Shattered Halos

by Juan L. Mercado

“We’re all experts at practicing virtue (from) a distance”,  noted Notre Dame University’s Theodore Heshburg.  His  comment explains why tin halos were shattered  even during the early phase of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s  impeachment.

Did Corona and family keep integrity at a  distance?  Yes, says the loosely-drafted eight charges, now being spelt out, by a sometimes  bumbling opposition.

Not so, says  the  defense panel, overseen by  grizzled veteran Justice Serafin Cuevas. They’ve lobbed everything but the kitchen sink to defend  Corona. That included  a demand that Senator Franklin  Drilon inhibit himself from the trial — for bias.

By deft questions, Drilom prodded a reluctant Supreme Court clerk to turn over Corona ’s  Statement of Assets and Liabilities.  It is the prerogative of a  challenged judge to inhibit or not.

The surrenedered  SALNs threw light on data that mouldered in files Who said: “What has been in the dark, proclaim from the housetops”?  Our guess is  Drilon will be supported by the ultimate judge here:  citizens who follow the trial thru media.

The defense strenuously insisted that Bureau of Internal Revenue Kim Henares be strait-jacketed into merely confirming  Corona  ITRs were authentic.  “That can be done by any notary public”, fumed Senator-judge Miriam Santiago before her blood pressure bolted to a worrisome 180/90.

Notarization  of Corona ’s  ITRs,  in some obscure office as demanded by Maid Miriam,  would not have brought out the crisp documented answers that Henares provided. They bear on the example set by the chief justice on tax paying. Some points of Henares testimony:

Corona’s gross income ranged from P465,000 in 2006 to P657,000 in 2010, as shown by Alpha List on tax payments by justices. His net worth, declared at P9.5 million in 2006 bolted to  P22.9 million in 2010.

Wife Cristina, became a registered tax payer in September 2003.  That was for purchase of an P11-million house in La Vista subdivision, Quezon City. What about income as a Camp John Hay officer.?  “BIR is examing whether she had the capacity to purchase the La Vista property. “

Corona’s daughter, Carla, declared a ‘taxable income” of P8,476 in 2009. Carla bought an P18 million property in on October 18, 2010 or 10 months after she filed her ITRs. Sellers?  The Chief Justice and wife.

Daughter Charina, had no income tax returns when she bought a McKinley Hills property in Taguig City from Megaworld Corp in October 2008.  “Not a single income tax return?” asked the prosecutor. “None  sir,” Henares replied. The buyer is registered with us as an one time taxpayer.”

So, how could Corona buy into Bellagio Condos, etc?  Future hearings may show math that prove financial clout.  For now, the modern axiom will do: “If you live in a tin house, don’t leave can openers lying about.”

Another  question is being asked this early.  Will  BIR’s Kim Henares  be to the Corona impeachment what  Banker Clarissa Ocampo turned out to be for the Joseph Estrada impeachment in 2001?

A day before judges,  in the Estrada impeachment trial,  were to go on Christmas break,  Rep. Joker Arroyo and prosecutors presented a “surprise witness”: the “impeccably groomed — the Equitable-PCI Bank’s Clarissa Ocampo

She sat (Erap’) left side, ‘about a foot away,’ as he signed ‘Jose Velarde’ on documents for a P500 million investment in the Wellex group, owned by a presidential crony.”“He did not sign his real name,” Ocampo said. “So, I did not authenticate his signature.” She was one of the very few who could link Estrada to the Jose Velarde persona. She was very, very scared”.

“She came forward in December after Senate prosecutors alleged that a mansion bought for one of Estrada’s mistresses had been paid for with a $2.8 million check signed by Velarde. Philippine law requires officials declare their assets. But Estrada admitted to only $700,000, recalled  Bloomberg Businessweek.

Ocampo’s revelations helped spark Esda II  that forced Estrada to quit.  Ocampo flew to the U.S. after she testified. She joined ABS-CBN this year as it’s chief financial officer. 

Henares seems to come from the same mould of Filipina professionals with grit: Justice Cecilia Munoz Palma, PCGG’s Haydee Horac, Commission on Audit’s  Heidi Mendoza  and Clarissa, among others.   Tiene cojones is the irrevent accolade paid to them by some.   “They have balls.”

Born to a Chinese-Filipino family, Henares graduated from De La Salle University and became a certified public  accountant in 1981. After getting an Ateneo law degree and passing the bar, she got a Masters of Law degree from  Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. 

She worked as a tax lawyer at SGV & Co, then as Senior Private Sector Development Specialist for the World Bank Group. From  August 2003 to November 2005. Henares served in the BIR as Deputy Commissioner of the Special Concerns Group and office-in-charge of the Large Taxpayers Service.

President Aquino asked her join his team. Henares admits she hasn’t gotten used to having Presidential Security Group members tail her even when shopping for groceries.

That’s the least of the defense panels concerns now. They fret more whether prosecution  will connect the dots that  Henares spelt out with cool professional profession. One thing is sure:  Filipinos now are doing that. 

(Email: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)

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