WHEN the Liberal Party, acting at the behest of then President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd, impeached Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, they lowered the bar for impeachment. They considered the act of misdeclaration in a statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, or SALN, on the same level as a culpable violation of the Constitution, and as amounting to a betrayal of public trust.
They succeeded. Renato Corona was convicted. Humiliated and vilified, he died a broken man, all because he committed a mistake in his SALN.
But the LP did not anticipate that the ghost of Renato Corona would come back to haunt them. They did not foresee that one of them, in the person of Leni Robredo, would find herself mired in the same predicament of a misdeclared SALN.
All the while, Leni Robredo and her LP cohorts were thinking that the only ground for which an impeachment complaint can be filed against her was her video-taped speech at the UN. Thus, they were blindsided when we considered as one of our basis for filing a complaint her misdeclaration of her shares of stocks in Meralco.
The impeachment team, of which I am a part, stumbled on this information, with a tip from an accountant who is now based in the US. While Leni Robredo listed her Meralco shares in her SALN, she failed to indicate the value of those shares, and as such, these were not incorporated in the total value of her assets. This was a consistent pattern, as revealed by her previous SALNs.
On May 9, in the program “Saksi sa Dobol B” at DZBB hosted by Mike Enriquez, Robredo admitted that she indeed owned Meralco stocks. In trying to belie a claim we did not allege in our complaint, Robredo revealed her own Achilles heel. She asserted that she in fact declared those stocks, and without Enriquez asking her, she volunteered that the acquisition value of these stocks in 1995 was P95,000.
We did not allege that she failed to list her stocks in her SALN.
What we alleged was that she did not declare the value of these stocks at current prices, and hence she misdeclared her assets. Furthermore, she also admitted to Enriquez that she doesn’t know the current value of these stocks, which is a tacit admission that she couldn’t have indicated this value in her SALN.
On these alone, and regardless of the amount of the stocks, the fact that Robredo failed to declare those already constitutes misdeclaration of her assets. And since by law, SALNs are supposed to be filed under oath, Robredo also committed perjury.
It now behooves us to inquire into how many Meralco shares of stocks Robredo really owns, and what is their value.
Market data in 1995 indicates that the value of Meralco stocks in 1995 ranged from P62.51 to a high of P70 per share. Assuming that we can take Robredo’s public admission that the value of her shares was P95,000 in 1995, we can safely assume that she only held about between 1,357 to 1,520 shares.
Let us assume that these are correct values, even if one has to wonder at the rationality of why the Robredos owned only a very limited number of shares of blue-chip stocks for a long-term investment.
At the present share price, which is around P272 pesos, this would amount to between P369,104 to P413,440.
One can admit that these are not large amounts.
However, the law on SALN did not provide for a minimum amount below which a government official can escape accountability.
In 1997, the Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of a court interpreter from Davao for her failure to disclose her ownership of a public market stall in her SALN.
In 2001, Erap Estrada was hauled to court for under-declaring his assets in 1999. He however was acquitted by the Sandiganbayan due to the prosecution’s failure to prove that such was done with malice.
And in 2012, Renato Corona was impeached for his non-declaration as assets his deposits in banks and his other investments.
The Corona case is the most relevant of all in the issue of Robredo’s failure to declare as part of her assets her investments in stocks at Meralco, as it was an impeachment case.
And here, Robredo and her allies in the LP find their backs to the wall, which is entirely of their own making.
The Corona precedent, for which they are the principal architects and perpetrators, has effectively denied them the moral suasion to argue that misdeclaration is a non-impeachable offense.
If they argue that the amount is not that much, they will test the patience of a public that frowns upon selectiveness in the dispensation of justice. They will have to tell those who have been punished for misdeclaring lesser amounts in their SALNs that Leni Robredo is exempted from the reach of the law.
Or they can argue that Robredo is ignorant of the law. To prove that she had no malice, they could say that she was innocent about the amount as she was unaware of the means to know the value of her stocks. However, this would paint her as unfit to hold her license as a lawyer.