Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Now the entire Corona family, not just the CJ, is on trial as their ITRs are being summoned. Significant that on eve of 25th Anniversary of Mendiola Massacre, Luisita farmers back up CJ Corona in his fight vs. Cory's son

From a high of “45 properties” supposedly belonging to CJ Renato Corona that were played up incessantly in the yellow media in the last three weeks prior to trial opening--- in full violation of the rules of engagement such as the gag order on both sides, as well as elementary decency and fair play--- the prosecution has now whittled down Corona’s alleged pieces of property to 19 (yes, still including the three Bellagio parking lots as separate titles, para pangpahaba ng listahan!). Obviously, a lot of entries in that computer-generated list, as submitted by P-Noy’s classmate, Administrator Eulalio Diaz III of the Land Registration Authority, had to be cancelled after the prosecution discovered they had no connection with CJ at all. 

The LRA had erred in firing away without due diligence, but no apologies are being offered for the incalculable hurt and harm to the Corona family or to their balaes and others who turned out to be mere collateral damage.  The obvious intention was to  shock the people with perceptions of tremendous ill-gotten wealth amassed by the Coronas.


The demonizing continues, but yesterday’s hearing showed that a good number of entries in the revised list of 19 property pieces were made out in the name of Corona’s children---his daughter Charina who, as CJ pointed out at last Monday’s SC send-off rally for the defense lawyers, is a successful physical therapist in the US, and his other daughter Karla and her husband, Dr. Constantino Castillo III, a successful surgeon-urologist connected with two leading hospitals in Manila. The prosecutors' obvious intention in retaining the Corona children in that re-configured list is to pass them off as dummies of their father or father-in-law.
Subpoenas have now been served on the BIR to produce the income tax returns (ITRs) of the Corona spouses and all their children. In the Senate trial yesterday, Presiding Judge Juan Ponce Enrile pointed out that public disclosure by the BIR of ITRs has to have the approval of the President of the Philippines, no less. But since this whole impeachment case was ordered by President Aquino in the first place, BIR Commissioner Kim Henares would only be too glad to comply;  she was quoted as saying she is preparing them.


Now the whole Corona family, not just the CJ, is on trial.  This Is not fair and just, for Article II, which is the first article being taken up in the Senate trial, should restrict the prosecution only to the scope of its title, “Alleged Non-disclosure of Declaration of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (of CJ Corona).”  Corona’s SALN, like those of the other SC magistrates, is prohibited from public disclosure by a resolution approved en banc way back in 1989, during the time of the much-respected Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan and this ruling has applied during the terms of all CJs from Andres Narvasa, Hilario Davide, Artemio Panganiban, Reynato Puno up to Corona. Last Wednesday the latter's SALN, was made public after the Senate President ordered SC Clerk of Court Edna Vidal to submit it to the trial court.
That document proved what Corona has been stressing all along---that he has been faithfully filing his SALNs, contrary to the allegation of the prosecutors, except that he was bound by the en banc 1989 SC resolution from disclosing them publicly.  That disclosure should have stopped there but the prosecutors went on a further fishing expedition for data they obviously didn’t have until then---in violation of what Article II had sought.
It was obvious that the prosecutors realized early on that Article II was their most impact-laden weapon---hence the ramming through of their arbitrary changing of the order of presentation. They shelved Article 1 despite the vehement objection of lead defense lawyer Serafin Cuevas and the lack of adequate preparation and proof, only innuendos. The aim was to sustain the intense campaign to shame and humiliate the Coronas in the media over the past three weeks on their so-called 45 properties.


Many decent citizens are shocked and disturbed at the way the entire resources of government are being marshaled not only against the CJ but his entire family---in a manner never before seen here (truly sui generis or a class in itself, as the lawyers would put it). 

It began with the rush-up of 188 votes in the House to railroad his impeachment,  then the spurious list of 45 pieces of property from the LRA  played up in the media. Then the COA report on the judicious use of SC funds under Corona’s administration was denounced by the Palace which then called in the BIR to demolish it; this was followed by the Palace leak to media of an alleged World Bank aide-memoire criticizing the Corona Court’s “misuse” of funds in a WB-funded project in the SC (handled by the impeccable SC Associate Justice Teresita de Castro). Its release was officially denied next day by the WB, but in the face of this rebuff Department of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima quickly released contents of a memo purportedly also from the WB on the same issue. 


Then came the prosecution's move to subpoena CJ's SALN whose property entries it was quick to denounce as "under-valued" (but many  people are asking, is there really a perfect SALN? Unfortunately this cannot be asked of the prosecutors in return, for as media reports said, most House members haven't even filed their own SALNs).  And now the subpoena of the ITRs of the entire Corona family.
Couple all these moves with the fact that a few senators are now actually lawyering for the prosecution (Sen. Franklin Drilon lost his temper when former Sen. Kit Tatad confronted him about this yesterday during a Senate hearing break) and the loud whisper about the offer to each senator of P100 million to vote conviction, and one can easily see that the administration policy is “Durugin si Corona." 

Legions of CJ’s supporters across the nation and around the world are praying that God would continue to steel his determination to clear his family's name and defend the Court’s independence.


I find laden with historic import yesterday's news report that on the eve of the 25th Anniversary of the Mendiola Massacre of Jan 22, 1987, Hacienda Luisita farmers are throwing their support for the embattled CJ. 25 years ago farmers demonstrated on Mendiola to press the Cory administration for genuine land reform, beginning with the return of Hacienda Luisita to its farmer-tillers. The police fired into the crowd of demonstrators, killing 13 of them. It was a black eye for the year-old Cory administration. 

The support of Luisita's farmers for Corona is understandable, for they doubtless fearl that if he is ousted and replaced by P-Noy’s handpicked utusan in the Court, pffft goes their chance of ever getting their lands---or being compensated justly. As Corona himself opined, it was the SC’s unanimous decision of Nov. 22 to order the re-distribution of Luisita lands that got him impeached in the House.
Last Wednesday news quoted Hacienda spokesperson Antonio Ligon as saying the estate will seek the inhibition of Corona in SC deliberations, doubtless beginning with the pending motion for reconsideration of the Court’s re-distribution decision. It's easy to see why the Cojuangcos want CJ out.  Not only did he support the SC's unanimous decision on Luisita, he also insisted that the land valuation on which the farmers’ pay-back scheme to the Cojuangcos would be computed should be pegged at 1989 prices---unlike the position of Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno (said to be P-Noy’s candidate for CJ), who wants it pegged at 2006 prices.


There’s a discrepancy in the estimates offered by various opinion writers on the the computation of Hacienda lands’ valuation. For instance, PDI’s Rigoberto Tiglao pegs it at P196 million under the 1989 prices and at P5 billion at 2006 prices. On the other hand, a source I quoted puts it at P9 billion at 1989 prices and P26 billion at 2006 prices, respectively. Perhaps the latter computation is a little too bloated, but whatever it is, there’s a WHALE OF A DIFFERENCE between the 1989 and 2006 valuation prices and CJ is batting for 1989 prices obviously because he’s  concerned for the farmers.
The farmers will pay the Cojuangcos for the lands partly with what this family, in turn, will pay the farmers as reimbursement for the Cojuangcos’ commercial transactions of Hacienda lands over the years (such as the grossly over-valued lands sold for SCTEX).  Corona is backing up to the hilt the lower 1989 prices and that’s why the farmers are backing him up in this impeachment case. As they say, amor con amor se paga.

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  1. ok, CJ Corona as a public official, may be obliged to disclose his assets, liabilities, and net worth to the public if and when required, at the proper time and forum. but why do ordinary citizen leading private lives have to be subjected to the same "requirement"? where does the right to privacy begin and end? where does "defamation of character" and "libel" apply in the midst of all the witch-hunting, fishing for evidence to pin down an accused, and trial by publicity? have our freedom and rights all been put subject to the people in power?

  2. Thanks for your comments, dear reader. SALN is filed only by those serving in government and private citizens' only obligation is to file their income tax returns. Regarding your observation about "defamation of character" and "witch-hunting," evidently CJ Corona is being subjected to such tactics in a trial by publicity, in order to coerce him to resign NOW instead of playing out the entire trial. Some pundits have opined that the longer the trial continues the more beneficial it would be for CJ Corona and P-Noy doesn't want that. But I think that in his heart CJ truly believes he's not guilty of graft and corruption or acts inimical to the people, so he has pledged to stay in his post and subject himself to the trial. I think all decent citizens should pray for him, that God give him the strength of character to withstand all the villification against him and his family, and guidance for his dedicated volunteer legal defense team who obviously believes in their client's innocence.