Chief justice takes heat for luxury condo

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2012, 12:00am


As a luxury bolthole in Manila, it is hard to go past The Fort in Bonifacio Global City.

Bellagio Tower 1 in the Fort complex is home to some of the nation's richest businessmen. The building features a 220 square metre pool, its own sandy beach pool, hydrotherapy tubs, 'aromatherm electronic capsules' and a day spa.

But far from providing him safe haven, Philippines Chief Justice Renato Corona finds himself under siege for his ownership of a luxury 3,300 square foot Bellagio apartment, for which he paid little more than half its market value.

And despite protestations that he had only bought the property in Taguig city on instalment and was still paying it off, documents seen by the South China Morning Post suggest that he has paid for the apartment in full, and there is no outstanding mortgage.

Corona, who was appointed to the chief judge's post in May 2010 in the dying days of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's presidency, is facing an impeachment trial next week for corruption. Corona, Arroyo's former chief of staff, was impeached last month by the House of Representatives for, among other things, being 'suspected and accused of having accumulated ill-gotten wealth [including] ... a 300 square metre apartment in a posh Megaworld Properties development at the Fort in Taguig'.

On Monday, Corona's lead lawyer Serafin Cuevas was quoted by the leading newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer as saying that Corona had bought his apartment from the developer, Megaworld, 'on instalment' and with 'hard-earned money'. He said Corona was still 'amortising' the flat.

'We are not hiding anything. Until now, that is not yet fully paid,' said Cuevas, himself a retired member of the Supreme Court.

Cuevas said Corona had not shown his lawyers the transaction documents, but 'we assume that when he told his lawyers that he was still paying for that, it was accurate and true'.

Public documents relating to the apartment include a Deed of Absolute Sale signed by Corona, his wife Cristina and seller Megaworld listing a 'total purchase price' of 14.5 million pesos on December 16, 2009.

The Registry of Deeds, a state agency, in turn issued four separate Condominium Certificates of Title (CCT) to the new owners, one each for the penthouse apartment and its three 12.5 square metre parking spaces.

Any mortgage on a property should be noted on the CCT. However, no mortgage is listed on any of the CCTs.

The sale price of 42,521 pesos per square metre, including the parking spaces, represents an exceptional bargain, industry sources agreed.

One broker described Corona's purchase as 'a steal' because Bellagio penthouse units were being pre-sold before completion for at least 80,000 pesos per square metre.

A source at a well-known property research firm, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: 'He [Corona] got it for around 40,000 pesos [a year later]. Anyone would be amazed ... because it is a Bellagio.'

The source said that when Bellagio was completed, the price of a condo in the Fort averaged 88,000 to 115,000 pesos per square metre.

Megaworld has had various lawsuits lodged against it in the Supreme Court. In 2004, Corona, acting as an associate justice, ruled in favour of Megaworld in a case involving a dispute with a broker.

None of Corona's lawyers were available for comment. Corona denied all allegations of ill-gotten wealth against him last week.

Megaworld investment information officer John Hao said he was not allowed to speak about the sale.

He said: 'The company has a privacy policy under which it is committed to maintain all client information in strictest confidence. Consistent with this commitment, the company does not, as a matter of policy, disclose information pertaining to the business dealings with its clients. We shall comply with the official orders of the authority - if summoned - in a proper forum.'

Corona's impeachment trial begins on Monday.

Corona is the third-highest official to be impeached, after former president Joseph Estrada in 2000 and ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez last year.


The price per square metre Chief Justice Renato Corona paid for a luxury home in The Fort

- Similar flats sold for 80,000 pesos a square metre