Senator-judges hit prosecution, defense witness over Corona properties

Shielo Mendoza
Yahoo! Southeast Asia Newsroom

Some senator-judges on Tuesday admonished the prosecution team and a Land Registration Authority official, who testified for the defense, for “carelessly” saying that Chief Justice Renato Corona owned 45 properties.
LRA Administrator Eulalio Diaz testified before the impeachment court that of the 45 properties listed in the letter he submitted to the prosecution team, as requested, some were already canceled and not in Corona’s name anymore.
Defense lawyer Noel Lazaro, who was directly examining Diaz, said that there are 17 canceled titles and asked the prosecution to admit there were inaccuracies in their allegations.
The prosecution, however, declined to admit their error saying that it is up to the court to make a finding.
Senator-judges then grilled the LRA administrator how he came up with the erroneous list of 45 properties in the first place.
Diaz explained that it was through a general name search on their database. He said that upon the request of lead prosecutor Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas, he searched for land titles with the names of the chief justice, his wife, Cristina, their children, Francis, Charina and Carla, and son-in-law, Constantino Castillo.
Diaz added that any document in their database that has Corona and his family's name will be tagged. It was then possible that namesakes were there, he said.
Senator Joker Arroyo fumed and said that it was so careless for the LRA and the prosecution not to verify if the properties were truly Coronas'.
“I am bothered with the cavalier attitude of the administrator and the prosecution. It is terribly unfair to announce to the public and the media repeatedly saying that the chief justice owns 45 properties. I don't want to say it, but quite frankly, you misled the public,” Arroyo said.
Diaz justified his actions saying that it is not the LRA’s function to certify who is the owner of the properties.
“This is a product of a machine, not research. I do not want to do the job of the prosecution,” he said.
As for the prosecution, Tupas said they only attached the list with 45 properties on their request for subpoena and that in their formal offer of evidence, they only alleged 21 properties of Corona.
“We did not mislead the public. We have every reason to believe the authenticity of the document. We attached it in good faith,” Tupas added.
The defense, meanwhile, said they will prove that Corona has only six properties.
Nevertheless, senator-judges continued to admonish the LRA official and the prosecution team.
“This is a very public, sensitive, political, and of national significance case. Why did you not bother to make those qualifications? Please use this document with extreme care. Names are at stake here,” Senator Pia Cayetano said.

Senator Loren Legarda also said that “due diligence” was not properly done to presume the chief justice's innocence. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile ordered both the defense and prosecution to meet on Wednesday morning to thresh out remaining properties under Corona's name based on LRA records.

Earlier, the court also questioned the supposed late inclusion of the P3.5 million-worth condominium unit at The Columns Ayala Avenue in Corona's SALN.

“The asset originally was P3.5 million that was transformed into a concrete asset known as a condominium unit. But still from beginning of time there was an asset and it must be reflected in the SALN,” Enrile said.

The Chief Justice included the property in his SALN in 2010, but the defense said this was because Corona got full ownership of the unit only in late 2008. The unit was paid by installment since 2004.

However, Senator Sergio Osmeña echoed Enrile’s view, saying that “the condo is irrelevant and the value must appear.”

“As far as we are concerned, we don’t really care if the condominium unit existed or not. It had to be booked as an asset,” Osmeña said.