Day 33 Highlights of the Corona Impeachment Trial: of Repeat Performances

by Wilfred Avila

If I were not writing this on a daily basis, I would think that this was just a repeat performance of the hearings yesterday. The same cast, the same guest actors, the same storyline, the same dancers, the same soloists, the same conductor, the same orchestra and the same chorus. Mostly, the same bad script and the inevitable flop!

An 83-year old man in his regular white suit was seen walking into the Senate hall with smiles. He was even seen having photos taken with some fans. The man, Lead Counsel Justice Serafin Cuevas. This man has a lot of goodwill going for him from both sides of the Senate Hall. He earned this due to his brilliance and almost encyclopedic knowledge of the law.

With 19 Senator-Judges present, the Court convened at a quarter past two in the afternoon. Senator-Judge Gregorio Honasan led the prayers. I sincerely wonder if he was trying to speak to the other Senator-Judges rather than just to God.

After two days of absence, Defense Lead Counsel Serafin Cuevas returned to the Impeachment Trial following a bout with vertigo. At the start of the proceedings, he expressed his apologies and said he wanted to make it on record that there was “nothing intentional” in his absence. He actually still looked ill to this blogger.

Senate President and Presiding judge Juan Ponce Enrile said the apology was not necessary and said he hoped Cuevas had recovered from his illness.

Immediately, Alveo Land’s Carmina Cruz was recalled to the witness stand bringing with her additional documents still related to The Columns property of the Coronas. The Defense asked her to identify the additional documents she brought along with her.

No cross examination was required by the Prosecution, reiterating their stand that the Deed of Sale already showed ownership of the condominium unit.

Senator-Judge Francis Escudero asked about the actual acceptance of the property. The witness replied that she would not know the answer to that. Having submitted the required papers, Cruz was discharged from the hearing.

The nest witness to be called by the Defense is Attorney Perlita Ele, Clerk of Court for the Quezon City Regional Trial Court. She was recalled back at the witness stand to present additional documents related to the Notary Public, Maynard Panela, who notarized documents regarding the McKinley property allegedly owned by the Chief Justice.

It will be recalled that the prosecution wanted proof on the actual monthly reports from the Notary Public and his having been actually commissioned by the Court to act as a Notary Public. All the documents were submitted and she was allowed to go.

Land Registration Authority (LRA) Administrator Eulalio Diaz was recalled for the second day to the witness stand. A long discussion followed between Defense and the Pprosecution about the number of the alleged properties of the Coronas. The defense says only 5, prosecution says 21.

Presiding Officer Juan Ponce Enrile then orders both sides to submit memoranda on the matter. Lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas also suggests submission of evidence to show Coronas’ ownership of the properties.

During the deliberations on the Prosecution’s contention that impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona allegedly owned 21 of the 45 properties earlier listed by the Land Registration Authority (LRA), Defense Counsel Noel Lazaro maintained that many of the titles have been cancelled.

However, Prosecutor Winston Ginez answered in the affirmative when Enrile asked him if they maintain that Corona owns 21 properties. Ginez added that some properties placed under the names of Corona’s children are actually owned by the Chief Justice.

When Enrile asked both camps to state their assertions in a memorandum, Defense Counsel Cuevas said these should be subject to evidence instead to prove their validity. Enrile agreed with Cuevas.

The controversial list of 45 properties allegedly owned by Chief Justice Renato Corona has been cut down. The Prosecution and the Defense went over the list of titles from the Land Registration Authority (LRA). This list was the basis of the initial claim of the Prosecution that Corona has 45 properties. Prosecutors have since changed their count.

The two panels agreed that of the 45 titles, 17 were cancelled and others belonged to namesakes of the Chief Justice and his family. These became part of the list because of a general name search done with the LRA’s new computer system.

However, the Defense and the Prosecution’s counts still don’t match. The prosecution counted 21 properties, which it included in its formal offer of evidence. These 21 properties pertain to those owned by the Chief Justice and his wife, Cristina Corona but also include the properties of their children which prosecutors believe actually belong to the Corona couple.

Here is the breakdown of the prosecution’s tally of the 21 properties:

1. Bellagio

2-4. Three parking lots in the Bellagio

5. Bonifacio Ridge

6. McKinley (the defense says this belongs to daughter Charina Corona)

7-13. Marikina lot, subdivided into 7 titles (the defense says this was sold)

14. The Columns

15-16. Xavierville, with 2 titles

17. Cubao property (the defense says this belongs to the Castillo couple)

18. Kalayaan property (the defense says this belongs to the Castillo couple)

19. La Vista (the defense says this belongs to the Castillo couple)

20. Burgundy

21. Ayala Heights (the defense says this was sold)

The defense did a different tally. Defense counsels have said that excluding the properties belonging to the Corona children (4 titles) and the Ayala Heights property (1 title) sold to a certain Rivera couple, the count is down to 16 titles. The defense panel further reduced the list by subtracting the 7 titles of the Marikina lot.

They said this already belongs to Corona’s second cousin, Demetrio Vicente, because it was sold in 1990 even if the titles are still under the Coronas’ name. With that, the list now stands at 9. Removing the 3 parking lots, the defense cuts the list to 6 properties. Corona’s lawyers say that the Xavierville property has 2 titles so in actuality, the Chief Justice only owns 5 properties as he has been claiming all along.

This is how the defense’s list looks like as compared to the prosecution count:

1. Bellagio

2-4. Three parking lots in the Bellagio

5. Bonifacio Ridge

6. McKinley (the defense says this belongs to daughter Charina Corona)

7-13. Marikina lot, subdivided into 7 titles (the defense says this was sold)

14. The Columns

15-16. Xavierville, with 2 titles

17. Cubao property (the defense says this belongs to the Castillo couple)

18. Kalayaan property (the defense says this belongs to the Castillo couple)

19. La Vista (the defense says this belongs to the Castillo couple)

20. Burgundy

21. Ayala Heights (the defense says this was sold)

In the past 2 days, Senator-Judges took to the podium to berate LRA administrator Eulalo Diaz III and the prosecution for releasing the list. They said the list misled the public and destroyed Corona’s name.

With all the manifestations, Prosecutors and Defense counsels said the real issue must not be lost on the Impeachment Court. The thing is they again clash on what that is.

For defense counsels, the testimony of Diaz showed that the 188 lawmakers haphazardly impeached their client and the prosecution was unprepared.

Photo release from the Senate website

Defense Spokesperson Rico Quicho cited Chief Prosecutor Niel Tupas Jr’s request for the titles from the LRA. “Bakit hindi nila ginawa lahat iyan bago nila finile ang ‘verified’ complaint?” (Why didn’t they do all that before filing the ‘verified’ complaint?)

In contrast, the Prosecution wants to focus the Senate and the public’s attention back to the Articles of Impeachment, particularly Article 2. This article accuses Corona of failing to disclose and accurately declare his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN).

Prosecution Spokesperson Representative Romero “Miro” Quimbo stressed this in a press conference after the trial. “I think we should not get lost here. What is important is that it only takes 1 property that is not declared in your SALN…that amounts to a violation. I hope we don’t lose focus of that also.”

‘COMMENDING IGNORANCE.’ Senator-Judge Miriam Defensor Santiago tells the LRA chief who prepared the list of 45 properties, “I commend your ignorance.”

During the trial, Senator-Judge Jinggoy Estrada said the list of 45 properties did a lot of damage. Estrada told Tupas, “May I tell you to advise your spokespersons to rectify the error, take back the statement to the media because I think the damage has already been done. It already instilled in the minds of the people, the public, and even the court, that CJ Corona owns 45.”

Quicho and fellow defense spokesperson Tranquil Salvador III said they did not blame the media for reporting about the list because it came from a Prosecution press conference. The two joined Estrada’s call for the prosecution to correct the error.

“We believe that when the list was given to the prosecution, specifically to Congressman Tupas, they should have studied this, analyzed it before they released it because we know that the good name of CJ Corona was tarnished because of their rush. They didn’t study it,” Quicho said in Filipino.

Quimbo, who was among those in the press conference on the 45 properties, gave this response, “We have corrected it many times that it’s not 45 but 21. I think we’ve corrected it a long time ago, that the 45 properties came from our good faith reliance on the letter sent by the LRA, which is the principal office in terms of land titles,” added Quimbo.

In the press conference after the trial, the prosecution said it will discuss whether or not to pursue and include other possible properties of Corona outside Metro Manila.

The statement is based on the testimony of Diaz that the computer name search was limited to the National Capital Region and the repeated question of Presiding Judge Juan Ponce Enrile on whether the LRA did a search of properties owned by the Chief Justice in Batangas where he hails from.

Prosecution spokespersons Representative Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara and Rep Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III said if necessary, the panel will include the supposed other properties of Corona in its rebuttal evidence or ask for a “leave of court” to be allowed to present additional evidence. Asking for a leave of court means seeking permission to be allowed to do what would normally not be permitted by the court.

“We will study all possibilities that are still open for the prosecution,” said Tañada.

Photo release from the Senate website

A barrage of questions and comments followed from Senator-Judges. First up was Senator-Judge Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who asked about Diaz’s background and motivation for issuing the document. A livid Santiago scolds Diaz about the way he handled the request.

Santiago also clearly insinuated the obvious relationship the LRA Administrator had with the President. Both were batch mates at the Ateneo and even classmates at one time in Grade School. Diaz actively supported both the Senatorial and presidential bids of Mr. Aquino. He also worked as a member of the staff of then Senator Aquino. Santiago did not mince her words. Cutting to the core, she further suggested that Diaz might have wanted to please her boss.

Santiago even wondered, albeit loudly, that Diaz might have even been in cahoots with the Prosecution. Diaz insisted that he did what he did purely based on the request of the prosecution. He would have done the same for everyone, he added.

During clarificatory questioning, Senator-Judge Miriam Defensor-Santiago berated LRA administrator Eulalio Diaz III for coming up with the list of Corona’s supposed properties through a computerized search in the agency’s database without checking its veracity. She also criticized Diaz for not asking the prosecution its purpose for requesting the list.

Diaz replied that the LRA does not “do investigative work” and normally uses the transfer certificate of title as a guide in database searches. He maintained that it was not his fault if the list is inaccurate.

Santiago accused Diaz of violating the Civil Code for coming up with the list, said both the LRA chief and the prosecution team may be guilty of “gross negligence” for their actions.

Senator-Judge Loren Legarda asked about her request for a “more accurate” list of properties under the CJ’s name. She also asked some questions for the prosecution, specifically Prosecutor Niel Tupas.

Senator-Judge Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. asked Diaz questions related to his having produced the clarificatory questions for LRA’s Diaz. Marcos also grilled Diaz about the motivation and circumstances surrounding the release of the list of alleged Corona properties. This is where Diaz seemed to have been rattled to the core. He gave contradicting answers to answers he already gave Senator-Judge Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

When Senator-Judge Ferdinand Marcos Jr. asked Diaz on why he accessed the LRA’s system to search for Corona’s properties even though there were rules governing its use, the LRA chief said that he was merely acting on the request of the prosecution team, knowing that the information would be used for the impeachment trial.

This prompted Senator-Judge Loren Legarda to interject and point out the disparity in his testimony. Marcos was seen smiling with unbelief at the audacity of this testimony. Diaz was not only lying but contradicying himself.

However, Senator-judge Loren Legarda reminded Diaz that he had earlier told Senator Santiago that he did not know the list would be used for the impeachment. Both Legarda and Marcos expressed confusion regarding the contradictory statements of Diaz.

Diaz replied that he knew the list would be used for the impeachment trial.

The LRA chief was questioned once more when he initially said it took him two to three days to prepare the list, but said later that he already had a prepared document when the prosecution asked for it.

Then, Enrile also joined the fray and interrupted Marcos in the questioning and says that he is confused about the LRA official’s pronouncements. Enrile later says Diaz’s story is highly doubtful. Enrile chided Diaz for his confusing statements.

Senator-Judge Pia Cayetano slams Diaz with more questions. She underlines the fact that the Senator-Judges are also being watched by the public and want their decision to be fair to everyone. She adds that this case woul be in the annals of history and will be studied for a long time to come. This can only be arrived at with the truth being presented in Court. She also asks Prosecutor some additional questions.

Senator-Judge Jinggoy Estrada delivers the coup de grace on Diaz. He accused Diaz of being in cahoots with the prosecution. Diaz vehemently said that he was not “in cahoots” with the prosecution.

In response, Diaz said, “I won’t accept that I’m in cahoots with prosecution. I also can’t readily accept I made a mistake.”

Estrada then chided Diaz for making the mistake of including titles that were either canceled or registered in someone else’s name. He advised the LRA chief to rectify his mistake to the media, which reported the LRA list on Corona’s alleged 45 properties after a Jan. 12 press conference of the prosecution team.

Estrada is then followed by Senator-Judge Ralph Recto who asks some questions regarding the exact number of properties attributed to the Chief Magistrate. Recto claimed he was confused! I truly believe he only wanted to say that one more property was not being mentioned which was readily agreed to by the Prosecution. What he was confused about is the fact the Xavierville lot had two titles in it, meaning ONE property!

The way to Calvary was very difficult for Diaz. His crucifixion will come once his conscience allows him to face the truth that he should immediately resign his post, friend or not friend of the president. He has shames the entire bureaucracy with his actuations. He heaved a sigh of relief when he was ecused from the witness stand with his tail properly tucked behind his back. This was a shameful moment for mr. Diaz and the LRA!

Amid general disbelief at what had just transpired, the session was adjourned. This day was not a good day at all for the prosecution. They had been found out with their little boy games. They totally and absolutely forgot that they were playing with seasoned men and even more seasoned politicians.

As the curtain went down, the audience was hard to start moving out of the theater. They seemed to have been caught up by the high drama they had just witnessed. They were all one in asking how this could have happened at all. There was no romance, as in The Man of La Mancha here. Personally, I felt sick to the core. A man is laid wasted by the wayside left with no honor and integrity. The man is Chief Justice Renato Corona. Lies upon lies were made the basis for the Articles of Impeachment and the demolition job in the media undertaken to buttress the same set of lies.

I don’t know if I will come back to watch the play again!

Meanwhile, The Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, will not compel officials and staff members of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) to appear and testify unless they volunteer.

“I will not act on it,” Senate President and Presiding Officer Juan Ponce-Enrile said on Wednesday when asked if the Senate would grant the request of the defense team to subpoena Malou Mangahas, executive director of PCIJ and some staff members.

“Hindi ko alam kung ano gusto nila, bakit nila sina-subpoena. Ano ba ang alam ng PCIJ ?
Ano ang kinalalaman dun sa impeachment [I don’t know what they want, why they want to subpoena them. What does that have to do with the impeachment?]” asked Enrile.

The Senate leader was not convinced by the explanation that the statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) of other government officials, including him, mentioned in the PCIJ articles would be used to compare them with that of Chief Justice Renatoi Corona.

“But those people are not under impeachment. If I have violated the law or the Constitution then I’m open to be charged. But my case has nothing to do with the case pending in the Senate,” Enrile said.
“So what if we have the same thing? Then that means we all violated the Constitution? Now, let the justice department file cases against all of us, the then we have to defend ourselves,” he said.

If Mangahas wants to voluntarily face the impeachment case, however, Enrile said the Senate would welcome her. “Kung gusto ni Malou na pumunta dito, she’s welcome,” he added.

At another front, Bayan Muna Party-Lisi Representative Neri Colmenares asked the House of Representatives Legislative Security Bureau to coordinate with the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate alleged death threats against him. Colmenares said he has been receiving threats by text message since February while he was at the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona. He said the threats were supposedly directed against him and his family.

Colmenares is among the prosecutors in the Corona impeachment trial. The party-list lawmaker believes the threats are not the “usual” harassment threats but related to his work as a member of the House of Representatives. The circus of the trial has turned into a three ring one.

Photos by Noemi Lardizabal-Dado, Senate website and screencaps from