Two Chief Justice applicants defend multi-million peso wealth increases

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 16) — Two applicants for Chief Justice on Thursday defended increases in their income as declared in their Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN).

Supreme Court Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin and Diosdado Peralta both attributed the rise in their net worth to allowances they have received for holding certain positions in the government and the increases in their wives' earnings.

"When you either get to be a member of the PET (Presidential Electoral Tribunal), Senate Electoral Tribunal, or the House Electoral Tribunal, you are given an allowance that is very substantial," Bersamin said Thursday during the public interview of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). The body is screening applicants for the post vacated by ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

He made this statement as JBC Regular Member Milagros Fernan-Cayosa asked him about "remarkable" increases in his assets by about P5 million from 2013 to 2014, P2 million from 2014 to 2015, P8 million from 2015 to 2016, and P3 million from 2016 to 2017.

Bersamin added that he filed his SALN jointly with his wife, a businesswoman who he said has been in the selling and importation of movie-making equipment since 1994.

"My wife is the one who makes decisions to buy property as an investment for us. I cannot stop her," Bersamin said.

He assured the JBC that his wife does not enter into transactions with the judiciary, and only "sporadically" with government agencies.

When asked if he and his wife are willing to sign a waiver so the JBC could look into their assets, Bersamin said, "I think so."

Cayosa also grilled Peralta over "significant" increases in his net worth which was up by P3 million from 2012 to 2013,another P3 million from 2013 to 2014, P4 million annually from 2014 to 2016, and another P5 million from 2016 to 2017.

Peralta explained that his salary, as well as that of his wife, Court of Appeals Associate Justice Audrey Peralta, both increased with the passage in 2013 of Republic Act 9227, which "granted additional compensation in the form of special allowances" to members of the judiciary.

"The sources of income reflected there, the income of my wife will show, justify the increase of the SALN," Peralta said. 

He revealed he received P1.7 million yearly when he became a member of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal in 2011.

"Including the salary of my wife, I think that will explain the increase of P3 million (in 2012)," he said.

He added he received a lump-sum pension from the Social Security System amounting to P1 million in 2017. His income rose by P5 million that year.

Issues in their SALNs led to the ouster of the country's last two Chief Justices – Renato Corona, who was impeached in 2012 for omissions in his SALNs, and Sereno, who was unseated by the Supreme Court this year over her alleged failure to file her SALNs.

Only Bersamin and Peralta were quizzed by the JBC over increases in their net worth. Other applicants vying for Chief Justice include Supreme Court Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo de Castro and Andres Reyes, Jr., and Davao del Norte trial court judge Virginia Tehano-Ang.

CNN Philippines' Lara Tan contributed to this report.