Defense lawyers on Tuesday disputed allegations that Chief Justice Renato Corona owned 45 properties, and angry senators slammed the prosecution for allegedly misleading the public with a document from the Land Registration Authority (LRA) that was not authenticated.
The defense, through counsel Noel Lazaro, presented LRA Administrator Eulalio C. Diaz III, a classmate of President Benigno Aquino III, who admitted that he provided the House lead prosecutor, Niel Tupas Jr., with a long list of properties purportedly belonging to Corona, his wife and three children.
Diaz, however, was forced to admit that many of the properties he listed in a letter to Tupas on Jan. 10 had either ceased to belong to Corona and his wife, or had never been registered under their names.
The prosecution, through private prosecutor Jose Justiniano, readily admitted to this revelation, prompting four senator-judges—Joker Arroyo, Jinggoy Estrada, Pia Cayetano and Loren Legarda—to take turns chastising Diaz and the prosecution for the glaring error.
Diaz justified this by saying that the list was computer-generated, prompting Arroyo to ask: “How come you did that?”
Arroyo assailed the “cavalier attitude” and “unfairness” of the prosecution and the Aquino administration in coming out with the list, which was leaked to the media.
“I am bothered by this aspect of the proceedings—the cavalier attitude of the administration and the prosecution,” Arroyo said.
The senator pointed out to Diaz that in his letter to Tupas, Diaz claimed that the properties were listed under the names of “Renato Corona et al.” in the LRA database.
According to the senator, a total of 24 persons bear the names of the Corona spouses.
“The rest from Items No. 24 to 45, excluding those I have mentioned, are not in the names of Renato Corona and Cristina. So my question: Why did you write this kind of letter? You know that this is an impeachment case. This is a very serious case. You practically charged the Chief Justice and his wife of owning 45 properties. How come you did that?”
Question of fairness
Arroyo explained that he was not even talking about the legality of it all.
“I’m talking in [terms of] the fairness principle, nothing to do with the law,” he said.
Diaz replied that he had been requested to search the LRA database for all the properties belonging to the Chief Justice “et al.”
He said he had been under the impression that the prosecution panel was looking for a way to “trace back where the properties came from,” which explained the inclusion of so many names unrelated to the Chief Justice on the list.
Diaz said he merely “punched in the names” requested on the computer.
“What we have [is] data warehousing [of all register of deeds]. Everything else is computer generated,” he said.
Tupas denied that the prosecution panel misled the public.
“We have every reason to believe the authenticity of these documents,” he said. “It turned out later that some of the properties were not listed in the names of the family, and we did not include that in the offer of evidence.”
The Jan. 10, 2012, LRA letter to Tupas was attached as Annex A to the prosecution’s request for the issuance of a subpoena for Corona, he said.
Tupas confirmed that when he phoned Diaz, he asked for information on the properties of Corona, wife Cristina, and children Ma. Carla, Ma. Charina and Francis.
He said the prosecution used the property listed in the names of Ma. Carla and husband Constantino Castillo III “to support the theory that there was a simulated deed of assignment.”
“We did this because we’re in search of the truth,” he said.
Cayetano and Legarda also took Diaz to task, asking why he wrote Tupas specifically certifying that the 45 titles were registered in Corona’s or his wife’s name when in several cases this was not true.
“This is a very public, this is a very sensitive, this is a very political procedure of national significance to our country. When you issue a certification like this, I would think you’d exercise extreme caution required of a diligent head of an agency called upon to certify certain documents,” Cayetano said.
She wondered why Diaz did not state that the titles were a result of a general name search.
“It would have cleared the air. It would have allowed the defendant, as every single Filipino is entitled to, the presumption of innocence,” she said.
Diaz said he merely forwarded material to the prosecution to study and “do whatever they want to do.”
Under grilling by Legarda, Diaz admitted that the LRA also “punched in” the names of Cristina, the three Corona children and son-in-law Constantino Castillo in their search, that’s why they came up with 45 titles of properties.
Diaz said he “went over the documents” before signing them, but not “detail by detail.”
“I don’t have the luxury of going detail by detail on these documents. What I did was to request them to submit to me the titled properties in their registries by a computer name search, and submit to my office what documents were generated by the search. When these were brought over to my office, we counted them and made transmittal letter to the addressee,” he said.
Diaz admitted the search generated titles of individuals who were “namesakes” of Corona and the others.