Ombudsman can share findings with Corona prosecutors - experts
MANILA, Philippines - Legal experts say there is no stopping Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales from probing impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona and sharing her findings with the prosecution.
Once she finishes her investigation, she need not wait for another impeachment complaint to be filed against Corona.
"I believe that the matter of Corona's dollar deposits are still covered under the Articles of Impeachment. Thus, evidence on it may still be presented, including evidence uncovered by the Ombudsman," said Roberto Cadiz, executive director of the lawyer's group Libertas.
On Sunday, April 29, the Philippine Daily Inquirer revealed that the Ombudsman has ordered Corona to explain his wealth, which reportedly amounts to at least US$10-M and is not reflected in any of his asset declarations over the last decade that he's been in the High Tribunal.
Rappler received information two weeks ago about the progress of the Ombudsman's investigation, which was based on forfeiture cases filed by various sectors against Corona with the Ombudsman.
We tried to ask Carpio-Morales about this recently, but she sidestepped the question. She however told Rappler that the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) signed by public officials allows the Ombudsman to look into their assets.
The Corona impeachment trial resumes Monday next week, May 7.
Informed sources said the Ombudsman is ready to submit her findings to the House of Representatives also this May.
She is so far the only key to the disclosure of Corona's dollar accounts because of an existing temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court last February. The TRO stopped the Philippine Savings Bank from disclosing to the impeachment court Corona's dollar accounts, citing the bank secrecy law.
While the prosecution has appealed the SC decision, the justices are expected to issue a final verdict on this on June 26 yet. It is likely that the trial would be on its final phase by then.
The prosecution rested its case in March but made reservations on Corona's dollar accounts. Its case against Corona stands on allegations that he did not truthfully declare certain properties and bank accounts in his previous SALNs.
Not bound by TRO
"Offhand, I think she [Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales] is not bound by the TRO," a retired Sandiganbayan justice, who asked not to be named, told Rappler.
The former magistrate from the antigraft court said that since the Office of the Ombudsman is an independent constitutional body, "the Ombudsman can do what she wants."
UP constitutional law professor Harry Roque said that a provision in the SALN form allows the Ombudsman to investigate all public officials, including the Chief Justice.
"The Ombudsman has the power too to inquire on SALN of all officials. That's in the SALN form," he said.
But if the impeachment court acquits Corona, the findings of the Ombudsman could no longer be used for a new impeachment complaint, since the Senate would have by then assessed the same evidence and "found it wanting," according to former UP law dean Pacifico Agabin.
Cadiz disagreed, saying that the Ombudsman's findings could still be raised in a new impeachment complaint if such a complaint would include charges of ill-gotten wealth. These charges were scrapped from the original complaint filed by the House of Representatives against Corona.
In a text message to reporters Monday, April 30, Corona reiterated his stand that the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over him. The Chief Justice can be removed only by impeachment.
Corona also asked: Why are they putting this out in the Inquirer (the broadsheet that broke the story on $10-M bank deposits) and not in the impeachment court?
Ramon Esguerra, a lawyer of Corona, said that while the Chief Justice has yet to refer the Ombudsman's findings to them, he believed that Corona, "if and when necessary, will take the proper legal initiative."
Esguerra said Corona will be filing his SALN on April 30. Another defense lawyer, Tranquil Salvador III, said Corona will ask the SC en banc for permission to disclose his SALN.
Esguerra said they have not yet seen Corona's 2011 SALN, thus they do not know if he has amended it. Corona earlier said he will provide complete details in his 2011 SALN, as he has nothing to hide. - Rappler.com