Defense admits 'inaccuracies' in Corona SALN

By David Dizon,

Posted at Jan 31 2012 11:20 AM | Updated as of Feb 01 2012 03:27 AM

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - A member of Chief Justice Renato Corona's defense team admitted Tuesday that there were "inaccuracies" in Corona's statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) when he belatedly declared several real estate properties years after they were acquired.

Former justice undersecretary Ramon Esguerra said the Chief Justice acquired a condo unit at Spanish Bay Tower, Bonifacio Ridge in 2005 and another condo unit at The Bellagio, Taguig in 2008 but only declared both properties in 2010. The Bonifacio Ridge property was purchased for P9 million; The Bellagio unit P14 million.

Esguerra said Corona broke no law when he disclosed ownership of the real estate properties belatedly in his SALN.

"It was disclosed although belatedly but does that constitute violation of the law insofar as SALN filing is concerned? It does not. Even the law allows a corrective measure if a filer of a SALN does not accurately reflect what should be reflected in his SALN," he told Mornings@ANC.

Esguerra said that under Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials, there is a pertinent provision that a filer must be informed about inaccuracies in his SALN and allowed to correct it.

He added that under this particular provision, "no liability for perjury attaches" for inaccuracies in the filing of SALN.

Asked if Corona lied in his SALN because he belatedly declared his properties, Esguerra said: "Not really lying. It is really up to the filer. But in the case of the Chief Justice, he did not lie."

He also said that it should the Supreme Court clerk of court that should inform the Chief Justice about inaccuracies in his SALN.

"[It] should really be perhaps the custodian which is the clerk of court. (How would the clerk of court know?) That is precisely the issue. As far as the Senate is concerned it should be the Senate President. In this case, it should be the Chief Justice. Over the years, he was not still Chief Justice. In the case of the House of Representatives, it is the Speaker. It is the head of the office that tells you that there is something wrong (with your SALN)," he said.

"In this particular case, they say there are inaccuracies in the SALN entries. That's fine with us. The basic fact remains that there was filing," he added.

Fair market value

Esguerra also defended Corona from allegations that he underdeclared the value of his real estate properties.

In his 2010 SALN, Corona declared that his condo unit in Taguig bought in 2004 had an assessed value of P1,421,990 while it has a current fair market value of P2,369,980.

Another condo unit acquired in 2010 had an assessed value of P3,496,320 and a current fair market value of 6,800,000.

Esguerra said that in looking at the SALN, "you really have to look into the practice of each one and how they overdeclare and underdeclare and what basis if any do they use insofar as the value of their assets are concerned."

He noted that the prosecutors withdrew the appearance of 4 assessors who were set to testify in the trial because they were supposed to talk about the market value of the properties.

He said the assessors were set to testify "on the values on the basis of the tax declarations that they have on file. When we compared the values in the tax declarations and the SALN declaration, they match."

Esguerra said the only issue regarding Corona's SALNs is if his properties and assets were declared.

"Yes (they were declared). Were the values correct? In time, we will show that the values were correct. Truthfully? Why not truthfully if your basis is a public document which is the tax declarations?" he said.

No favor for Megaworld

The lawyer, meanwhile, said he sees nothing wrong with Megaworld giving Corona a 40% discount on the price of The Bellagio condo.

He said Megaworld finance director Giovanni Ng already said clients could get a 15% discount or higher if they pay for the units quickly.

Ng also told the Senate impeachment court that Megaworld gave a higher discount due to the onset of the global financial crisis and several finishing issues with the condo unit.

Esguerra noted that fair market value is determined by the price set by the seller and the price a buyer is willing to pay.

He also admitted that Corona penned a decision favoring Megaworld in a case brought before the Supreme Court in 2004.

"After 5 years, Megaworld must have taken that into consideration in giving the 40% price adjustment. But you know, in 2009 after about the time the particular unit in Bellagio was sold, there was another case. The first one Megaworld won. This one, Megaworld lost. And this was about the time of the sale. It was decided and penned by current Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and concurred in by Renato Corona," he said.