While Justice Cuevas is fantastic when it comes to legal points and doctrines, I’m afraid he has shown again that he is not as good when it comes to examining or cross-examining a witness.
He was not able to convincingly present Demetrio Vicente as a credible owner of the 1,700 sq. m. lot registered (in 7 TCTs) to Ms. Corona. This is primarily because Mr. Vicente had two strokes and has speech difficulties.
As usual, senator-judges inadvertently came to the rescue. Because of one senator-judge’s questions, Mr. Vicente was able to show that he could very well afford the lots he bought from Ms. Corona (a total of 3,400 sq m) because he had sold his house for 3.5 M pesos. Another senator-judge’s questions brought out the fact that he had a thriving payloader-rental business from the early 1970s to 1990. And it took yet another senator-judge (Legarda) to elicit the facts that 2 Supreme Court justices had been to his house, one of whom was also a bonsai enthusiast like him, which explains why he likes to have a large piece of land. His previous house in Tandang Sora had 1,700 sq.m.
It took another senator-judge (Recto) to tell the court that it is usual in the Philippines that land titles from grandparents or beyond are not transferred to their heirs or even to the new owners. He also questioned the validity of the prosecution’s argument that the sale was “simulated” because there would have been no reason for Ms. Corona to pay capital gains tax, documentary stamps and other fees if it was just “for show”. There was no reason whatsoever to hide that piece of property in another person’s name, especially since her husband was not even a justice then, or even in government service.
It was also through a senator-judge’s questioning that the witness told the court that the transfer tax now amounts to some P 200,000.00 (because of penalties) and not a mere P 2,000.00 plus as asserted by the prosecuting lawyer.
Mr. Vicente’s candid and spontaneous answers and demeanor were clear indications that he was telling the truth. It was only after the intervention of the senator-judges that I was convinced that Mr. Vicente truly bought and owns the questioned parcels of land.
This reminds me of the time in 1990 or so when my mother sold her last piece of land in her hometown in Davao. She simply sent a Special Power of Attorney. There was no land title accompanying the deed of sale because her mother still had not subdivided her land. In fact, her mother (my grandmother) never subdivided her land and refused to leave a will because she said it was up to her grandchildren to fight over it. She had two children. Though my mother survived her, she and her children never even bothered to inquire about her landholdings. I don’t know if my mother, who owned hundreds of hectares, had even bothered to have any of the titles transferred to her name. Through the years, she sold her inheritance piecemeal. She, however, never sold her land in Lanao which she got as part of her dowry. But she also never titled it and even put a fence around it. Again, I never got a part of it. My mother was an educated woman and was married to a judge. Yet she never titled her lands.
Once in the late 1980s or 1990, I went to my mother’s hometown. While walking towards the beach with some cousins and their friends, some of them asked me if I could allow somebody to get some coconut because they suddenly felt the urge to drink some coconut juice. I was so shocked that these locals did not even know that my mother had sold that piece of land a long time ago. I told them to go ahead and they called somebody to get a few coconuts for us.
Congressman-lawyer Quimbo and other prosecution lawyers kept on insisting that titles determine ownership. I hope he can take a look at the former properties of my mother. I think the titles are all still under the name of her mother or grandparents. I believe the mother title (ca. 1900s) had not yet been divided. Maybe I, as one of the heirs, can still claim those lands.
Laws on land titles and inheritance are not followed to the letter in this country.
THE ALPHA LIST
When BIR Commissioner Kim Henares was presented as witness by the prosecution, she claimed that the Supreme Court did not file Alpha List tax documents from 2002-2005. Today, the Defense presented SC judicial staff Araceli Bayuga who brought documents attesting to the Supreme Court’s filing of said documents. In fact, it was she who personally filed the document at the BIR branch. What does this make of the BIR and its Commissioner?
The prosecution, a senator-judge (Pangilinan) and the media made / are making a big fuss about the presence of the Supreme Court employee. They claim that when the prosecution subpoenas SC employees, the SC refused yet when the Defense does the same, the SC acquiesces.
In the first place, Presiding Chair Ponce-Enrile stated that according to the Senate Legal office, the very same SC employee, Ms. Bayuga, was subpoenaed by the prosecution and she came to the Senate in February but was not called by the prosecution. For some reasons, the media people did not seem to hear Ponce-Enrile’s remarks.