Yes, Demetrio Vicente, the first substantive witness for Chief Justice Renato Corona, appeared to be credible. He answered questions candidly and his demeanor suggested he was telling the truth. The problem though is his actuations notwithstanding, his testimony runs contrary to both logic and human experience.
Defense lawyers presented the testimony of Vicente to prove that at least one property, real estate in Marikina which until today is registered in the name of the chief justice and/or his wife – was not declared in the Corona’s Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth and Liability because it no longer belonged to the chief magistrate. He testified that he purchased the property from the wife of the chief justice way back in 1990. He claims too that he has lived in his property as in fact, no less than Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales can allegedly attest to this. He then explained that he has not transferred the property to his name because he did not have the money to pay for transfer taxes.
Huh? Vicente can afford to pay for the property, which cost more than a million pesos, and yet, he cannot afford to pay transfer fees in the amount of P2,500? Come on!
Add to this the fact that while he claims to have consistently paid for the real estate taxes on the property, records indicate that all such payments were still in the name of Mrs. Corona. Likewise, Vicente took no steps to annotate the sale in the title of the property itself. This, and not the Deed of Sale allegedly executed by Mrs. Corona, is the best guarantee against a double sale pursuant to the rule that buyers of real estate need not go beyond what appears on the title of the property.
Worse, and I commend Senator Ralph Recto for his insight in this regard, is the fact that while the Coronas allegedly sold the property in 1990, it was still declared in Corona’s SALN in 1992! Under the rule on estoppel, Corona cannot wiggle his way out of this admission that the alleged 1990 sale notwithstanding, he remained the owner of the property.
In any case, the law on SALN requires all officials to declare all property in their names, including all those held in trust by them for others. Chief Justice Corona should know this.
It’s a case of answered prayers. I’m referring to the filing of murder charges against former Governor Joel Reyes for the murder of Palawan broadcaster Dr. Gerry Ortega.
Department of Justice prosecutors originally dismissed charges against the former governor for alleged lack of evidence. The first panel that investigated Reyes insisted that the testimony of Rodolfo Edrad, Jr. that it was the ex-governor who paid him to plot the killing of Ortega required corroboration.
This time around, the second panel of prosecutors, considering additional evidence submitted, such as text messages between Edrad and Reyes, as well as recorded broadcasts of Doc Gerry accusing Reyes of malversation of the Malampaya funds, determined the existence of probable cause. According to the second panel, the text messages between Reyes and Edrad belie the claim of Reyes that he did not know the latter. Furthermore, the panel ruled that the radio tirades of Doc Gerry against Reyes were sufficient motive for the broadcaster’s murder.
This second ruling would not have come about had it not been for Secretary Leila de Lima’s decision to re-open the preliminary investigation of the case. This she ordered despite her repeated insistence to recuse herself from the case because she acted in the past as election lawyer of Joel Reyes.
I could imagine that the decision to re-open the case was particularly difficult for the Justice Secretary because of her close ties with the respondent. But to her credit, the re-opening of the case led to the introduction of new evidence that proved sufficient to file the charge of murder against Reyes. Indeed, Secretary De Lima is the personification of political will in the fight against impunity.
Kudos too to the late NBI agent Atty. Rosauro “Ross” Bautista. Ross passed away last January. It was he who directed the investigation of the Ortega murder. During the investigation, I was in constant communication with him almost on an hourly basis. I was a witness to his integrity and competence which in my mind, should be the standard observed by all investigators of cases involving extralegal killings. Without the proven dedication of Ross, I doubt if this second decision of the DOJ prosecutors would have been possible.
The next challenge is to convict the suspects at the soonest time possible.