Witness testimony boomerangs on prosecution

Megaworld senior vice-president for marketing and sales Noli Hernandez testifies on Tuesday before the impeachment court on the P10-million price reduction Chief Justice Renato Corona got for the purchase of a condominium unit in The Bellagio in The Fort, Taguig City.

Megaworld senior vice-president for marketing and sales Noli Hernandez testifies on Tuesday before the impeachment court on the P10-million price reduction Chief Justice Renato Corona got for the purchase of a condominium unit in The Bellagio in The Fort, Taguig City.

MANILA — An official of Megaworld Corp. yesterday demolished the case of the prosecution panel which is accusing Chief Justice Renato Corona of getting a P10-million “discount” from the property developer in exchange for favorable decisions from the Supreme Court.

Prosecution witness Noli Hernandez, Megaworld vice president for marketing and sales, told Day 9 of the Corona impeachment trial that his company sold a penthouse unit at Bellagio condominium at The Fort in Taguig City at a “reduced” price of P14.5 million because the unit was “semi-bare” and was “water-damaged” or due to “force majeure.”

The prosecution panel on Monday asked the impeachment court to call Hernandez to testify after the witness it presented that day, a finance executive of the same company, was ruled by the court as incompetent to answer questions about actual pricing and sales of the firm’s condominium units.

Hernandez said Megaworld management decided to sell the penthouse “as it was” because it was more economical than spending for its repair.

Besides, he said, “back in 2008 (when the property was sold to Corona and his wife Cristina), the situation drastically changed for the marketing environment.”

“It was not really finished… this particular unit… unfortunately there was a typhoon (in 2008) and the unit sustained water damage, leakage, your honor, we deliberated on what we’re to do…thinking of repackaging or redesigning it,” he said.

On questioning of presiding officer Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Hernandez clarified it was the decision of the developer to reduce the selling price to P14.5 million from P24 million.

When private prosecutor Joseph Joemer Perez tried to question the witness on the 40 percent “discount” to Corona, Enrile interjected: “According to the witness, that unit ought to be priced at P24 million but because of certain circumstances, motu proprio, the selling company reduced it to P19.6 million. So that’s the price decided by no other than the company. Please be sure you do not vary the testimony of the witness,” Enrile told the private prosecutor.

Perez tried to extract from Hernandez an admission that the P10 million reduction was a discount that should not have been accepted by Corona, but Enrile several times twitted him for cross-examining the witness.

“You are twisting the answer (of the witness)… it’s reduction…done voluntarily by the seller. They lowered the price themselves…not necessarily to favor to somebody,” he told Perez.

Hernandez said repackaging and the renovation of the unit would cost some P5.1 million.

“We were about to finish the unit… unfortunately there was a typhoon and the unit sustained some water damage…We were thinking of maybe re-packaging, redoing, redesigning (the unit), but it is going to cost us more to have it redone. It made more economic sense to give a steep discount from P24 million to P19.6 million. So there was a reduction of P5 million, which is the cost of us redoing and going to the market and sell(ing) this unit and, as I’ve mentioned, this was the last penthouse unit in the building,” Hernandez said.

The price was further reduced by P5 million, representing discounts and other factors because the Coronas were prompt payers. They paid in four installments in about a year, he said.

Hernandez said while he was the one who negotiated for the property, he did not know it was the Coronas who were trying to purchase the unit.

He said it was Cristina who faced his staff and informed them of the intention to buy.

Hernandez also said that Megaworld cases pending with the Supreme Court do not have anything to do with the transaction. “In fact, we lost a total of P47 million in the two cases.”


With 10 witnesses so far presented, senator-judges expressed exasperation over the failure of the prosecution panel to clearly and adequately present its case.

Enrile told members of the prosecution panel that before putting their witnesses on the stand, they should brief and confer with them regarding the order of presentation, the manner of questioning, and “what subject matter upon which he was called to testify.”

Sen. Pia Cayetano stood up to ask the prosecution about its direction with its line of questioning, saying it had already spent at least 30 minutes on the issue and it would take the court “a very long time to get to the bottom of Article 2″ if this was to continue.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he could not “make the connection” of the testimony of Hernandez to the charges contained in Article 2, which is the non-disclosure of Corona’s statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) and the non-inclusion of properties in the the SALN.

He said the Bellagio property was included in Corona’s SALN of Dec. 31, 2010.

He said the witness was being offered also to testify for Article 3, which he said charged Corona with flip-flopping on the cityhood bid of 16 municipalities.

Sen. Ralph Recto pointed out that while in Corona’s SALN, the condominium’s fair market value was P6.8 million, there could be a difference based on the zonal valuation of the area.

“Samakatuwid, hindi rin siya nagsinungaling,” he said.

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, one of the House prosecutors, explained on behalf of Perez that although the Bellagio property was included in Corona’s SALN, the price indicated was only P6.8 million when Hernandez testified that the sale was for P14.5 million.

Barzaga said the entry for acquisition cost of the property in Corona’s SALN was left blank.

Sen. Manuel Villar, also a property developer, stood up to explain the real estate developers’ marketing strategy.

He said developers have different policies.

“Maraming circumstances po iyan. Meron pong naghahabol ng benta, wika nga, kapag yearend, at malalaki ang discount. Meron namang namumrublema at meron naman, tama iyon, kapag inabot ng bagyo at nasira, talagang mga special na presyo na iyan. Normally maraming flexibility po ang mga manager diyan,” he said.

He also said one of the country’s biggest developers, SM Development Corp., offered 40 percent discount in December last year.


Defense panel spokesman Ramon Esguerra said that in Megaworld Properties and Holdings Inc. v. Cobarde, the decision which was penned by then Associate Justice Corona and promulgated on March 31, 2004, granted the petition of Megaworld and absolved it from the responsibility of paying broker’s commission in a compromise agreement.

In this case, the Supreme Court ordered that Megaworld be paid some P5.85 million by the opposing parties.

“Connecting the decision to the alleged 40 percent discount amounting to P10 million requires some manipulative thinking,” Esguerra said.

He said the Bellagio unit was bought in October 2008, with the last payment made in October 2009, while the decision was issued in March 2004.

“That Megaworld would extend to the Chief Justice the alleged discount in exchange for a favorable ruling five years earlier is incredulous,” he said.

The decision was concurred in by two other associate justices — Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, now retired, and Conchita Carpio-Morales, current Ombudsman.

In Megaworld Globus Asia Inc. v. Tanseco, a decision penned by then Justice Carpio-Morales and promulgated on Oct. 9, 2009, Megaworld lost for its failure to complete and deliver a condominium unit to its buyer.

Megaworld was ordered to pay P21,725,438.02.

The unfavorable ruling was concurred in by then Justice Corona. Clearly, “no favors there,” Esguerra said.

Esguerra said there is a third case.

“This case is Megaworld Globus Asia Inc, v. Clerica Holdings Inc. (G.R. No. 175391) in 2007 wherein Megaworld was ordered to pay P14,522,955. Again, where was the favor there?” Esguerra asked.


Megaworld Corp., in a statement, called “baseless and malicious” allegations that the sale was “in consideration for favors received or requested from the Court.”

“A cursory examination of the records of the Court’s decisions, which are open to the public, including legal `analysts’ and `commentators,’ would readily show that Megaworld has never requested nor obtained any favor from anyone in the Court, including the Chief Justice who is presently standing trial,: it said.

It said there were three cases that have been decided with finality by the court.


The defense panel, in a 29-page compliance, informed the impeachment court that it intends to present at least 25 witnesses including Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., chief prosecutor Iloilo Rep. Neil Tupas Jr., and four other members of the House of Representatives, including impeachment spokesman Rep. Romero Quimbo.

The Corona camp will also present as witnesses SC Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Roberto Abad, and Arturo Brion, and SC spokesman Midas Maquez.

The three magistrates, along with constitutional law expert Joaquin Bernas, will testify on Article VII, which accuses Corona of betrayal of public trust for granting a temporary restraining order that would have allowed former president Gloria Arroyo to leave the country last year.

A representative from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism will also be presented as a witness for Article II, which accuses Corona of failing to publicly declare his statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth.

The PCIJ representative will “testify, among others on the contents of their presentation entitled, ‘Who Should Cast the First Stone,’ which was aired by ABS-CBN News Network on its website last 11 January 2012.”

Also to be called are Enriquetta Vidal, SC clerk of court who has appeared before the Senate; lawyer Girlie Salarda, secretary of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal; lawyer Irene Guevarra, secretary of the Senate Electoral Tribunal; and representatives from the SC Clerk of Court, Office of the Court Administrator, John Hay Management Corp, SC Fiscal Management and Budget Office, SC Cash Collection and Disbursement Office, City Assessors of Taguig City, Makati City, and Marikina City.


The prosecution panel is mulling the possibility of making a new request to the Senate impeachment court to subpoena bank records of Corona and his wife following witness accounts that stated that the couple bought properties in “almost cash basis.”

“We are currently discussing the banks accounts of the Coronas. Although there is no decision yet, there is an inclination to request the Senate impeachment court to subpoena specific bank accounts so we can comply with the directive of the Senate President,” said Tupas.

In the hearing Monday, Aniceto Bisnar Jr., vice president of Ayala Land, told the court that the 113-square-meter condominium unit of the Coronas in Bonifacio Ridge was “paid almost in full” within a month.

Bisnar said that a P2.2-million check was first issued by Corona on March 31, 2004 and was followed by another check, under the name of Mrs. Corona, amounting to P6.9 million dated April 30, 2004 to cover full payment for the P9.1-million condominium unit.

Quimpo said: “When Corona finally admitted that he owned the Bellagio penthouse, he gave us the misimpression that he had paid it via installments of small amounts. Apparently, his definition of installment is paying for the P14.5-million purchase price with only three checks: two P5-million checks and a third one for P4.5 million.”

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