Friday, February 3, 2012

News Update Prosecution: Corona undervalued assets

MANILA, Philippines - Another of the numerous real estate properties of Chief Justice Renato Corona has been found to be undervalued based on his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), the prosecution panel in his impeachment trial said yesterday. The P3.208-million Unit 21-D at the Burgundy Place in Loyola Heights in Quezon City has been found to be owned by Corona and his wife Cristina, based on testimony from Gregg Gregonia, vice president of Burgundy Realty Corp. The prosecution said Corona’s inaccurate declaration in his SALN of the value of his Burgundy Place unit is a violation of the Constitution. Corona acquired the property in 1997 but declared it in his SALN only in 2003 after completing payment for the unit. In Corona’s SALN, the property’s assessed value was P276,320 while its current fair market value was P921,080. “One cannot make declaration of his net worth if he does not declare all his assets. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the Chief Justice to declare the (amount) of the assets, and indicate in liabilities the remaining balance for the loan,” private prosecutor Clarence Jandoc told the impeachment court. “While the condo was declared, it was declared incorrectly,” Jandoc said. “The reviewing authority (on SALN) is no less than the chief justice, and that the CJ is not filing his SALN as required by law, truthfully, timely, and completely, that makes the act culpable violation of the Constitution,” the lawyer said. But Senate President and presiding officer Juan Ponce Enrile, after questioning prosecutor Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, argued that culpable violation of the Constitution – which the latter was trying to impute on Corona due to inaccuracies in his SALN – applies only to treason, bribery, graft and corruption and other high crimes. Enrile said Jandoc’s statement was just his own opinion since betrayal of public trust entails acts “of such as criminal nature.” “If you take the witness stand… we can have the opportunity to cross examine you,” lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas told Jandoc. Enrile also warned Jandoc that he should not be talking for the witness. “Counsel is cautioned not to testify for the witness,” Enrile said. “You are going too far, you’re testifying for your witness. Lay the basis and ask the proper question.” Jandoc said he was merely expounding on documents earlier marked by the court. “Pardon me for correcting you, it’s a matter of style, you make a lot of objection, you are leading the witness,” Enrile replied. When questioned by Cuevas why he instead of Burgundy president Rogelio Serafica appeared before the court, Gregonia said he has been authorized “to represent the company” in the trial. He presented original receipts and an unsigned deed of absolute sale dated Oct. 8, 2003. “There is no signature in that document… You do not consider that important?” Cuevas asked. Gregonia explained that the couple made proper payments. “A document unsigned is not an irregularity?” Cuevas asked. “We have reservation agreement, and we have checks with us,” Gregonia replied. When asked if he was a party to the preparation of the official receipts, Gregonia admitted that he was not present at the signing of the documents or when payments were made. “Did he fail to disclose it in his SALN?” Cuevas asked, referring to the parking slot for Corona at the Burgundy Place. “He failed to disclose the parking slot… he disclosed it only in 2003 and not timely, given the undervalued amount,” Jandoc said. The prosecution lawyer admitted that “there is no hard and fast rule whether (parking lot) is included in the unit” in the submission of the SALN. No secret Corona’s lawyers also denied allegation by House prosecutors that he deliberately kept secret his ownership of a P3.5-million condominium unit at The Columns on Ayala Ave. in Makati City. Defense lawyer Dennis Manalo said the SC chief did not declare the property in his SALN for a valid reason. His lawyer said that although Corona had already fully paid the condominium unit, its ownership was not yet transferred to him that year because of a complaint to the developer. Manalo said the Chief Justice did not immediately accept the unit despite completing his payment for it after learning that it was used as a “bodega” or stockroom. He did not declare it in his SALN that year because it would be “tantamount to saying to Community Innovations that (he) already accepted the unit when it still had problems.” “Will you take the unit knowing that they used it as storage facility, the unit where you would live in? Of course you are going to complain. (The CJ said) I’m not going to accept your turnover that simple,” he said in an interview over ANC’s “Headstart.” He said that under the law, ownership can only be declared once the purchased property is physically transferred to the possession of the buyer. “You have to be given the right of possession. In this case, there’s none yet. All the rights of ownership have not yet been vested with the owner because the terms and conditions for the unit were not yet delivered,” Manalo said. He likened the situation to the Chief Justice buying a white car but getting a black one instead. He revealed that Corona had some problems with the unit even after the developer had considered it “delivered” as of June 11, 2008, and received keys to the property only last year. “The point here is – there was a reason for not disclosing it at the time of the purchase,” the lawyer stressed. But assuming there was a mistake in the non-declaration of the property in Corona’s SALN, Manalo said a provision in SALN law allows for corrective measures if there are errors in the SALNs. Under the provision, both houses of Congress shall establish procedures for a review of statements. He said that in the event of discrepancies in SALN, the committee formed by Congress will have to ask the official concerned to conduct the necessary corrective action. “If there is any error in that particular SALN, the law says you give the reporting individual a chance to correct it. It doesn’t say he should be impeached immediately,” he pointed out. “There may be issues about the SALN which the prosecutors are raising but really, are these issues enough to have the Chief Justice impeached? Are these issues enough to rock the institutions of this country? Are these issues enough for Congress to put on trial the head of the Supreme Court?” Manalo said they found the issue about the non disclosure of properties by Corona to be “trivial” – especially since his family has the means to buy properties. The lawyer said Basa Guidote Enterprises, which is owned by the family of Corona’s wife, had been leasing out properties since 1961. He said the corporation even received P34 million from the Manila City government for taking its private property for public use. “That business has been operating since 1961...They own a lot of properties being leased in Manila. This corporation was in receipt of a P34-million expropriation from the city of Manila so the point is the family of CJ Corona and Mrs. Corona has that money,” he said. Manalo also stressed that even if the corporation’s franchise has been revoked, it can still transact business and give a cash advance to the Chief Justice. “They may not be flaunting their money because they’re not supposed to do that... but right now they’re being pushed against the wall, they have to show who their family is and what they have,” he added. Where are the rest? The impeachment court, meanwhile, sought an explanation from the prosecution panel on why it had announced that Corona had 45 properties when it could prove the existence of only 24. “Just for clarity, because I have been counting the properties, last time I heard the prosecution they announced that the Chief Justice has 45 properties. May I find out if my count is accurate, so far the prosecution has presented how many properties? My count is 18 properties, both in his name and the name of his spouse, in the name of his children, plus six parking lots, that makes it 24, if I will include the parking lots as properties,” Sen. Francis Escudero said. Lead prosecutor Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. said that the list of 45 properties came from the Land Registration Authority (LRA) and not from the prosecution. “We will not reach 45. Just for clarification, the 45 properties came from the Land Registration Authority, it was a letter coming, not from the prosecution, but from a government agency and right now, it is up to the prosecution to present evidence and so far we’ve presented 21 properties, we might present some more but we are not bound by the 45 properties from the Land Registration Authority,” Tupas said. “Who released to the media the alleged 45 properties of Chief Justice Corona?” Senate president pro tempore Jinggoy Estrada asked Tupas in Filipino. “We did not release that to the media,” said Tupas also in Filipino. Tupas’ reply drew a loud reaction from the gallery, mostly from the members of the media. “Are you making it appear that out of the 45 properties of Chief Justice Corona, only 21 belong to Mr. Corona?” Estrada asked. Tupas said that there were around 24 properties and that the others on the list of 45 were either cancelled or sold already. “When it came out in the papers, you made it appear that Chief Justice Corona has so many properties when it fact, it was only 21. Am I correct?” Estrada asked. “24 or 21 is still a lot,” Tupas said in response. “These people are putting the members of the impeachment court on the spot. They are making us believe, making the public believe that there are 45 properties owned by Chief Justice but when they came here, it turns out there are only 24 and six of those were parking slots. What I am saying is we have to be fair here. Do not lie,” he added. On Day 11 of the trial, both prosecution and defense claimed breakthroughs in their cases. “A blitzkrieg complaint only results in a weak position because as we are undergoing trial, the prosecution is still looking for evidence to fit their pre-designed script,” defense lawyer and spokesperson Karen Jimeno said. “As the public can see, the defense is not and has never been the source of delay and we have been respectful of every decision, the Senate as the Impeachment Court and senator-judges per instructions given to us by the Chief Justice,” said another defense lawyer Tranquil Salvador III. Prosecution spokesman Rep. Sonny Angara said an act may not necessarily be criminal to be considered a betrayal of public trust, which is referred to under the Constitution as a “catch-all to cover all manner of offenses unbecoming a public official.” “The idea of a public trust is connected with the oath of office of the public official, and if he violates the oath of office, then he has betrayed that trust,” Angara said. Rep. Erin Tañada cited a 2008 SC decision on the case of Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Peliño, stating that “dishonesty is classified as a grave offense the penalty of which is dismissal from service at the first instance.” Marikina City Rep. Miro Quimbo, for his part, said “it only takes one major infraction as far as being liable for perjury is concerned to establish a case of betrayal of public trust.” With Edu Punay, Helen Flores - By Christina Mendez and Marvin Sy