Documents concerning a 303.5-square meter unit at the plush The Bellagio in The Fort, Taguig City, may be used as evidence of graft and corruption in Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment trial at the Senate.
The unit—classified as a penthouse in The Bellagio website—is one of four high-end properties purportedly owned by the Chief Justice and his wife, according to the panel of lawmakers from the House of Representatives who will serve as prosecutors at the impeachment trial scheduled to start on January 16.
At the panel’s news conference Tuesday, Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas Jr., the chief prosecutor, said spouses Renato and Cristina Corona purchased Unit 38B at Tower I of The Bellagio from Megaworld on Dec. 16, 2009, at the price of P14.51 million. The unit has three parking slots, each measuring 12.5 sq m.
A real estate expert whom the Philippine Daily Inquirer consulted estimated the property’s market value today at P30 million to P40 million.
The deed of absolute sale was signed by Megaworld finance director Giovanni Ng and the couple.
The unit was transferred to the name of the Coronas on Jan. 25, 2010, under Condominium Certificate of Title No. 164-2010000062 and the parking slots were covered by CCT Nos. 164-2010000063 to 65, according to a system-generated certified true copy of the deed of sale issued by the Registry of Deeds-Taguig City.
In its blurb on the luxury residential high-rise, Megaworld said: “At The Bellagio, an endless stretch of green stares you in the face—beauty you can almost touch. Savor it all in a stylish home nestled at the edge of the majestic Manila Golf Course. Where every single day begins with a glorious dawn. And ends with a breathtaking dusk.”
Tupas said the prosecuting panel was unsure whether the unit was declared in Corona’s 2010 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN). But all four high-end properties were acquired when Corona was still an associate justice of the Supreme Court, he said.
Jose Midas Marquez, administrator and spokesperson of the high court, declined to comment on the matter.
But in his answer to the eight articles of impeachment filed against him, which he submitted in December, Corona admitted that he and his wife had acquired a 300-sq m “apartment” in The Fort.
“Complainants speculate that he has not reported this in his SALN and that its price is beyond his income as a public official. CJ Corona admits that he and his wife purchased on installment a 300-sq m apartment in Taguig, declared in his SALN when they acquired it,” the Chief Justice had said.
One of the panel members, who did not want to be identified for lack of authority to speak for his colleagues, later raised with the Inquirer the possibility that the sale of The Bellagio unit might have been undervalued given the floor area and the market prices prevailing at the time it was purchased by the Coronas.
Tupas said the papers for the sale of The Bellagio unit were part of the documents for four properties that were in the hands of the panel, and promised to release more in the coming days.
The panel will also release documents covering Corona’s properties abroad, if it receives any, he said.
“We are challenging the Chief Justice to … disclose to the public his [SALN] pursuant to Article 11, Section 17 of the Constitution…” Tupas said, referring to the provision that requires Supreme Court justices to make the document public.
“Since he is the Chief Justice and he is the respondent here, we challenge him to release his SALN,” Tupas said.
Judicial Development Fund
Isabela Representative Georgidi Aggabao, a panel member, raised the matter of the Judicial Development Fund (JDF), and pointed out that its use had always been a controversial issue since the time of Chief Justice Hilario Davide.
The JDF is now estimated at P5 billion.
Aggabao said a Commission on Audit report on the JDF, which is attached to the impeachment complaint against Corona, had noted irregularities in the handling of the fund involving at least P500 million.
To the remark that Corona had just inherited the JDF problem from the Davide court, Aggabao said: “I think it’s about time we tackled this head-on and showed that [the fund] should not be handled by the Supreme Court but by the National Treasury.”
Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo Angara, the panel’s deputy spokesperson, said that unlike that of the Chief Justice, the SALN of President Benigno Aquino III and his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, were disclosed to the public.
Marikina Representative Romero Quimbo, the panel’s spokesperson, said that even legislators were obliged to disclose their SALN, and that there was no way the Supreme Court justices should be exempted.
“Now that The Bellagio property is out, the next question would be how Corona was able to finance the acquisition with his and his wife’s income,” Quimbo said.
‘For the people’
Tupas said more private lawyers had volunteered their services, but he refused to name them. He said the identities of the lawyers would be revealed at the start of the impeachment trial on January 16.
Northern Samar Representative Raul Daza said the panel still welcomed advice from other lawyers and law firms.
“We welcome private lawyers. They are helping us because they realize that this is something for the country. This is not something for any party or any individual. This is for the people,” Daza said.
Corona, who was impeached by 188 House members last month, stands accused of betrayal of public trust, graft and corruption and culpable violation of the Constitution.
Quimbo expressed confidence that the impeachment trial would proceed despite the purported attempts of the Corona camp to stall it.
Tupas said the prosecutors were confident of not only their evidence but also their witnesses, and were convinced that they would be able to secure Corona’s conviction in one of the offenses stated in the eight articles of impeachment. With a report from Marlon Ramos