Day 32 Highlights of Corona Impeachment Trial: The dawn is breaking

by Wilfred Avila

It would seem that the slow, tedious and deliberate manner by which the Defense Panel is presenting their case is slowly but surely paying off. The dividends are big, really big. The House built by the Prosecution is slowly shattering into smithereens and may be difficult to put back together again. Every charge is met head on by a determined Defense panel slowly, very very slowly.

The final arbiter will, of course, be the Senator-Judges as said by the Presiding Judge Juan Ponce Enrile at one time. This is where the crux of the matter is. What kind of Judges are these? One who can barely understand what is going on as in the person of Lapid? One who is hell bent on conviction such as Drilon and Trillanes? One who is like Marcos who believes in ferreting out the truth first? Most who are identified with the administration?

If we are to judge primarily on evidence, it is obvious how we should vote. But this, being a political trial, leave a lot of hanging questions and makes it even more difficult for anyone to even try a guess how anyone among the Judges’ vote will go. We can only pray that they remember that they owe the people their positions and act accordingly!

The pleasure of going to the Impeachment Trial everyday is in seeing some friends we don’t get to see on a daily basis. One of them is Michael Victor Ong, a very good friend from the GTP page. Nice to see you Mike.

The buzz on JPE is becoming less than fair on his role as the Presiding Judge of the trial as it also became louder and louder. The comments of some have not been too kind either. I know the man quite well and have strong faith that financial consideration is not going be the parameter for his vote. He did promise that this would be his last act in Congress and that it would be his “legacy.”

What is interesting though is that people have noticed the subtle changes in his words and his “body language” at the hearings. In fact, I have too. However, I do not put much emphasis on that at this time. Dare I say that this might be something to watch every closely.

With sixteen Senator-Judges present, the 32nd day of the Impeachment Trial began. Less and less VIPs attend the hearings these days. The daily ritual is beginning to really take its toll on everyone. Sabi nga ng ba, “matira ang matibay!”

At the start of the day’s trial, Defense Lawyer Joel Bodegon manifested that Cuevas will still be absent because he was still not feeling well. He was also absent on Monday, the first time since the trial started last Jan. 16. “Our chief defense counsel is still indisposed,” Bodegon said.

In an interview before the trial, Defense Spokesperson Jose “Judd” Roy III said that the 83-year-old Cuevas is suffering from vertigo and that his physicians had advised him to rest “for several days.”

Enrile, Presiding Officer of the Impeachment Court, said that they hope Cuevas will get well soon. “We understand he has vertigo…just tell him to do exercises, that will disappear,” he said at the trial. “If he needs assistance I will help him, I had that problem once upon a time,” added Enrile, who is 88.

The retired Justice Serafin Cuevas is not expected to attend the proceedings in the Senate for the next few days due to his illness. Roy said Cuevas’ physicians have advised him to rest “for several days. If he is not comfortable for long periods [of time], then we don’t want him to struggle,” Roy said.

Roy clarified however that Cuevas’ condition was not caused by the stress from the impeachment trial. He said Cuevas’ vertigo was “diet-related.”

“Minsan din kasi we are all hungry, kaso dahil nasa loob kami lahat [ng session hall], nakakalimutan kumain,” he said. Though not physically present in court, Cuevas closely follows the developments in the trial over the television, Roy added. “Minsan nga kapag may mga nagtatanong na, binabato niya yung TV,” Roy said in jest. Roy also said Cuevas is satisfied with the way other defense counsel have been presenting witnesses and answering questions from Senator-Judges.

The witness Bendz Lim trended again on Twitter and Facebook. His good looks helped in that. In fact, it was all they twitted about. Hahahaha. Another witness trended immediately as soon as she sat down on the witness stand but for a totally different reason. More on that later.

Senator-Judge Teofisto Guingona III asked the Defense Panel questions regarding the entries made by Chief Justice Corona in his SALNs. The defense replied that they wee going to go into the details of the entries of the Chief Justice at a later date.

Bendz Lim, Property Manager of The Columns Condominium building was recalled to the witness stand for a second day. The Prosecution, who actually asked him to come back, no longer wanted to cross examine him.

Lim was also asked additional questions by the Defense on re-direct. The witness presented additional documents regarding a condominium unit in the said building under the name of Mrs. Cristina Corona.

Senator-Judge Sergio Osmeña III asked clarificatory questions on entries and timing of the entries in the chief Justice’s SALN.

Senator-Judge Miriam Defensor-Santiago, smilingly (or should I say teasingly or even coyly) asked more clarificatory questions to Lim, the Prosecution and Defense regarding the time of the acceptance and ownership of the condominium property.

Senator-Judge Franklin Drilon asked clarificatory questions, still regarding the Columns property in his usual bombastic way. This man is as thick as they come. He doesn’t even pretend to be fair any longer. He is often seen winking, smiling and back slapping with the prosecution as he dishes out snarls, grunts and insults to the defense with matching raised eyebrows.

Carmina Cruz, the Customer Relations Officer of Alveo Land, the developer of The Columns is called to the witness stand to testify that the condominium unit was accepted by the Coronas in 2009. The witness was called to shed light on why a posh condominium unit in Makati City appeared in Corona’s Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs) seven years after he and his wife bought it.

Cruz, the customer said that Corona couple did not immediately formally accept the unit they bought in The Columns in 2003. Cruz was made to read a June 7, 2008 letter from Mrs. Corona saying that “there was no acceptance yet of the unit” at that time.

Defense lawyer Jose Roy III said the acceptance of the condominium unit was “prohibited” by some “defects” on the property. He said the couple only accepted the unit in October 2009 and that was the reason why it was not reflected in Corona’s SALN until 2010.

The Prosecution team, however, asserted that once the deed of sale is executed, the property should have been deemed accepted by the buyer and later on declared in his or her SALN. Corona is currently being tried at the Senate for betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of Constitution for alleged inaccuracies in his SALN.

Prosecutor Winston Ginez said Cruz’s testimony on the couple’s acceptance was “irrelevant” and insisted that the condominium unit should have been declared by Corona on the year it was bought. “For the prosecution, what is the important is that the sale was made. Acceptance is irrelevant as far as the prosecution is concerned,” Ginez said.

Cruz was temporarily discharged from the Senate proceedings and was asked to return on Wednesday to bring more documents related to the acceptance and the supposed defects of the condominium unit.

Meanwhile, two Senator-Judges said that the amount of the condominium unit should have appeared immediately in Corona’s SALN in place of the actual unit.

Juan Ponce Enrile, the Presiding Officer in the trial, said that the asset should not have totally disappeared from Corona’s SALN. “The condominium unit came into existence when it was constructed, but all along there was an asset that must be reflected in one’s SALN whether it is in the form of a condominium… or a currency account with the number placed alongside with it,” he said.

“There was an asset only that it passes from cash to a concrete thing known as a condominium unit. Whether we talk of pesos or centavos, there was an asset from the very beginning,” Enrile added.

Sen. Sergio Osmena III said that an asset could have been declared as the amount with which the asset was bought for. “That P3.5 million [payment] should have still been declared. If not we have a David Copperfield thing. Now you see, now you don’t. The condo is irrelevant, the value must appear,” he emphasized.

Cruz is temporarily discharged, and is instructed to return to in the next session with documents still related to the acceptance of the Columns unit by the Coronas.

Cruz is the other witness who started trending in Facebook and Twitter immediately. Her “American” slang took the court by surprise. It was obvious that she was not bothered by the presence of the powerful Senator-Judges in front of her.

The next witness to be called by the Defense was lawyer Perlita Ele, to prove the basis of the non-inclusion of the McKinley Hill property in CJ Corona’s SALNs. Ele is the Clerk of Court at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.

The Defense Panel presented her to prove that impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona and his wife Cristina were merely trustees of their daughter for the latter’s Taguig City property.

In her testimony, defense witness Ele presented a certified true copy of a notarial register showing a declaration of trust and special power of attorney (SPA) given to the Corona couple by their daughter Maria Charina Corona, who is in the United States.

The defense presented Ele to show that the McKinley property in Taguig City was under the name of Charina and that her father only made payments in trust for her.

The McKinley property was purchased by the Coronas in October 2008 for P6.19 million, but the prosecution is questioning why it is not included in the chief magistrate’s Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).

During cross examination, Ele insisted that the notary public who notarized the declaration of trust and special power of attorney was commissioned. The Prosecution questioned the legality of the tenure of the Notary Public who administered the document notarizing the document presented. Again, Ele confirmed the legality of the document and the Notary Public.

She was asked to bring further proof on the monthly reports of the Notary Public and specifically during the date stated in the document submitted. The Prosecution will continue its cross after the demanded documents are submitted in Court.

The next witness to be called by the defense is Attorney Eulalio Diaz III, administrator of the Land Registration Authority (LRA), who testified regarding the alleged 45 properties owned by the Chief Justice. Prosecution tried to object to presenting Diaz, saying it is not relevant, but Enrile allows testimony. This decision opened a veritable can of worms.

Senator-Judge Francis Escudero asked as to where this testimony was going? Defense replied that it was to show that the Chief Justice did not have 45 properties under his name. Defense and prosecution were told by the presiding Judge discuss the issue on the land titles outside court on Wednesday.

When the defense started asking questions to the witness, it was revealed that, indeed, the list came from the office of the witness and that he, himself, certified to its veracity. It was also revealed that the Prosecution, Tupaz particularly, who asked for the certification of the lands owned by Renato Corona, wife, son, daughters and in laws. The list was produced from a data bank that was never tried before and stopped operating since. (This whole thing smells of fraud, if you ask me!)

From the testimony, it appeared that out of the 45 properties purportedly owned by Coronas, it was whittled down to 21 and then finally to 6 to be answered for by the Coronas.

Senator-Judge Jinggoy Estrada demanded to know why the document was released by the witness’ office. Diaz claimed that a lot of media people including the members of the Prosecution Panel was asking for it. He also claimed that he did not release the document to the media.

“Next time around, kung may nag-request sa inyo, siguraduhin ninyo na tama ‘yung sinusulat ninyo,” Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada told Diaz.

Diaz explained he only did a “general name search” of the names of Corona and his family members as Tupas requested. He said they then submitted the matches, coughed up by the computer, to Tupas. “We just punched in the names of the people that we’re requested to do,” he said.

Senator-Judge Joker Arroyo said that he was bothered by the “cavalier” attitude of Diaz and the prosecution. He asked Diaz several questions regarding how he came up with the list of properties. Arroyo added that by making the list Diaz “practically” charged the Coronas of owning all the properties. He also vents his disgust and frustration to the prosecution.

“Quite frankly, you misled the public by initially announcing 45,” Arroyo said as the Senate impeachment court tried to clarify the claim now being made by the prosecution regarding the properties supposedly owned by Corona and his family members.

Is that fair? You just cannot say a person owns 45 and then say you are not sure. It just isn’t done,” Arroyo said during Tuesday’s impeachment trial.

“Knowing that this is an impeachment case, how could you make such a document? It’s an official function. You are officially asked and you take a very cavalier attitude.”

“You practically charged the CJ and his wife of owning 45 properties. Assuming that what they claim is true, that’s a lot of difference — and publicly stating that, and media repeating that, is totally unfair,” the senator from Camarines Sur.

Acting on the Prosecution’s request before the trial started, the LRA released a list of 45 titles in the name of the Chief Justice and his family. It turned out, many of these titles had been cancelled.

Of the 45 properties, 17 were already cancelled titles, defense counsel Noel Lazaro said. Twenty-two other properties were either no longer under the names of Corona and his family’ members, and ther properties had other problems, he added.

RG Cruz reports on prosecutors’ claim re: Corona’s 45 properties (Jan. 12)

“That makes it six titles. And that is six, because there is a big lot that has actually two titles,” according to the defense lawyer.

As far as the SALN [statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth] is concerned, there are five lots there listed,” he said.

Senator-Judge Pia Cayetano joined Arroyo in admonishing Diaz for releasing the list of 45 properties that supposedly belonged to the Chief Justice only to be learned later that it did not.

But Sen. Pia Cayetano noted Diaz could have “cleared the air” if he had said some of the properties were not owned by Corona or any of his family members. “This is serious business and you should be very careful,” she said.

“It appeared that you were certifying that these properties are registered in the name of the Chief Justice. There was no caveat in the letter. I raise the same concern. This is a very political procedure of national significance. When you issue a certification like this I would think you will exercise extreme caution required of a diligent head of an agency,” said Senator Pia Cayetano. She further asked how the list was prepared.

Diaz explained that the list came from the LRA’s computerized search engine. The names of the Chief Justice and his relatives were punched in the computer and the list of 45 properties came out.

Diaz admitted during the trial that it was the first time they used the LRA’s search engine. “We have disabled it. This is rather new to one. This is the first time. We have disabled it, pending the finalization of implementing rules,” Diaz said.

The prosecutors sought – but failed – to block Diaz from testifying, saying there was no basis for his testimony since they only presented 21 titles in their offer of evidence. (Sure, but you offered 45 in your complaint!)

One property may consist of several titles. The questioned Marikina property was broken down into 7 titles, for example.

The prosecution was also hit for failing to clean the list before submitting it to the court and for showing the list to the media.

“I don’t want to say but quite frankly you misled the public by initially announcing 45…. I’m talking about carelessness. Remember Annex A, which turned out to be spurious?” said Arroyo. But the prosecution said it had no intention to mislead the public.

“We obviously relied on good faith on the list provided by LRA. We asked LRA to give us a list of the properties in the name of the Chief Justice and his family, that’s the list they gave us,” said Prosecution Spokesperson Romero “Miro” Quimbo in a lter press conference. This does not, however, cleanse the hands of the prosecution since it was Tupaz himself together with Quimbo who waved this certification in front of media in a press conference held at the House of Representatives even before the trial began.

Senator-Judge Loren Legarda added insult to injury when she propounded almost the same questions as Cayetano to the already perspiring Diaz. She was veritably the last nail on the coffin.

Legarda supported the concerns raised by Senators Pia Cayetano and Joker Arroyo, that documents should have been double-checked and handled more carefully.

Diaz said that he did not have the luxury of going through the documents detail by detail and admits that there were name sakes included in the name search of the LRA. He also testified that he also typed in the names of Corona’s family while doing the search for the list of properties registered under his name.

Representative Lorenzo Tañada III, on his part in a press conference, said the list of 45 remains important because the prosecutors needed to see the chain of titles. If the properties were sold when he was already in government, they should have been declared in earlier SALNs, he said.

It was Estrada who raised during the trial that Diaz is a classmate of President Aquino. Diaz said they were classmates in the Ateneo Grade School. Diaz was also President Aquino’s staff when he was still a senator, according to Tañada.

“Attorney Diaz has been the staff of then Senator Noynoy, if I’m not mistaken even when President Noynoy was a member of the House. Attorney Diaz has been around as a consultant. In terms of competence and capability, I’m sure the President is a better judge on the capabilities of Attorney Diaz,” Tañada said.

Tupaz then explained the prosecution’s side on the issue. He claimed that they never released it to media and that they only offered 21 properties in their offered evidence. What is noteworthy here is that Tupaz forgets that the complaint proper mentioned 45 properties and that he even presided in a press conference waving the very same certification in front of media.

Tupas said they trusted LRA’s submission. “We have every reason to believe the authenticity of these documents. We attached it in good faith.” He denied the prosecution team announced the list to the media.

For his part, Diaz said he expected the prosecution team to double check their output. “These are computer-generated, [these are simple printouts],” he said.

Senator-Judge Guingona, in an effort to help the beleaguered witness out, asked for the process by which the LRA was able to come out with the lsiting. “Was it anything like the “Google” search engine,” he asked. By the time he came up with this suggestion, it was too late. The tide had turned since most were aghast at the demolition job that had been undertaken by the Prosecution, the administration’s spokesman Secretary Lacierda and the Prosecution Spokespersons Quimbo, Tanada and Angara precisely because of the 45 properties that were non-existent to begin with.

The witness was excused but admonished to return the following day for more questions. Obviously, his Calvary has just began. To this poster, it seemed only right. This whole sordid affair began with his little database (unlike Google that Tanada suggested) in his untested and finally disabled program for maligning the character, person, integrity and honor of the country’s Chief Magisrate. Shame on you Diaz!

On another battlefront, the House Prosecution team described the results of a recent survey as a “snap shot” of the public sentiment against Chief Justice Renato Corona, but said evidence presented in the impeachment trial are more important to convince Senator-Judges of Corona’s alleged guilt.

“We strongly believe na ang impeachment proceedings are not about surveys. It’s about evidence that we present here. It’s about all the legal cases as well as the bank deposits that up to today, have not been explained,” Marikina Representative Romero Quimbo, Prosecution spokesman, said at a press briefing.

Quimbo was referring to the results of a Pulse Asia survey showing that nearly half of the respondents believe that Corona is guilty of allegations of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.

The lawmaker, however, said that Corona should still take note of the public opinion against him. “I think he should listen to this, and he should look at the survey at least to tell him kung ano ‘yung dapat niyang gawin sa hinaharap sa harap ng ganitong klaseng napakabigat na opinyon laban sa kanya ng publiko,” Quimbo said.

Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, another Prosecution spokesman, meanwhile, said that the survey showed Corona really betrayed the public’s trust. “Masasabi po natin na bagama’t maraming batikos na natanggap ang prosekusyon, this survey results shows that the prosecution did its job in presenting evidence that the impeachment judges should consider when the time comes,” he said at the same press briefing.

Corona’s lawyers are still trying to disprove the prosecution’s claim that Corona inaccurately declared his properties in his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs). They have not gotten to that yet but promised that they would eventually do so. Then again, public opinion is being swayed by these questionable survey sources.

Meanwhile, the Prosecution opposed the subpoena request of the defense for PCIJ’s Malou Mangahas appearance in court and the SALNs of other officials. In an eight-page request, the House prosecutors said the requested documents are “sweeping, general, and has no clear relevance to the case.” “The generality of the subpoena renders the addressee clueless as to which of the requested documents are material and relevant to the issue or if they are germane to the purpose specified in the request,” they said.

On Monday, the defense requested the impeachment court to subpoena Mangahas and other PCIJ staff to testify during the trial and bring with them the following:

Copies of SALNs mentioned in her news story entitled “SALN: Good law, bad results” posted on the PCIJ website on March 14, 2012;

all other documents, letters, requests, pertinent to the news report entitled “SALN: Good law, bad results” posted on the PCIJ website on March 14, 2012;

copies of SALNs mentioned in her news story entitled “Great filers, big barriers” posted on the PCIJ website on March 15, 2012;

all documents, letters, requests, pertinent to the news story entitled “Great filers, big barriers” posted on the PCIJ website on March 15, 2012;

all documents, letters, requests, pertinent to the news report entitled “SC Justices, Ombudsman,

House keep SALN secret” posted on the PCIJ website on January 10, 2012;

the video segment of the above-mentioned story, entitled “Who Shall Cast the First Stone?” posted on PCIJ website accompanying the news story mentioned in the preceding paragraph.

But the prosecution team said that the request “fails to clearly spell out the materiality and relevancy of the testimonies of the witnesses and the respective documents they are required to bring.” It likewise said that the requested copies of SALNs mentioned in the news stories are “completely irrelevant, immaterial, and impertinent.”

The Prosecutors said the Defense plans to have the SALNs of the following persons brought and presented before the impeachment court:

President Benigno Aquino III
Vice President Jejomar Binay
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile
Sen. Edgardo Angara
Sen. Manuel Villar
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago
Sen. Joker Arroyo
Budget Sec. Florencio Abad
Health Sec. Enrique Ona
Agrarian Reform Sec. Virgilio delos Reyes
Foreign Affairs Sec. Albert del Rosario
Energy Sec. Jose Rene Almendras
Defense Sec. Voltaire Gazmin
Trade and Industry Sec. Gregory Domingo
Finance Sec. Cesar Purisima
Public Works and Highways Sec. Rogelio Singson
Tourism Sec. Ramon Jimenez
Presidential Legal Counsel Eduardo de Mesa
National Anti-Poverty Commission Chairman Jose Rocamora
Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman
Francis Tolentino
Transportation and Communication Sec. Mar Roxas
Civil Service Commission chair Franciso Duque
Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr.
Former Commission on Audit chair Reynaldo Villar
Rep. Niel Tupas Jr.

“These public officials are not being held on trial but the respondent. Therefore, the SALNs of the various public officials have no relevancy to the issue at hand,” said the prosecutors. Moreover, they said that the evidence the defense defense pan el intends to obtain from the subpoena request do not tend to explain his non-inclusion of his assets in his SALN.

“It is clear that the intention to present before the honorable court testimonies of witnesses and documents, which are patently irrelevant, are indications of dilatory tactics and frivolous moves undertaken by respondent Corona,” they said.

“If [he] really intends to prove lack of malice and bad faith when he filled up his SALN, the prosecution believes that Chief Justice Renato Corona is the best person to take the witness stand,” they added.

Photos from Senate website.