By Raïssa Robles
Examining for the first time the official disclosures of Chief Justice Renato Corona regarding his worldly wealth, I am reminded of this bible verse from Luke, Chapter 16, verse 10:
If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.
Honesty is one attribute most expected of a government official, especially the chief magistrate. Honesty is enshrined in Philippine law – Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for public officials and employees
The bible verse rose to mind when I realized what was NOT contained in CJ Corona’s Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs) – aside from the gross understatement of his assets that other journalists have written about.
In CJ Corona’s SALN filed for 2002 – the year he was appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Court – he never disclosed the fact that his wife was also appointed that same year by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to sit in the board of a government-owned and controlled corporation, the John Hay Management Corporation.
For the next five years – from 2003 up to 2006 – Cristina Corona sat on that board. And yet Associate Justice Corona’s SALNs for those years never disclosed that fact.
This was only declared starting 2007 onward.
But the public only learned that the associate justice’s wife was also a government official in mid-2010 when this was raised as a reason for blocking Corona’s nomination to the post of Chief Justice. Critics then pointed out that John Hay had pending labor cases in court and that placed the wanna-be chief justice in a conflict of interest situation.
At that time, it was Supreme Court spokesman Midas Marquez who told the public that Mrs Corona was appointed by then President Arroyo to the John Hay board in 2002. She was appointed Chairman of the same board in 2007.
In fact Marquez said Mrs Corona had long been employed by John Hay since the 1990s.
It was only in 2007 that Associate Justice Corona started disclosing the fact that his wife was in government, too, when she became quite controversial.
You can examine all his SALNs by first downloading them from here.
Some readers would probably say – so what? It’s not a crime not to disclose THAT.
Unfortunately, under Philippine law, it is. The Philippine Constitution states in Article XI, Section 17:
A public officer or employee shall, upon assumption of office and as often thereafter as may be required by law, submit a declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities, and net worth. In the case of the President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Cabinet, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Commissions and other constitutional offices, and officers of the armed forces with general or flag rank, the declaration shall be disclosed to the public in the manner provided by law.
The law on SALN is in Section 8 of Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethics for all those in government:
SECTION 8. Statements and Disclosure. — Public officials and employees have an obligation to accomplish and submit declarations under oath of, and the public has the right to know, their assets, liabilities, net worth and financial and business interests including those of their spouses and of unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in their households.
(A) Statements of Assets and Liabilities and Financial Disclosure. — All public officials and employees, except those who serve in an honorary capacity, laborers and casual or temporary workers, shall file under oath their Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth and a Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections and those of their spouses and unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in their households.
(B) Identification and disclosure of relatives. — It shall be the duty of every public official or employee to identify and disclose, to the best of his knowledge and information, his relatives in the Government in the form, manner and frequency prescribed by the Civil Service Commission.
In fact, the SALN specifically asked the filer CJ Corona the following question in his SALN filed for the year 2006:
CJ Corona was asked the same question in his SALNs for 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. He also wrote N/A – which I would surmise means “Not Applicable”. All those years he never bothered to disclose a very material fact – his own wife was in government, too. He disclosed his brother and cousin, though.
Should CJ Corona be exempted from following RA 6713?
This enabling law states in particular the following penalties for violating Section 8 or the filing of the SALN:
Violations of Sections 7, 8 or 9 of this Act shall be punishable with imprisonment not exceeding five (5) years, or a fine not exceeding five thousand pesos (P5,000), or both, and, in the discretion of the court of competent jurisdiction, disqualification to hold public office.
I don’t know if this is covered under the current impeachment trial.
What I know is that shortly after CJ Corona assumed the post of Chief Justice, he delivered a speech at the Hotel Intercon on June 24, 2010 before the Manila Overseas Press Club headed by Tony Lopez. [Full disclosure – Tony Lopez and I used to write once for the same news magazine, Asiaweek.]
CJ Corona’s speech – which I downloaded from the Supreme Court website – is entitled “the Role of the Press in Advancing Judicial Reform.”
In this speech, CJ Corona said:
A corrupt judiciary is totally unacceptable as it severely handicaps the legal and institutional mechanism designed to curb abuses in government. As such we shall continuously cleanse the court’s ranks by strengthening the integrity of the judiciary and raising it to the highest level possible. I believe that a member of the judiciary who is found guilty of dishonesty should not only be dismissed from the service but also disbarred. No ifs, no buts.
Does he really mean what he said?
Will he now walk his talk?