The prosecution on Friday left open the possibility of calling two in-laws of Chief Justice Renato Corona as witnesses to rebut defense claims in his impeachment trial.
“No firm decision yet about rebuttal,” Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, a spokesperson for the prosecution, said in a text message. “We will wait for the completion of the defense presentation but we are looking at it as an option.”
Angara was referring to Sister Flory Basa and her niece, Ana Basa, who have been involved in a squabble with Corona’s wife Cristina—also a niece of the nun—over the controversial sale of the family property to the Manila city government for P34.7 million in 2001.
The property in Sampaloc, Manila, used to be owned by Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc. (BGEI), a company owned by Cristina and her relatives. Its sale has come under scrutiny by the Senate impeachment court, which is looking into the assets of the Chief Justice.
‘Not mere spectator’
Angara said that with the presentation of former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza as defense witness on Thursday and the BGEI lot sale as evidence of Corona’s funding source, the prosecution is studying the option of tapping Cristina’s relatives as rebuttal witnesses when the trial resumes on May 7.
The trial is on a six-week recess.
Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo, another prosecution spokesperson, said that Atienza’s testimony should further compel Corona to personally testify in the impeachment court because his actions showed he was not a mere spectator in the affairs of his wife’s family company.
The prosecution said Atienza’s testimony further incriminated Corona as an accomplice in his wife’s disputed takeover of her family’s company.
Angara said Corona’s claim that he had nothing to do with the intra-corporate row at BGEI was “shattered” by Atienza’s testimony that the Chief Justice accompanied his wife when the sale price for the 1,020-square-meter property was negotiated.
“I think Chief Justice Corona should apologize to the senator-judges and the public for his inconsistencies, like saying he doesn’t meddle in Basa affairs and yet Mayor Atienza said he (Corona) personally negotiated the sale,” Angara said.
At Thursday’s trial, Atienza testified that the Corona couple met him in his office in 2001 to ask for P50 million for the Sampaloc property, which the City Hall wanted to convert into a public market to replace the one to be taken over by a terminal of the Light Rail Transit.
The Coronas eventually settled for P34.7 million for the property and the sales proceeds were deposited in the bank account of Cristina at the Land Bank branch in Malacañang.
Trial until June
Atienza said that that was the first time he met Corona. He revealed, however, that his personal secretary, lawyer Emmanuel Sison, was a classmate of Corona at the Ateneo Law School.
Angara claimed that while Corona had declared that he never interfered in the family squabble in BGEI, the Chief Justice had used BGEI to explain portions of his wealth—such as the P11-million cash advance he obtained from the company to buy condo units, and the P37.66 million worth of time deposits, which he claimed were BGEI funds, that he withdrew from PSBank on the same day he was impeached.
Quimbo said the prosecution was optimistic that the trial would end before June 6, when Congress ends its second regular session.
“But in all honesty, it would be unfair for us to impose the schedule on the defense,” said Quimbo.
The defense panel ruled out calling Sister Flory and Ana to the stand.
“We will not call them,” defense counsel Ramon Esguerra said. “Court records will suffice … Moreover, they are still hostile and no benefit will be given to the defense.”
Atienza testified on the city government’s purchase of the BGEI’s property but barely tackled the squabble between Cristina and her kin over ownership of BGEI.
Ana has accused Cristina of usurping control of BGEI even though the latter’s father, Vicente Roco, delegated his responsibility to her without a board resolution, and although her mother, Asuncion Basa-Roco, owned only 10 percent of BGEI’s stock.
Cristina’s involvement in the BGEI derived from her father and mother, the company’s president and board secretary since 1963, documents showed. Ana’s father, Jose Ma. Basa III, was BGEI majority stockholder.
All accounted for
Esguerra said the P11-million loan or cash advance that Corona took from the BGEI and declared as a liability in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) could be explained without Ana and Sister Flory testifying.
“They can look at it that way,” he said in a text message, when asked if the possibility of the two taking the witness stand could not be avoided in case the P11-million loan is taken up. “But every cent can be duly accounted for. That is even on the assumption that there is a demand for accounting and a duty to account.”
Sen. Franklin Drilon has said that Ana and Sister Flory could be presented as rebuttal witnesses if the entry on cash advances from BGEI in Corona’s SALN would be raised during the trial.
Jose Roy III, a Corona lawyer, played down the possible testimony of Ana and Sister Flory, who have accused Corona of using his position in government to help his wife Cristina take control of BGEI. He said this would be irrelevant to the case.
The sale was consummated in 2001 with Cristina, who presented a certification from the BGEI’s corporate secretary authorizing her to negotiate the sale. She received a check of P34.7 million “entrust” for BGEI.
Drilon, however, pointed out that the capital gains tax and value-added tax had not been paid until now and that the title remained in Cristina’s name.
Malacañang welcomed the break in the impeachment trial.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said it was an opportunity for Filipinos “to focus on other matters.” With a report from Norman Bordadora
First posted 12:32 am | Saturday, March 24th, 2012