Questions left unanswered by CJ defense

by David Dizon, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Mar 23 2012 03:55 PM | Updated as of Mar 23 2012 11:55 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona has started a six-week break but not before leaving several questions hanging about the Chief Justice's real estate properties and bank deposits.

In an interview, lawyer Vicky Avena said the defense failed to explain fully why Corona failed to declare several of his condominium units during the years they were purchased.

These include the P3.4 million Burgundy Plaza unit purchased in 1997 but declared in 2003, and The Columns condo unit in Ayala Avenue purchased in 2004 but declared in 2010.

Avena said the late declaration means that Corona did not truthfully declare his assets during that year.

"The defense said these were declared but later on. When you do that, it’s not a declaration but an underdeclaration. It’s misleading because you really did not declare after purchase. When you declare years after the purchase when the value has dropped, it’s an underdeclaration," she told radio dzMM.

Lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas earlier pointed out that Corona did not declare ownership of The Columns unit because the couple did not have “physical delivery which allows the buyer to take possession of the property and exercise ownership not until and unless the property had been delivered.”

“The non-delivery is caused by factors which is also admitted by the seller…that exempts the buyer from making an entry in respect thereto in his SALN,” Cuevas said.

Enrile, however, said the condo already had a value that should have been reflected in Corona's SALN.

"If there is a value and if the owner wanted to rescind the contract, he could have entered it as a receivable," he said.

Sen. Sergio Osmeña, meanwhile, backed Enrile's position that Corona had no excuse not to declare the purchase of the condo because it was already a value.

"There was a lapse of six years from the time he closed the sale and the time he declared it in his SALN...I think the Senate President is correct. There was value expended in 2004 and it was not reflected in his SALN. It is totally irrelevant whether he accepted the unit or not," he said.

"Title had transferred and there's value. If he does not want to take acceptance, he could have recorded as an accounts receivable from Ayala Land but it cannot be zero. So there's falsification there and for it to last all the way until 2010 is absolutely ridiculous," he added.

'Double standard'

Avena said the defense also seemed to be showing a double standard when it comes to definitions on ownership of properties.

She said Corona did not declare ownership of Yhe Columns unit even though the title was already in his wife's name. On the other hand, Corona also declared ownership in 1993 of a 1,700-square-meter property in Marikina although it was already sold to his second cousin, Demetrio Coronado Vicente, in 1991.

Avena pointed out that the Marikina property is still in Mrs. Corona's name after Vicente failed to pay the P2,500 needed to have the title transferred to his name.

She questioned how Vicente could maintain "2,000 bonsai plants" in the Marikina property when he only earns P25,000 a month in rentals and allowances sent by his daughter in Kuwait.

She also questioned how 2 of Corona's children, Carla and Charina, could buy 2 properties despite failing to show any source of income in their tax returns.

"How could Carla buy an P18 million property in La Vista when she had no ITR in 2010...? Charina is just a one-time taxpayer so where did she get the money to buy the P6.1 million McKinley Hill property in 2008?" she asked.

Missing acquisition costs

Avena said the presentation of tax assessors are means to show that the fair market values indicated in Corona's SALNs are based on the tax declarations. However, she said the defense failed to explain why Corona did not place acquisition costs in his SALNs.

She said the SALN doctrine or principle is not for tax purposes but as an anti-graft and corruption measure. She said placing the acquisition costs will show "how much you actually spent to get the property while comparing it to your legal income."

Avena said even the presentation of the budget officers of Supreme Court, House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal and Senate Electoral Tribunal raised questions about Corona's income. A defense witness earlier testified Corona received P21.6 million in salaries, allowances and other emoluments from 2002 to 2011.

"[BIR commissioner] Kim Henares already showed that based on the alpha list, Corona only declared half a million in earnings from 2002-2005. It only rose in 2006-2011 and the highest is P1.1 million in 2011. From 2006, it was less than half a million pesos. So in all, the total earnings in 10 years was P5.1 million only," Avena said.

'What happened to P34.7M?'

Avena said the testimony of former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza raises more questions about Basa Guidote Enterprises Inc, the family-owned corporation owned by Corona's wife. In his testimony, Atienza said the Manila city government paid Mrs. Corona P34.7 million for BGEI's property in Bustillos in 2001.

Sen. Sergio Osmeña noted Mrs. Corona deposited the cheque to her personal account in LandBank in Malacañang. At the time, her husband was already working under then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Last year, Mrs. Corona withdrew P36 million from the Chief Justice's accounts on December 12, 2011, the same day that Corona was impeached by the House of Representatives. 

"The question is – is that P36 million really BGEI’s money? Remember – Mrs. Corona deposited the money to her LandBank account and not PSBank. Hindi nabanggit yung PSBank kahapon. There was no connection," Avena said.

Avena said the speed of the negotiated sale for the BGEI property is notable since transactions with city hall usually take a long time.

She asked: "If Mrs. Corona was BGEI's agent, then why hasn't she distributed the money?"

"Is she admitting na dinispalko niya? Antagal na nitong bentahan. If the point is she owns the money, then why didn’t she declare in her SALN? She’s caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Bakit nasa pangalan ni Cristina yung tseke na P34.7 million cheque? Why not open a corporate account for BGEI when the amount is huge?" she asked.

Avena said Atienza's testimony actually opens up the possibility for the testimony of Sister Flory Basa, Mrs. Corona's aunt who is involved in a dispute with Cristina over the ownership of BGEI.

"If she testifies, she will explain if the secretary's certification for Cristina in 1987 is still valid and if it is not a forgery or revoked especially since there is an intra-corporate dispute and the board of directors had not been meeting for a long time," she said.