MANILA – The Sandiganbayan has dismissed the forfeiture case filed against former chief justice Renato C. Corona and his heirs.
In its 48-page decision written by Associate Justice Arthur O. Malabaguio and published online Thursday, the anti-graft court dismissed the forfeiture case filed by the Office of the Ombudsman against Corona, his widow Cristina, and their three children, as well as his trustees, assignees, transferees and successors-in-interest, because the respondents were able to “adequately prove that their income could enable them to acquire the questioned assets.”
In its forfeiture case against Corona, the Ombudsman claimed that the former head magistrate had PHP137.93 million in assets by 2010, but declared only a portion of the same in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).
From 2002 to 2011, Corona reported a total income of PHP 30.36 million from being an associate of the SC, a member of the Judicial and Bar Council, a member of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal and his stint as a member of the Cabinet.
The Corona family however claimed that the prosecution’s computation did not consider other sources of income such as the expropriation by the city of Manila of a piece of property worth PHP 34.7 million from the family owned Basa-Guidote Ent. Inc. (BGEI), and commingled personal funds from the Corona children, Ma. Carla Beatrice C. Castillo, Francis R. Corona and Charina C. Salgado .
The Coronas also claimed that these funds were put in money-market placements which were repeatedly rolled over to several long-term investments or dollar time deposits that have matured over the years and have earned substantial interest income, including the time when Corona was in the SC.
In its decision, the Sandiganbayan noted that while Corona may have been liable for negligence as he failed to indicate his assets in his SALN properly, these assets cannot be labeled as unexplained wealth because the former chief justice, his wife, and children have legally accumulated wealth over years of working.
“While we commiserate with the plight of the petitioner (Ombudsman) in relentlessly pursuing and recovering unlawfully acquired properties or ill-gotten wealth, the pursuit should not be mindless as to be oppressive towards anyone. After all, the Ombudsman’s duty is not only to prosecute but, more importantly, to ensure that justice is served. There is no justice in the Ombudsman’s relentless quest to punish a respondent with a penalty that is inordinate with the degree of his or her transgression,” the graft court said.
“(T)he SALN is a tool for public transparency and never a weapon for political vendetta. The Filipino people live, toil, thrive in a democracy, but the rule of law should not stand parallel to the rule of the mob,” the court added.
Corona was appointed as chief justice by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in May 2010, a month before Arroyo’s term as president expired. Arroyo’s successor, the late president Benigno Aquino III openly criticized the appointment and vowed not to recognize Arroyo’s appointment of Corona.
On May 2012, Corona was found guilty by the Senate sitting as an impeachment court for his alleged failure to accurately declare his assets in his SALN. A number of prominent senators, among them the late Sen. Joker Arroyo warned of constitutional consequences in going after Corona, by saying that the former chief justice was the victim of politics.
Corona died in 2016 at age 67 following heart complications. (PNA)