will be his prerogative,” the senator added.

Salvador and Esguerra said the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction at this time over the Chief Justice since the impeachment proceedings are still in progress and within the ambit of the Senate impeachment court.

“To my mind, the complainants who filed the complaints in February and March would like to highlight these issues to undermine the advances and successes of the defense in explaining and destroying the alleged 45 properties of the Chief Justice,” Salvador said.

The defense team was reacting to the Ombudsman order dated April 20 for Corona to explain his wealth that is purportedly “grossly disproportionate to his salary and other lawful income.”

Salvador added that Corona’s critics, especially in the administration, were to push the Chief Justice to sit on the witness stand supposedly to explain the $10 million when no such funds or accounts actually exist.

Relating the Ombudsman’s order to Republic Act 6770 and the Constitution, Esguerra said Corona’s detractors were already laying the groundwork for another impeachment complaint.

“We have somehow expected it. The complaints were filed more than a month ago. The decision on the motion on reconsideration about (Hacienda) Luisita came out last Tuesday and the trial resumes a week from now,” he said.

“That is where the investigation by the Ombudsman is headed. It cannot be for alleged unexplained wealth under Republic Act 1379,” the lawyer argued.

RA 6770 relates to the Ombudsman Act of 1989 while RA 1379 is “an act declaring the forfeiture of the state of any property found to have been unlawfully acquired by any public officer or employee and providing for the proceedings therefore.”

“CJ is still holding his position and any legal action under the law will have to await the verdict in the current impeachment. As stated, the route of the investigation is another impeachment in the future based on alleged ill-gotten wealth that has been barred in the current one,” Esguerra said.

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