The problem with Eulalio Diaz

Magtanggol De La Cruz
The public was deceived by the LRA's supposed list of 45 Corona properties

MANILA, Philippines – On Tuesday, the 32nd day of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona’s impeachment trial, the defense summoned Eulalio C. Diaz III, administrator of the Land Registration Authority (LRA).

Conspiracy theorists would probably have considered that move to be a strategic misstep on the part of the defense. For one, the LRA is a government agency under the executive department and we all know who heads that department and what his less than endearing sentiments are toward the person currently accused.

Secondly, Diaz was—although he appeared initially reluctant to confirm it and is also curiously unable to recall it in greater detail—a, yet again, former Ateneo classmate of the President.

But as it turned out, it seems that the presentation of Diaz has caused a degree of damage, at least to the image of the prosecution. In addition, and perhaps to a greater extent, it did damage to Diaz himself.

From the testimony of the LRA Administrator, it was revealed that the prosecution’s head honcho, Congressman Niel Tupas, verbally requested for a list of properties registered in the names of the Chief Justice and/or his wife and family (including in-laws). 

Diaz remembers this date to be Jan 8, 2012. Acting on the phoned-in request, the LRA readily set out to comply.

The other related interesting tidbit of course, has to do with when Tupas made his verbal request to Diaz. Having made the phone call only in January, this meant that these vital pieces of evidence were actually not yet on hand when the impeachment complaint had already been, supposedly, carefully crafted, heatedly debated, meticulously analyzed, painstakingly deliberated upon, and overwhelmingly approved in the House of Representatives.

Nonetheless, what the LRA Administrator came up with was a list of 45 properties. 

In his cover letter to the requesting Congressman dated Jan 10, 2010, or 2 days after the Tupas verbal request, Diaz wrote:

“Pursuant to your official request for information relative to real estate properties registered in the name of Renato Corona et al. Please find enclosed herewith certified true copies of titles registered in their names, as follows:”

LRA chief’s letter to Rep Tupas


Armed with this signed letter from the LRA and its enclosed documents, the prosecution promptly filed the same with the court of public opinion, waving the same above their heads as the smoking gun that would pin down the accused. And expectedly, the press carried this triumphant declaration in their headlines and as fodder for their on-air discussions. 

Later on though, during the course of the trial, the prosecution admitted that the number 45 was not exactly correct and asserted that it should be around the vicinity of 21 properties or so.

However, based even just on a cursory examination of the January 10 letter, out of the 45 properties in the LRA’s list, several titles are not, in fact, registered in the names of Renato Corona or of Cristina Corona, or their family (and if you believe the defense, 17 of the listed titles were already cancelled titles). 

Categorical

But didn’t Diaz categorically say in his letter that he was handing over information relating to 45 titled properties that were “registered in their names?”

In response to an incredulous Sen Pia Cayetano, Diaz explained that in his letter, “registered in their names” referred to the names of the registered owners (disclosure: at this point, when I heard this statement over the radio on my drive home, I laughed and scratched my head simultaneously).

A number of senator-judges lamented what they perceived to be an act of deception on the part of Diaz and the prosecution. Spokesmen for the prosecution, however, tried to parry the blows by asserting that they relied on good faith, given the LRA’s certification.

To my mind — which, to adopt Sen Pia Cayetano’s self-assessment — is at times likewise of average intelligence, Diaz’s written statement conveyed a message that should be unambiguously clear.

Taking the first paragraph of his letter as a whole, he has effectively certified that the documents he enclosed and were transmitting to Tupas, were certified true copies of titles registered in the names of Renato Corona et al, in accordance with the official request. 

To me, there is no other way to read it although there are probably a million ways to rewrite it to accurately express what he claims to have meant.

And it also seems that even the prosecution construed the letter in the same way that I understand it to mean. (Although there is definitely something to be said about their not having first checked his statement against the enclosed documents and even the list of titles on the letter itself — I am being kind in assuming they did not — before running to the media).

At the end of the day, my take on this episode is that whether you read this as a failure of a command of the English language by Diaz (I suppose the Ateneo may want to challenge this supposition) or an underhanded tactic on the part of the executive department and the prosecution, the net effect was that the public was deceived. 

Maybe even just momentarily, but it was.

I am as aghast and upset about corruption and dishonesty in public office as the next guy, but one should not fight those evils with deception and incompetence.

And while we’re at it, maybe we should be asking if we should even entrust such an important government post such as administrator of the LRA to one who cannot be proficient enough to realize that what he expressed in the letter he had affixed his signature to — and it wasn’t even a long statement — was wrong.

Or worse, to one who cannot recall such a personally significant thing as when he and the President of the Republic became classmates. – Rappler.com

(The author is a lawyer who, because of relationships he has with persons involved in the impeachment proceedings, decided to use a pseudonym.)