Wednesday, February 1, 2012

News Update Special price not a bribe

Real estate developer Megaworld Corp. has disputed allegations that Chief Justice Renato Corona paid a lower price for his penthouse unit in Taguig City in exchange for favors. Megaworld SVP for Marketing and Sales Noli Hernandez has testified before the impeachment court on Tuesday that Megaworld’s pending cases in the Supreme Court, where Corona was part of the tribunal, had no bearing on the purchase of Corona’s unit. “We would have reduced the price for anyone, and not just because the buyer was a Corona. I didn't even know at that time the buyer was CJ Corona,” he justified. Hernandez, who decided on the final price of the 303.5 square meter Bellagio unit of Corona, revealed that the unit was worth between P78,000 to P80,000 per square meter in 2008, or a total of P24 million. Corona and his wife, Cristina, paid only P14.5 million for it because Hernandez claimed the unit was unfinished and sustained water damages from a typhoon. “It made more economic sense for us to reduce the price rather than shoulder the repair costs estimated at P5 million. Either we redo everything or find a buyer that will buy it as it is,” he said. Hernandez pointed out that the Coronas also received the standard 15 percent discount for shorter term payments, or the equivalent of P3.5 million. He said the couple paid for the unit in full within a period of one year. Senator-judge Bong Revilla computed the price reductions and asked the witness where the remaining P1 million went. Hernandez admitted that the P1 million was the only special discount they gave to the Coronas. “Naghahabol kami ng quota noon and we were also experiencing a global financial crisis so we decided to give the additional discount,” he explained. Not a ‘discount’ Private prosecutor Joseph Perez asked their witness if it was normal for Megaworld to give discounts. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, presiding officer of the impeachment court, however, quickly corrected Perez. “You’re twisting the answer of your witness. Reduction of price cannot be considered a discount. A discount means you’re giving a privilege to the buyer,” Enrile said. Nevertheless, Hernandez replied to the prosecution’s question, “Price reductions are not normally practiced, but circumstances like damages in the penthouse unit warranted it.” Senator-judge Manuel Villar, also a property developer, defended Megaworld before the court saying that offering discounts is normal. “There are many factors that govern pricing. Pricing depends on the developer. Discounts could be given due to economic circumstances. It is a practice in the aggressive market of real estate,” Villar noted. Hernandez was the tenth witness of the prosecution for Article II of the impeachment complaint which deals with Corona’s statement of assets, liabilities and net worth. Megaworld lost in two SC cases The witness also brought with him documents referring to the three Megaworld cases before the Supreme Court even though he was not subpoenaed to do so. “I know what this is leading to,” Hernandez said, denying he was being defensive. The documents show that Megaworld lost in two of the three cases. Hernandez estimated the losses to amount to P47 million. In a statement issued Tuesday, Megaworld also denied it requested favors from Corona and called the allegations “completely baseless and malicious.” Testimonies ‘not accurate’ But Senator-judge Sergio Osmeña was unconvinced. “Developers don't normally turn over unfinished units. We doubt very much if you're being very accurate this afternoon,” he told the witness. Osmena ordered Hernandez to produce proof to back his claims, including the original price list of the Bellagio units, photos of the damaged unit, and insurance documents for the said damages. Meanwhile, the prosecution team insisted that the alleged “discount” still falls under Article III of the impeachment complaint which states that it is “unethical for a magistrate to ask for or receive any gift in exchange for any act done or to be done by the judge in the course of his judicial functions.” This irked Senator-judge Koko Pimentel. “Payong kapatid sa prosecution, huwag niyo na ipilit ang discounts na ito sa Article III. Let go of the discount!" Enrile also gave the prosecution a friendly advice, “Before you bring your witnesses here, please confer with them on what they're going to testify. There's nothing wrong with that. That is normal for lawyers.”