Sometimes, a fumble can lead to a win. This was what happened two days ago at the Senate in the impeachment hearing of Chief Justice Renato Corona. On Monday, we were enthralled by a declaration that the chief justice was given a whopping 40-percent discount amounting to P10 million by Megaworld. I was then an invited commentator at DZMM. Just out of curiosity, I went online on my iPad and typed “Megaworld and Corona” in Google search. Lo and behold, there it was: Megaworld vs. Judge Cobarde, a decision penned by no less than then Associate Justice Corona which was a P25 million win for the company.The case of Cobarde arose from a complaint filed at the regional trial court for almost P30 million in unpaid brokers fee for the sale of a resort beside Shangri-La hotel in Mactan Island. In the course of the proceeding, the parties entered into a compromise agreement whereby Megaworld agreed to pay the complainant almost P30 million. There was in fact a partial payment of about P5 million, leaving a balance of about P25 million. Later, Megaworld commenced proceedings to vacate such a judgment based on a compromise agreement. This kind of a judgment is normally immediately final and executory. Megaworld lost in both the RTC and in the Court of Appeals. In the Supreme Court, Justice Corona penned the decision reversing the CA and declaring the judgment on a compromise as null and void. It spared Megaworld from paying the balance of P25 million.The year of promulgation of the Cobarde judgment was 2004. Construction of the Bellagio started in 2003 and was finished in 2008. I asked the question: is the P25 million victory related to the P10 million discount? If it is, both Megaworld and Corona could be liable for violating the anti-graft and corrupt practices act. Bribery is the giving of any consideration in exchange for a favor. Unlike other laws, our anti-graft laws punish both the giver and the receiver.
I was hence not surprised when the following day, the Megaworld marketing director stated that what the company had given the Corona’s was a P5-million price reduction because of water damage sustained by the unit as a result of a typhoon; a further P3 million discount since the consideration was paid within one year, and a further P2 million discount. Now it can be told, it was not a P10-million discount. Just a 5 million discount over and above another 5 million price reduction.
I am of course not concluding anything as of yet. Senator Serge Osmena rightfully demanded from Megaworld evidence of the alleged water damage, as well as evidence of insurance coverage since almost all buildings, finished or otherwise, have insurance against water damage. These will prove if the damage to the unit was in fact commensurate to the price reduction. Anent the discount, I think Megaworld has for all intents and purposes admitted that it gave the Coronas an extraordinary discount since it has previously admitted that normal discounts for cash transactions is only 15 percent of the selling price. If the normal selling price is P24 million, as it claimed, the maximum discount should only have been P3.6 million. Why did Megaworld officials give the Coronas P5 million in discount?
In any case, the material point already proven by the prosecution is that the Coronas grossly understated the value of the Bellagio property since it was only declared as having a value of P6 million. Worse, there was a complete omission of the P14 million cash that they used to purchase the property. Previously, the prosecutors also proved that two other properties, a lot in McKinley Hill and another unit at the Spanish Bay Tower at the Fort, were also not declared in the SALN. Again the reason all public officers are required to file their SALNs annually is to enable the public to inquire whether there has been an increase in a public officer’s assets on a year-to-year basis given that their incomes are fixed by law. If a public officer could not adequately explain how he acquired the additional assets, the law presumes it to have been ill-gotten.
I am distraught too at Megaworld’s spin in its releases. It claimed that it have lost two cases and won only one case from the Supreme Court. It is always silent on the fact that its victory was worth P25 million and that the decision was penned by Corona himself. It highlights a loss where it failed to collect P5 million, omitting the fact that this involved the same losing party in Cobardo. It also highlights a loss in the case of Tanseco vs. Megaworld where Corona was a member of the division that rendered the judgment.
The point, though, is that a magistrate should be purer than Caesar’s wife. No upright and becoming magistrate should have accepted an extraordinary discount specially from a winning litigant in his own court, moreso if he himself penned the winning decision.
True, the prosecution failed to introduce what it characterized as a 40-percent discount into the records. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that the people now know the kind of magistrate Corona is.
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