Is Corona contradicting self in SALNs?

Is Chief Justice Renato Corona using different arguments to justify his SALN declarations?

'HIS WORDS.' The prosecution is using a decision penned by Chief Justice Renato Corona to argue that he should have declared The Columns property back in 2004. File photo from the Supreme Court website.

MANILA, Philippines – Back in February 2010, when Renato Corona was still Supreme Court Associate Justice, he penned a decision on the sale of land and the payment of an outstanding loan.

“Article 1498 of the Civil Code provides that, as a rule, the execution of a notarized deed of sale is equivalent to the delivery of a thing sold,” Corona wrote in his ruling in Raymundo S. De Leon v Benita T. Ong.

Two years later, Corona’s decision again becomes relevant with the legal debate in his impeachment trial as Chief Justice. At issue is the condominium unit that he and his wife bought in The Columns, Makati in 2004, and why he declared this only in 2010 in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN). (See SALNs of Chief Justice Renato Corona.)

In a legal memorandum submitted last month, the prosecution cited Corona’s very own ponencia in arguing that the Corona couple assumed ownership of the property in 2004 because a deed of absolute sale was executed in their favor that year. 

Corona’s lawyers, though, have a different view. They said that a deed of sale does not automatically mean the delivery of the property is complete.

With the issue again discussed in the trial, Rappler revisits the legal memoranda of the defense and prosecution panels on ownership, and questions on other properties of the Chief Justice. 

Here is the breakdown of their arguments:

Prosecution: Sale means ownership 

For the prosecution, the Coronas owned The Columns unit as early as 2004. Based on the contract to sell, the Coronas bought the unit in installment for a purchase price of P3,588,931.82. A deed of sale was executed on Oct. 1, 2004. (For documents on The Columns property, see Corona properties: The Columns.)

Citing the New Civil Code, the prosecution said that a buyer acquires ownership of the property upon the execution of a deed of sale.  

Article 1498 of the Code states that, “When the sale is made through a public instrument, the execution thereof shall be equivalent to the delivery of the thing which is the object of the contract, if from the deed the contrary does not appear or cannot clearly be inferred.”

Chief Prosecutor Niel Tupas Jr., and private prosecutors Mario Bautista and Winston Ginez signed the memorandum.

In their explanation, the prosecution made a distinction between possession and ownership of a property. They said possession is not required to assume ownership, citing the Supreme Court ruling in Marcela v Court of Appeals.

They made the point in response to the testimony of Ayala Land assistant vice president Nerissa Josef that the unit was only “deemed accepted” in June 2008. The defense attributed the delay in acceptance to supposed defects in the property.

ALREADY SOLD. The prosecution argues that the Coronas already owned The Columns property when a deed of sale was executed in 2004. File photo by Emil Sarmiento

The prosecution said, “When Cristina R. Corona was deemed to have accepted the Columns Property only on 7 June 2008 … the said deemed acceptance only involves possession of the said property and not the ownership thereof.”

The panel also said that according to the contract to sell between the Coronas and the developer Community Innovations Inc., the unit was already deemed accepted upon the execution of the deed of sale in 2004.

The team said that even if for the sake of argument Corona was not yet required to disclose the property before 2010, he should have declared the purchase price as an investment or deposit. 

Prosecutors conclude though that the defense’s argument that Corona was not required to disclose The Columns unit prior to 2010 is misplaced. 

“In fact, no less than respondent Corona in his 2010 ponencia in Raymundo S. De Leon vs. Benita T. Ong declared that under Article 1498 of the Civil Code, as a rule, the execution of a notarized deed of sale is equivalent to the delivery of a thing sold.”

Defense: ‘Complete delivery’ means ownership

Yet Corona’s lawyers said the Article that the Chief Justice cited in his ruling only refers to “symbolic delivery” as opposed to complete or “actual delivery.” They said the latter requires that the buyer take control and possession of the property.

“CJ Corona maintains the position that he became the full owner of the Columns Unit only in 2009, when he took actual possession. CJ Corona refused to accept delivery in order to preserve his right to pursue legal remedies against the developer for the repair of the defects and damage to the Columns Unit.”

“For this reason, CJ Corona could not mention the Columns Unit in his SALN before 2010,” said lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas and defense counsels Jose “Judd” Roy III and Dennis Manalo.

NO POSSESSION. The defense team says the Coronas should have first taken possession of The Columns unit for it to be considered theirs. File photo by Emil Sarmiento

The defects and damage were mentioned in a letter of Mrs Corona to The Columns management, complaining about her “ordeal” because the unit was supposedly turned into a storehouse, had debris, stinky toilets, a messy kitchen and faulty wirings.

The defense panel said that the presumption of delivery of possession when a deed of sale is executed can be negated when there is “clear and convincing evidence.”

“In its natural sense, delivery means something in addition to the delivery of property or title; it means transfer of possession.”

They stressed, “The record therefore shows that complainants have not proven that CJ Corona was mistaken in declaring his ownership of The Columns Unit in his 2010 SALN because as of this time, complainants have failed to show when CJ Corona actually and intentionally accepted delivery of said unit.”

Corona inconsistent?

In the prosecutors’ memorandum, they pointed out an alleged inconsistency in Corona’s SALN declarations.

They compared the declarations of The Columns to a condominium unit in Quezon City. (For documents on The Burgundy property, see Corona properties: One Burgundy Plaza)

DIFFERENT ARGUMENT? Prosecutors claim Corona used a different argument when he declared his Burgundy condo unit once he got the title of the property.

Prosecutors said that based on his SALNs, Corona had admitted that the moment the title of a property is transferred to him, he already has the obligation to disclose this. They highlighted a footnote in his 2005 SALN on the QC property. Corona wrote “title transferred only upon full payment in 2003.”

“If this is the case, would it not be proper for respondent Corona to also disclose The Columns property in his SALN for the years 2004 up to 2009 since the title thereto was already transferred to his wife when the deed of sale was executed … and Condominium Certificate of Title … was issued in the name of Cristina R. Corona married to Renato C. Corona on 3 November 2004?”

“Undoubtedly, respondent Corona should not be allowed to take [an] inconsistent stance on this matter,” said the prosecution.

The defense, however, reiterates that the defects in The Columns property led the Chief Justice to delay possessing and declaring the unit.

What about Marikina?

Another property that triggered questions on Corona’s declarations is the Marikina lot.

The prosecution and some senator-judges have pointed out that the defense used a different reasoning in explaining the property, which was only declared in 1992.

The defense said last week, when the property was tackled, that even if it is still under the Coronas’ name in public records, it was already bought by Corona’s second cousin, Demetrio Vicente in 1990. 

This time, the defense cited the deed of sale as proof of ownership.

'REAL OWNER.' Demetrio Vicente testified last week that he is the real owner of the Marikina property even if it was not registered in his name. File photo by Senate pool

In the memorandum on ownership, the defense said the non-registration of the Marikina properties in Vicente’s name “does not adversely affect the legal position of CJ Corona.”

Counsels said the Civil Code and jurisprudence recognize the transfer of ownership over the Marikina properties from Mrs Corona to Vicente because of a contract and “actual delivery” of possession.

The defense added that Vicente also has the title to the property because Mrs Corona delivered “actual possession” to him and he accepted this.

The Chief Justice insists it was Vicente’s responsibility to register the Marikina property under his name. –