Discount, reduction and other peripherals

Marites Dañguilan Vitug

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The casualty in these sideshows is the trivializing of truthfulness, integrity and honesty

Sidetracked and removed from the story. That’s what legalese and peripheral details raised on this third week of the impeachment trial have done to us.
First, the issue of whether Megaworld gave a hefty discount to Renato Corona and his wife, Cristina, when whey bought a penthouse unit at the upscale Bellagio, with a view of the Manila golf course. We listened to a marketing man’s spiel of how a horrific typhoon lashed at the building in 2008 causing “water damage”–but no, your honors, it’s not a “defect”—thus leaving Megaworld with no choice but to sell it low, giving a total of 40% discount. Or was it “reduction”?
Anyway, they still made some profit on it. That wasn’t a big deal. Really.
This side bar to the main story, which is the great disparity in income and acquisitions of Renato Corona, took over the day.

We forgot: how did he afford P14.5 million, and this is just for the Bellagio penthouse, with a declared salary of less than a million pesos a year? And, a while back, his wife, Cristina, was classified as a “one-time taxpayer” by the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
Just as an aside: discounts to public officials are a no-no in squeaky clean Singapore. Our neighbor takes pride in its zero tolerance for corruption. Years ago, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his son, Lee Hsien Loong, then still deputy prime minister, were given “unsolicitied” discounts between 5% and 12% on two new expensive condominiums they bought. This created such an uproar that the two top officials had to give the discounts they received to the government.
Second, the question of when a corporation loses its life became paramount, sidestepping a bigger issue.
Here’s the background. Renato Corona made a cash advance (a miffed Sen. Lito Lapid wanted to clarify if this was a “loan”) of P11-M from Basa Guidote Enterprises or BGEI in 2003, apparently to pay for the 1,200-square meter lot in La Vista, an exclusive enclave, and completely paid for it in 2009. (BGEI is a corporation owned by the Basas, the siblings of Cristina Corona’s mother.)  
But the Securities and Exchange Commission said that they had revoked BGEI’s registration in 2003 because it had not complied with reporting requirements. This means that BGEI should merely be winding up its affairs—and was given 3 years to complete this process. So, could BGEI have lent money to Corona and received payments way beyond its life?
Senator Juan Ponce Enrile relished his role as elder, lecturing the witness from the SEC on corporation law.
Again, this was a side question.

The bigger issue is: The source of the P11-M loan is contested wealth and this is part of a decades-long bitter court dispute between Cristina Corona and the majority of the Basas. Could Cristina have lent P11-M from the family-owned corporation without approval from the court that is handling this case? Could she treat the funds as if it were her own?
Third, when a person was not personally involved in preparing documents—such as certified true copies of condominium transfer certificates and original receipts reflecting instalment payments—does this cast doubt on their authenticity?
Personally, this has baffled me.

We’ve heard Enrile often say that the “document speaks for itself,” that “the best-evidence rule” applies when presenting (oops, Serafin Cuevas may object to the word “present”) evidence. When Cuevas cross-examined the vice president of Burgundy Realty Corp., who is custodian of such records, he harped on the fact that the burly company official with a dour look had no “personal knowledge” of these documents. Yet the defense accepted these, and marked them, as part of their evidence.
Once more, this strays from the main issue: Renato Corona belatedly declared this in his SALN, undervalued it and did not say what the acquisition cost was.
The casualty in these sideshows is the trivializing of truthfulness, integrity and honesty. –

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Marites Dañguilan Vitug

Marites is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished journalists and authors. For close to a decade, Vitug – a Nieman fellow – edited 'Newsbreak' magazine, a trailblazer in Philippine investigative journalism. Her recent book, 'Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China,' has become a bestseller.