COMMENT: ‘Incredible,’ says Prosecution. by Patricio P. Diaz

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/18 March) — At the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona last March 13 the prosecution called “incredible” the testimony of Demetrio C. Vicente concerning the sale to him of a 1,700 sq. m. parcel of land by Mrs. Cristina R. Corona. What is incredible about it?

Significant Facts

The land, located in Marikina Heights, Marikina, was sold at P509,985 (also: P509,989) on July 26, 1990. The absolute deed of sale was notarized by lawyer Ma. Beatriz Mantoya (variably: Montoya) in Makati which at that time, like Marikina, was not yet a city. Corona was one of the witnesses; the other, only named “Regina”.

At that same time, Vicente also bought through Mrs. Corona the 1,700 sq. m. land of her sister, Miriam Roco, which was adjacent to hers. Mrs. Corona had authority to sell from her sister through a Special Power of Attorney dated August 10, 1984 (Philstar.com, March 14)]. The two parcels of land cost him P1.8 million.

Vicente paid Mrs. Corona the P1.8 million out of the P3.5 million-sale of his house and lot in Philand Subdivision, Tandang Sora, Q. C. He personally delivered the P1.8 million in a manager’s check to Mrs. Corona at her residence in Loyola Heights, Q. C. He had not seen the Coronas nor heard from them since then until Mrs. Corona called him up last January 19 to inquire if he still had the titles of the lots (Philstar.com, March 14) and to borrow the deeds of sale (Malaya, March 14). After that, he met Corona (Malaya, 14).

At the time of the sale, the 1,700 sq. m. land of Mrs. Corona had already been subdivided into seven lots; now, 22 years after, their titles and tax declarations are still in the name of Mrs. Corona – the real property taxes paid annually by Vicente. [Miriam Roco’s title is also still in her name; Vicente pays the real property tax.]

Vicente lives with his wife in their house at the far end of the 3,400 sq. m. property where he raises bonsai plants. His wife, he said, gets about P25,000 monthly from her apartment
business. Besides, they get regular monthly pension from their only child and daughter in Kuwait.

Vicente said Corona is his second cousin; the “C” in “Demetrio C. Vicente” and “Renato C. Corona” is “Coronado”, the family name of their mothers. According to Vicente, they are a close family. He and Corona are god-brothers, his father being Corona’s god-father and Corona’s mother his wedding god-mother.

Incredible

The prosecution considers it incredible that after 22 years Vicente did not have the titles of the land he had bought from Mrs. Corona transferred to his name. Legally, the land is still Mrs. Corona’s. Anyone else, the defense included, would normally deem it that so.

What for did he invest P1.8 million on such lands? His mere possession of the titles and of the deed of sale and his paying of the realty taxes do not give him legal possession of the land. By that he will not be able to use the land as collateral for a bank loan; his heir will not be able to inherit the land.

It is hard to believe that he had no money for the transfer tax upon the consummation of the sale on July 26, 1990. After paying Mrs. Corona P1.8 million, he must still have more than one million left of his P3.5 million from the sale of his house and lot in Tandang Sora. Whether at that time the transfer tax was P2,500 or P3,000 (the reports varied), he had the means; that was before he built his house and his having a stroke.

The land looked incredibly cheap considering its location – Marikina Heights. Vicente said he paid Mrs. Corona P509, 985(9) for the 1,700 sq. m. or P300 per sq. m. Was land in Marikina Heights really this cheap in 1990? [At that same time, land in a not so well developed subdivision three kilometers from the government center of General Santos City was selling at not less than P1,000 per sq. m. I happened to visit Marikina Heights in the mid-1980s. It looked better developed than that subdivision in General Santos.]

Ridiculous

Vicente believes that the titles, tax declarations and deed of sale in his possession are enough guarantee of his ownership of the land. Transfer of the land documents in his name is unnecessary, especially that he cannot afford now the tax that has ballooned to P200,000 because of the penalties. This is ridiculous. Where’s the sense of owning a property you cannot use as you please or when necessary?

What is the guarantee of a deed of sale of questionable legality? It has not been annotated on the titles Vicente holds and in the files of the Register of Deeds. Granted: The Coronas are honoring his rights. But after the Coronas (as well as Miriam Roco, too) and Vicente have died can Vicente’s heir legally inherit the property?

Vicente’s trustfulness is an admirable virtue. But it would be the height of naivete to be lulled forever by the trustworthiness of the Coronas. The last 22 years – if Vicente is really truthful in his testimony – have rewarded Vicente nothing except satisfaction for his blind trust which is very much short of the benefits of a legal title.

Inconsistent

If Vicente paid Mrs. Corona P1.8 for her land and that of her sister — 3,400 sq. m. — the cost per sq. m. would have been P530. The P300 per sq. m. buying cost in the deed of sale must have been lowered to reduce the capital gains tax. While that was consistent with common practice prevailing before then and until today, did Vicente actually pay Mrs. Corona more? He did not show his duplicate copy of the check for P1.8 million.

The prosecution said Vicente could not recall the circumstances concerning the signing of the deed of sale. He could not remember where in Makati the notary public held office. At first he said Mr. Corona was not present but he corrected himself to say Mr. Corona was a witness. The second witness “Regina” was not present. It could be asked: Did Mrs. Corona have the copies of the deed of sale pre-signed, have them notarized by herself and just gave Vicente his copy? She intimately called the notary public “Beth Mantoya”.

Mrs. Corona’s personal knowledge did not explain the court certification that notary public Ma. Beatriz Mantoya had no authority or commission to practice in Makati – implying the illegality of the deed of sale. Questions: Was she still with SGV when she notarized the deed of sale? If the Romulo Mabanta Law Office really had a branch in Hongkong, was she qualified to practice law there? She is no longer around to clarify questions about her commission and the deed of sale.

If Vicente was a businessman, he must have valued the importance of legal papers in business deals. Yet, he gave no importance to transferring in his name the titles of the land he had bought. When his heavy equipment rental business “slowed down” he sold his house and lot for P3.5 million. Using P1.8 million to buy land was good business sense; but not using the rest of the money to revive his business or start a new one was inconsistency.

Be the Judge

Was Vicente’s testimony the whole truth?

Corona included the land in his `1992 SALN when he first joined government service? Can the defense just dismiss that as irrelevant to Corona’s impeachment case because he was then not yet chief justice? Does the present condition of the titles not show that the Coronas still own the property?

Does Vicente really own the land as he has persistently claimed? Or, as the prosecution believes, he is just the caretaker, a dummy? Philippine Daily Inquirer (March 14: Cristina Corona retained lot title 21 years after sale) quoted him telling the court: “I’m the caretaker of the property. She (Mrs. Corona) has nothing to do with this. It’s not hers. I have a deed of sale.”

Had he really been keeping the documents he showed in court as the rightful owner of the land or have these just been given to him to make his testimony look truthful?

Could the deed of sale have been faked to support a simulated sale?

The prosecution to reporters: “In the larger picture, pwedeng (possibly) simulated sale … fictional … Pwedeng totoo (possibly true) … There are just many questions raised that are not in accord with human experience (ABS-CBNews.com, March 13: Sale of Corona property raises red flags – prosecutors).

The defense spokesperson says having the sale simulated in 1990 was pointless. “Why go through all that trouble to get a caretaker and get an allegedly fake notary public? I don’t see the reason to make a fake transaction 22 years ago when Corona was not even in government (ABS-CBNews.com, March 14: Defense: No reason for fake sale of CJ property). A defense lawyer, while believing the sale to be valid, suggested that the issue of the allegedly fake notary public be investigated.

There is reason now for simulation – the impeachment. There are signs of simulation. The incredible non-transfer of the titles in Vicente’s name and his insistence that this is unnecessary cannot just be ignored. A simulated sale must look genuine – so the time of the sale and notarization. But the inclusion of the property in Corona’s 1992 SALN and the titles being legally still in Mrs. Corona’s name indicate there was no sale.

Vicente’s being a close Corona relative as the land’s caretaker is consistent with Filipino custom. There is no third party or third source confirming Vicente’s words he had been a successful businessman and had owned a house and lot in Tandang Sora. His open-court inconsistency, “I’m the caretaker … It’s not hers. I have the deed of sale,” appears to betray the lie behind the simulated truth.

Can the prosecution be faulted for its incredulity? (“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at [email protected])

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