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Prosecution casts doubt on 'sale' of Corona's Marikina property

Defense witness Demetrio Vicente takes the stand on Day 28. He claimed to have bought seven parcels of land from Mrs. Cristina Corona. PHOTO BY EDWIN BACASMAS, PDI/SENATE POOL
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MANILA, Philippines (3rd update 8:49 p.m.) – The prosecution on Tuesday punched holes in the documentation provided by a man claiming to have bought eight parcels of land in Marikina City owned by Chief Justice Renato Corona and his wife Maria Cristina, and her sister Miriam, citing discrepancies that appeared to show the transaction was either contrived or irregular.

Cross-examining Demetrio Coronado Vicente, who admitted being a second cousin of the chief justice, private prosecutor Jose Justiniano showed a certification indicating that a certain Atty. Ma. Beatriz Montoya, who processed the deed of sale between the Coronas and Vicente was never authorized to become a notary public in Makati City.

Vicente, the third defense witness, was also unable to adequately explain why he did not bother to have the Marikina property transferred to his name after acquiring it in 1990. 

“May tiwala po ako sa kanila,” he replied when asked by senator-judges why the titles of the properties remained under the name of the original owners. 

Vicente, who recently had a stroke, consistently said he had no money to pay for the transfer of the title to his name, prompting Justiniano to comment that the cost of the transfer in 1990 was only P2,500.  It will now cost Vicente P200,000.

The prosecution had included the Marikina property among those assets that Corona either failed to include or undervalued in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net worth (SALN).

Upon questioning by Senator Ralph Recto, Justiniano affirmed that the prosecution intends to prove that the sale was “simulated” to make it appear that the property no longer belongs to the Coronas.

“In his 1992 SALN, why was the Marikina property still in his SALN?” Recto asked. 

Lead defense lawyer Serafin Cuevas responded, saying the buyer has not declared the property under his name “so the records will show it is in the original owner.” “But why is it in 1993, it was no longer in his SALN?” Recto asked anew, referring to the year after Corona entered the government.

“That’s why I said that the only person who can answer these is the Chief Justice,” Recto added.

For about three hours, the 70-year-old Vicente, who previously managed and owned a heavy equipment rental business, endured the queries of the lawyers and senators, skimming through his documents including lot titles and receipts from real estate tax payments. 

The properties Vicente bought consisted of the eight parcels in Marikina City – seven lots that was consolidated in one title belonging to Maria Cristina and totaling 1,700 square meters, and one lot belonging to her sister, Miriam Roco, which also measures 1,700 square meters.

He said he paid the sisters P1,018,000 in manager’s check. He said the both transactions were notarized by Montoya.

Prior to the purchase, Vicente said he sold a property in Tandang Sora, Quezon City for P3.5 million, proceeds of which he used to buy the lots.

But the 70-year-old Vicente said the title remained in the name of Maria Cristina because he did not have the money to pay for transfer title fees. He said he spent all his money for the construction of a house in a portion of the lots that he bought. 

Despite this, Vicente claimed that he has been paying the real property taxes since 1990.
Justiniano, however, pointed out that the receipts for the payments bore Maria Cristina Corona’s name. 

“Hindi pa po kasi nata-transfer sa pangalan ko kaya nasa pangalan nya,” Vicente replied when asked about the matter. One document shown by the witness reflected a P65,268 payment in 2010, which was paid at the Office of the City Treasurer. 

“There is some confusion here. . . . Why is it that the City Treasurer’s Office considers Mr. Vicente as the one responsible for taxes of properties declared for tax purposes by Mrs. Corona?” Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said. 

Lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas replied, “In the document identified by the witness, there was no mention of Cristina Corona.” 

Vicente also failed to present the tax declaration number of the properties he was paying for. Upon Recto's examination, the senator said Vicente appeared to be paying for the real estate tax of three properties – the two lots and the house he constructed on them.

Defense: Notarization of documents may not be important

For their part, lawyers of Chief Justice Renato Corona belittled the discrepancies pertaining to the sale of the Marikina Heights property.

Problems with the notary public do not automatically mean that the transfer of property was illegal, said lawyer Tranquil Salvador III, one of the defense panel's spokespersons.

"The transfer may be voluntary and notarization may not be important. What's important is both parties agreed on the sale," Salvador told reporters.

The prosecution raised the possibility that the notary public on the sale of the 1,700-square meter property might be fake.

Defense panel spokesperson lawyer Karen Jimeno said the property remains under the name of the Coronas since buyer Demetrio Vicente has no means to pay for the transfer taxes.

Justiniano was amazed by Vicente's claim, noting that when prosecutors made a rough calculation of the transfer taxes that Vicente said he could not afford to pay, they came up with an amount less than P3,000. How could he pay P65,000 and not afford the smaller transfer tax, Justiniano wanted to know.

Briefing the media later, Jimeno said, "Ito'y isang lupa na pinapakitang nasa pangalan ni Chief Justice kasi hindi niya kayang bayaran ang transfer taxes."

The defense, meanwhile, was evasive when its members were asked why Corona declared the Marikina property in his 1992 SALN when it was sold in 1990. Salvador merely said that what's important was the SALN of Corona at the time he assumed the Chief Justice position.