MANILA, Philippines – Ten years ago, before Renato Corona joined the Supreme Court, he declared a few properties in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth or SALN. He and his wife, Cristina, had a modest house worth P2 million (fair market value at the time) and two lots, all in Quezon City.
At the time, he was President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s chief of staff. His reported financial worth then was P13.9 million.
Fast forward to today.
After 9 years in the Court, our research shows that Corona has more than tripled his wealth to about P45.6 million, based on tax declarations, land titles and deeds of sale we obtained from the city halls and Registry of Deeds offices in Makati, Quezon City, and Taguig.
The Coronas have, so far, acquired 5 real properties: 2 condominium units in the upscale Fort Bonifacio, estimated at P23.6 million; a 1,200-sq-m lot in the exclusive residential enclave of La Vista in Quezon City (bought for P16 million), where President Arroyo resides; a condominium in Makati (P3.5 million), and another in Quezon City (P2.5 million).
Supreme Court justices have exempted themselves from disclosing their SALNs because they say these can be used by litigants to harass or intimidate them. Thus we have no access to the recent and current assets statements of Corona. (Only Justices Antonio Carpio and Ma. Lourdes Sereno have made summaries of their SALNs public.)
This raises questions on the Coronas’ source of wealth, an issue critical to the accountability of public officials.
The annual salary of an associate justice, excluding allowances, ranges from P833,496 to P846,768. The Chief Justice gets less than P1-M a year, P953,412, not counting allowances. Corona was appointed Chief Justice in May 2010.
Today, Corona faces a historic impeachment trial for graft and corruption, among others. As Chief Justice, he is expected to be beyond reproach.
The big question is: How did he and his wife afford all of these properties given their known incomes?
We asked Ramon Esguerra, a spokesperson of Chief Justice Corona for the impeachment trial, to respond to our questions but he declined. We would have wanted to know other sources of income of the Coronas, their inheritance, if any, and the length of time they have been paying for their Bellagio penthouse.
“As I am counsel for the Chief Justice, our communications are strictly confidential and privileged,” he said in an e-mail. “…it will be unwise for me to divulge the matters subject of your request.”
The Coronas began gearing up for an acquisition mode in September 2003 when they bought a 1,200-sq- m lot on Maranaw Street in La Vista for P16 million. (View title of La Vista property here.)
Three months later, in December, they set their sights on nearby Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City, and purchased a 62.7-sq-m condominium unit in One Burgundy Plaza for P2.5 million. (Former President Arroyo and her husband, Mike, used to occupy the penthouse in this building.) (View title of One Burgundy unit here.)
A year later, they went for the Makati area and acquired a 48 sq-m unit on the 31st-floor of The Columns in Ayala Avenue, for P3.5 million. (View title of The Columns unit here.)
But, in their tax declaration, the assessed market value was placed at P1.2 million. The Columns is strategically located in Makati’s business district and offers easy access to fast food joints, restaurants, malls, hospitals, and embassies.
In 2005, the Coronas bought their first property in The Fort, a sprawling commercial-residential area adjacent to the elite villages of Forbes Park and Dasmariñas.
Their choice was a 113-sq-m condominium unit on the 19th flr of the Bonifacio Ridge, which cost P9.1 million. But their tax declaration shows the market value at P2.3 million. Developed by Ayala Land, the building offers a view of the Manila Golf Course fairways. (View title of Bonifacio Ridge unit here.)
They made their latest acquisition in December 2009, which was a breath away from Bonifacio Ridge: a P14.5 million, 303.05-sq-m penthouse condominium on the 38th flr of Bellagio Tower 1 in The Fort, with 3 parking slots.
The Coronas have been paying for this in staggered terms, according to Serafin Cuevas, lead defense counsel for the impeachment. Bellagio, developed by Megaworld, started pre-selling in 2003 and turned over units in Tower 1 in 200
|DATE OF PURCHASE||PURCHASE PRICE||OWNER/S|
|1,200 sqm. land in La Vista, QC||September 2003||P16 million||Cristina Corona m/to Renato Corona (sold to daughter, Carla, in 2010)|
|62.7 sq. m. condo unit at One Burgundy Plaza, Katipunan Ave, QC||December 2003||P2.5 million||Spouses Renato and Cristina Corona|
|48 sq. m. condo unit at The Columns, Ayala Ave, Makati||November 2004||P3.5 million||Cristina Corona m/to Renato Corona|
|113.02 sq. m. condo unit at Bonifacio Ridge, The Fort, Taguig||November 2005||P9.1 million||Cristina Corona m/to Renato Corona|
|203 sq. m. land in McKinley Hill, The Fort, Taguig||October 2008||P6.1 million||Ma. Charina Corona (daughter of Renato and Cristina)|
|303.5 sq. m. condo unit at Bellagio Tower 1, The Fort, Taguig||December 2009||P14.5 million||
Spouses Cristina and Renato Corona
View Corona properties in a larger map
At the time the Coronas bought the Bellagio penthouse unit, Megaworld had pending cases in the Court.
In 2004, Corona wrote a decision favorable to Megaworld in the Megaworld Properties and Holdings, Inc. vs Hon. Judge Benedicto. The Court said Megaworld was not liable to pay the respondents P25 million in brokers’ fees.
While inhibition is personal to the justices, one view is that Corona should have recused himself since, during that period, he was locked in a contract with Megaworld as buyer of a penthouse unit.
In 2009, however, Corona concurred in Megaworld Globus Asia Inc vs Mila Tanseco, which decided against Megaworld.
The schedule of payments appeared to be heavy—and required more than their combined salaries—as the Coronas forked out or were forking out money for 5 properties at the same time.
It was only in 2007, 4 years after they went on a buying spree, when Mrs Corona received a regular salary from John Hay Management Corporation as chairman, president, CEO and COO.
In La Vista, payments are relatively steep as the lots are privately owned. Our sources tell us that sellers usually ask for cash up front after which buyers borrow from the bank using the title of the purchased lot.
For the P16-million La Vista lot, the Coronas could have put up cash of P3 million to P5 million and borrowed the rest from the bank. Assuming that the P13 million balance was payable in 10 years, this translated to a monthly amortization of about P180,000 to P200,000.
While they were still paying for the La Vista lot, they bought 4 condominium units within 2003 to 2009 for a total cost of P29.6 million.
Assuming that all of these were paid on instalment, it would have been tough to shoulder these solely from their salaries.
An associate justice’s monthly salary is estimated at P70,000 and a chief justice’s is slightly higher at around P79,000 per month. Mrs. Corona started receiving regular salary from JHMC only in April 2007.
Sold to daughter
In 2010, land titles and deeds of sale show, the Coronas unloaded 2 of their properties: an Ayala Heights lot for P8 million and the La Vista lot for P18 million.
A couple, Rhodel and Amelia Rivera, bought the Ayala Heights property while the La Vista lot stayed with the family. Corona’s daughter, Carla, and her husband, Constantino Castillo III, were the buyers.
(The Ayala Heights property in Quezon City was purchased in 1993 but was not listed in Corona’s SALN. Corona joined government in 1992 as assistant executive secretary for legal affairs of President Fidel Ramos.)
Constantino Castillo III is a urologist who practices at 2 of the country’s top private hospitals, Medical City and Asian Hospital. He is also listed in the Philippine College of Surgeons Web site.
The Castillos are in their 40s. Constantino graduated from the University of the Philippines College of Medicine in 1996 and finished his residency training in 2002, meaning he has had 8 years of practice when he and Carla bought the La Vista lot. Carla, we learned, used to own a restaurant.
(A year before they bought the La Vista property, Constantino and Carla bought an 819 sq-m commercial land with building in Quezon City for P15 million.)
While the elder Coronas were growing their assets, their youngest daughter, Charina, also bought property in The Fort in 2008. Then turning 30 years old and single, she acquired a 203-sq-m lot in McKinley Hill for P6.1 million. At the time, the land had a market value of P8.1 million.
The deed of sale lists Charina Corona as buyer but it did not bear her signature. Her father, Renato, signed the deed of sale as her “attorney-in-fact.” He also signed as a witness, together with Cristina.
A thriving Megaworld development, McKinley hill is envisioned as a 50-hectare mix of houses, condominiums, and a retail complex, cyberpark and international schools and embassies.
A review of Corona’s SALNs from 1992 till 2002 when he was with the Office of the President shows that two properties were not listed.
Missing in his SALN was a 460-sq-m lot in Ayala Heights in Quezon City, bought in 1993. Its declared market value, according to the tax declaration and land title we obtained from the Quezon City Registry of Deeds, was P1.1 million and was eventually sold in 2010 for P8 million.
Another property, a 631-sq-m lot in Loyola Heights which the Coronas bought in 1995, was missing in Renato Corona’s 1996 SALN. Market value at the time was declared at P1.5 million.
Corona’s SALNs do not provide details about his properties such as size of lot or specific location. They simply state the years these were acquired, assessed value and current fair market value.
At the time of his last SALN submitted to the Office of the President, Corona was President Arroyo’s chief of staff.
For most of his years in Malacañang, from 1992 to 2002, his net worth didn’t change much.
Corona’s SALNS during that period, except the years 1997-2000 (which were not on file with the Office of the President), show that the highest net worth he declared was P14.9 million and the lowest, P13.9 million.
The Chief Justice has no declared business.
His SALNs, from 1992-1995, show that Cristina was involved in a family business, Basa-Guidote Enterprises, Inc., that was into commercial leasing. Her exact position was not listed. Renato ceased to declare this in his 1996 SALN and onwards.
Cristina became a board member of the John Hay Management Corporation in 2001 where she received a monthly per diem of P20,000 and P10,000 per board meeting (with about 4 meetings a month).
Her monthly pay would have been, roughly, P60,000. Board members were also entitled to representation allowance.
In April 2007, then President Arroyo appointed her to 4 positions in the JHMC: chairman, president, CEO and COO. She stepped down in June 2010. During this period, she received a total of about P5.7 million, including basic salary and allowances.
Her annual salary, as of 2009, was: P1.9 million, including allowances. Of this amount, basic salary was P939,972. In 2010, she earned about half of this (P972,148).
She has not filed a single SALN while at the JHMC. All public officials are required by law to submit their assets statement. Mrs Corona has defended this, saying that she and her spouse have filed joint SALNs with the Court.
We learned that JHMC has not released Mrs Corona’s salary for her last month in office in 2010 because she refused to submit her SALN. – Rappler.com
Editor’s Note: Riziel Ann Cabreros, a researcher for Marites Dañguilan Vitug’s upcoming book on the Supreme Court, works with ANC as segment producer of PIPOL and as news writer.