Cousin claims ownership of Corona's undeclared properties

Demetrio Vicente

MANILA, Philippines (Mar 14 2012) - A second cousin of Chief Justice Renato Corona claimed yesterday before the impeachment court that he is the real owner of a 1,700-square-meter property in Marikina City that is still registered under the chief justices's wife but is not declared in Corona's statement of assets liabilities and networth (SALN).

The defense panel presented yesterday Demetrio Vicente who has the same middle name, Coronado, as the chief justice's in a bid to discredit the prosecution’s accusations that Corona had not declared these lands in his SALN.

Demetrio was the third witness presented by the defense in the impeachment trial after the chief judicial officer of the cash disbursement division of the Supreme Court, Araceli Bayuga, and Navotas Rep. Tobias Tiangco and testified that he owns the seven parcels of land in Marikina City, earlier tagged by the prosecution as part of the 22 properties supposedly not declared by Corona in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs).

Corona’s lawyers wanted to show that the Marikina properties were not declared since these were sold to Vicente on July 26, 1990. But Senator Ralph Recto questioned the defense why these properties were still declared in Corona's SALN in 1992 as among his assets.

Corona himself affixed his signature as of the witnesses in the deed of sale.

Article 2 of the verified complaint accuses Corona of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust for non-disclosure of the SALN and failure to declare some of his properties in the SALNs covering 2001 to 2010.

Vicente, who had twice suffered a stroke, was grilled by private prosecutor Jose Justiniano and chief defense counsel Serafin Cuevas, followed by Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Alan Cayetano, Ralph Recto and Franklin Drilon.

“Akin talaga ho yun, kahit bukas pumunta kayo sa bahay ko, doon po ako natutulog eh (I really own those properties. You visit me there tomorrow and see for yourself… I sleep there),” Vicente said in Filipino when grilled by Cayetano last night.

Vicente said he had not seen the Corona couple before the impeachment trial began on Jan. 16.

But on Jan. 19, Vicente said he received a call from Mrs. Corona inquiring if he still had a copy of the deed of sale for the seven parcels of land.

During the redirect examination by Cuevas, Vicente explained that he was able to buy Mrs. Corona’s property along with another 1,700-square meter property owned by Mrs. Corona’s sister, Miriam Roco. He said he used the money from the house and lot that he sold in Tandang Sora, Quezon City.

Later in the trial, Sen. Recto pointed out why the properties in question were reflected in Corona’s SALN in 1992, the year the Chief Justice supposedly entered government service.

Because of this, Recto said only Corona could answer questions why the same Marikina property was in his SALN in July 1992.

“The only question hanging is why did the property still reflect in the CJ’s SALN in 1992,” he said.

Cuevas argued that in 1992, Corona was not chief justice so that the “SALN will not come into force” in the impeachment complaint.

On Recto’s clarification, he asked whether the prosecution wanted to establish that there was a “simulated sale” between the Coronas and Vicente in 1990.

Recto pointed out that it would be difficult for the defense to simulate the alleged sale and payment of real property taxes.

“That’s hard to simulate, since the documents date back to 1990s,” Recto said.

Justiniano, on the other hand, pointed out the deed of sale was not annotated in the land title.

Vicente replied that he was in the payloader rental business from 1975/1976 until 1990 when his business started to slow down, prompting him to sell his Tandang Sora property.

Asked if he still owns the business up to now, Vicente replied no more.

Today, Vicente added that he gets roughly P25,000 a month from his wife’s apartment business while his daughter in Kuwait regularly sends money.

Vicente said he paid P1.8 million for the two properties through a manager’s check that he entrusted to Cristina Corona, who was provided a special power of attorney by her sister to sell the property.

At one point, Vicente said he trusted the Corona couple that they would respect their sale even if the land titles remained under Mrs. Corona’s name since they were relatives.

Apart from being a second cousin of Corona, Vicente revealed Corona’s mother was his wedding godmother.

“I trust this Justice Rene Corona, he is my kinakapatid (god brother). His ninong (godfather) is my father. His mother is my ninang (godmother) in my wedding,” he explained.

During additional questioning by Cayetano, Vicente reiterated that he trusted Corona because his father and the Chief Justice’s father were “close friends.”

When asked by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile if the property he bought from Mrs. Corona and her sister Miriam had been placed under his name, Vicente said he has not transferred the land titles to his name since his money was not enough for payment of transfer tax.

In a bid to support their claims, the defense presented the absolute deed of sale between Cristina Corona and Vicente in 1990, several receipts paid by Vicente for the annual real property tax (RPT) since the sale until 2011.

The defense also showed two tax payment receipts dated March 12 this year, on the eve of his appearance at the impeachment court.

Vicente said he paid for the real property taxes before the Marikina City government even if the properties were still under Mrs. Corona’s name.

Vicente also showed a special power of attorney that came from Mrs. Corona’s sister Miriam, which authorized her to sell the property.

The special power of attorney was dated Aug. 10, 1984 from Miriam Roco in favor of Ma. Cristina Roco Corona.

“It was given to me by Mrs. Cristina Roco to show me that she has the power of attorney for the sale of the particular property of her sister,” Vicente said.

Vicente said he had not met the Chief Justice and his wife since the sale in 1990. It was only on Jan. 19 this year when he received a call from Mrs. Corona.

In a bid to destroy Vicente’s credibility as witness, private prosecutor Justiniano presented a certification from a Makati court showing that the lawyer who supposedly notarized the deed of sale was not authorized.

Justiniano also tried to establish Vicente’s close relations with Mrs. Corona after noting that the witness’ middle initial was “C”. When asked about his middle name, Vicente said “C” stands for Coronado, which the prosecutor pointed out is also the middle name of the Chief Justice.

It was then that Vicente admitted that he and Corona were cousins.

The prosecution also pointed out that lawyer Maria Beatriz Mantoya was the notary public in the deed of sale.

Vicente, however, failed to recall where in Makati City the deed of sale was notarized or when and why they had to go to Makati City when the parties involved were residents of Quezon City.

Justiniano also questioned why Mrs. Corona and Vicente’s community tax certificate were similarly dated March 7, 1990.

Interviewed during a brief break in the impeachment trial, defense lawyer Tranquil Salvador III vouched for the credibility of Vicente despite the attempt of the prosecution to cast doubt on his integrity.

“There is no implication. Notarization is a formality so that the public may know about the sale between two parties, but it does (not) mean that the sale was defective,” Salvador explained.

As long as two parties have agreed on the sale, Salvador said that would be respected under the law.

“If that (notarization) is the issue, it would not invalidate the sale,” he said.

Salvador, however, could not answer the question on why the properties were declared in Corona’s SALN in 1992, when the sale supposedly happened in 1990.

“If we will go back 20 years ago, that is too much,” he said by way of answer. “If you want you cannot believe us but just look at the demeanor of the witness, if he is saying the truth, and if you are convinced in what he is saying regarding his payments of real property taxes, although he said he had no money to pay transfer fees,” Salvador said.

While the tax payment receipts were in the name of Mrs. Corona, Salvador said there is no doubt that Vicente owned the parcels of land because he has in his possession the land titles and the absolute deed of sale.

“The most important in property is that you have it in your possession, that you are the one using it, and you have control. You can see that he (Vicente) is sincere and candid enough during his testimony in court,” he said.

“This is what is called in the law as arms-length transaction. You can see, he has nothing to fear,” Salvador said. (From