Senate throws out Gonzales contempt charge

Posted at 03/19/2012 10:06 PM | Updated as of 03/20/2012 10:18 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Senate impeachment court has formally thrown out the defense motion to cite House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales in contempt.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile formally announced this in open court before day 31 of the impeachment trial ended Monday.

The motion wanted Gonzales cited in contempt for allegedly threatening Navotas Rep. Tobias Tiangco with an ethics case for testifying on the December 12 House majority caucus where signatures were gathered from congressmen for the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Prosecution spokesman Miro Quimbo said this development was expected and shows there's no basis for the contempt charge.

Quimbo said they are glad that the trial can now proceed.

The Columns property

Day 31 ended with The Columns property manager Benjamin Lim on the witness stand.

Lim testified that the association dues were charged to the Coronas for the Columns Penthouse Tower I during the 3rd quarter of 2009.

Lim told the court that building management had to send a demand letter to Mrs. Cristina Corona for over P112,000 in overdue association charges.

The Columns was not declared in Corona's Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net worth (SALNs) until 2010, even though the purchase date was sometime in 2004.

The defense argued that the Coronas didn't take possession immediately because of some concerns on the leaking roof of the unit.

Lim was instructed to return on Tuesday for cross-examination by the prosecution.

Lim could not answer questions on when the key to the unit was turned over to Cristina Corona.

Bellagio condo

Earlier in the hearing, Taguig City register of deeds Randy Rutaqio was called by the defense to the witness stand to testify on Corona's ownership of the Bellagio Condo unit and a house in McKinley Hill that  belonged to his daughter Charina.

Prosecution spokesman Rep. Sonny Angara said Lim wasn't competent to tell the court when Mrs. Corona took possession of the unit as he started only in 2010.

Angara said there was a contract to sell in 2003 and that the condo was registered under the Coronas in 2004.

He said that henceforth, Corona was already compelled to disclose that in his SALN.

The prosecution said the defense is now looking for strained explanations on the SALNs of Corona.

Quimbo said good faith is not a plausible defense for Corona becuase it will undermine the SALN as a mechanism of accountability.

Angara feels the defense is just prolonging the case and delaying what he says everyone wants -- the Coronas on the witness stand.

Corona on trial

Chief prosecutor Rep. Niel Tupas, meantime, stressed that Corona is the one on trial so the SALNs of other officials should be tackled at another time.

Tupas said Corona could not just undervalue his assets and that there seems to be a pattern of undervaluing.

He said the defense has not presented anything helpful to their case.

Quimbo earlier said the defense witnesses bring more questions than answers.

Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III, meanwhile, said Corona cannot invoke the facility to correct SALN inaccuracies in his case as a defense because the corrections needed go into substance and are not cases for simple negligence.

Defense spokesman Atty. Tranquil Salvador said they will show on Tuesday the communication between the Coronas and the property developer showing why they didn't take ownership of the property until 2009.

These include problems on the wiring and other aspects of the unit. They may also talk about when the Coronas really took ownership of the unit.

Salvador also said the defense will present on Tuesday the head of an agency who could possibly testify on the properties ascribed to Corona.

He earlier said that the market values of the declared properties were copied from tax declarations.

'Corona truthful in SALNs'

Atty. Rico Paulo Quicho, another defense lawyer, said Corona has always been truthful in his SALNs.

He decried the alleged double standard being applied on Corona and other officials with regard to mistakes in their SALNs.

Salvador said the prosecution seems to be using the "damaged goods theory" on corona -- that he is unfit for office because of these apparent blemishes.

He noted the calls for Corona to beyond reproach.

Lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas was out for the day because he was sick.