Corona in-laws speak up
‘Why were we not asked to bid for BGEI?’By Ma. Ceres P. Doyo |Philippine Daily Inquirer
When some members of the family of the late Mario Basa discussed whether they should come out of the shadows and speak about what they knew then and knew now about Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc. (BGEI) assets, someone from the younger generation piped in with the saying: “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.”
The BGEI assets are the subject of scrutiny at the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
One of the things the Basa family didn’t know then was that Carla Corona-Castillo, a daughter of Corona, now owns BGEI.
Flor Maria “Flory” Basa-Montalvan took the saying as a sign to go ahead. Still, doubts remained. “Then [on Thursday] night,” she told the Inquirer, “my late aunt, Sr. Concepcion Basa of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM), appeared to me in a dream. She was smiling.”
The dream was very vivid, she said, and it gave her courage to call the Inquirer so that her branch of the Basa-Guidote family, despite fear and trepidation, could say its piece, for whatever purpose it may serve.
“Something inside me was saying that I should help bring out the truth,” Flory said.
At one time, Flory said, members of the media managed to enter a gated subdivision in Quezon City and camped out in front of the family home where her mother, Cecilia Henson-Basa, lives, but they all shied away from media interviews.
Flory is the third of the nine children of Mario Basa and his wife Cecilia. She was named after her aunt, Sr. Flor Maria Basa, FMM. Mario is one of the five children of Jose Ma. Basa II and Rosario Guidote and among the heirs of the Basa-Guidote estate.
Flory is the first cousin of Corona’s wife Cristina, whose role in BGEI and in handling its assets is being scrutinized in the impeachment trial because of its relevance to the Chief Justice’s statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).
Flory is also the first cousin of Ana Basa, daughter of another Basa, the late Jose Ma. Basa III. Ana flew in from the United States in March to talk about her family’s sad experience with her cousin Cristina. (See “We were oppressed by the Coronas” and “We’re talking only now due to revelations in trial” by Cynthia Balana, Inquirer, March 6 and 7, respectively.)
The only living original Basa heir, Sister Flor Maria, has supported the claims of her niece Ana. The spunky 90-year-old nun was the main subject of a two-part series (by this writer, in the Inquirer, May 5 and 6).
The original Basa-Guidote heirs are Sister Concepcion, Mario (Flory Montalvan’s father), Asuncion Basa-Roco (Cristina Corona’s mother), Sister Flor Maria and Jose Ma. III (Ana Basa’s father).
Long ago, idyllic setting
“We used to live in one compound on Lepanto Street,” Flory recalled her growing-up years with her cousins. “We would all ride in one car to school.” Cristina was among them.
That long-ago, ideal and idyllic setting and togetherness are no more, not only because everybody had grown up and now live lives of their own, but because of issues concerning family properties that, several Basas allege, have been wrested away in one fell swoop and are now in the possession of a person married to power.
It is now public knowledge that Cristina (one of the eight children of Asuncion Basa and Vicente Roco) figures prominently in the impeachment trial because of BGEI assets that have been invoked as among the sources of the Coronas’ declared and undeclared net worth. It is a labyrinthine trail that continues to baffle and befuddle.
When the impeachment trial resumed on May 7 after a recess of more than one month, Corona’s defense and witnesses were hard put explaining the trail.
Flory and her eight siblings have been closely following the impeachment trial in which their first cousin Cristina has been implicated. What does Flory want to say now? What has her own family been through?
Ana’s ‘brave move’
“We are speaking up now to simply support our cousin Ana who had bared what she had experienced with the Coronas,” Flory said. “We affirm her brave move. We also support our aunt, Sister Flor Maria FMM, who shared what she knew and whom you had written about. We cannot simply keep silent and leave people wondering where we stand.”
Several members of the Basa-Guidote clan have been respondents in court cases filed by Cristina. Most of these cases were filed and won when Cristina’s husband was chief presidential legal counsel and, later, associate justice of the Supreme Court.
In her article, “The litigious Mrs. Corona” in Rappler.com (an online news service), investigative journalist and author Marites Danguilan-Vitug, who has dug deep into the workings of the judiciary, wrote that “for over two decades, (Cristina Corona) has lived the life of a litigant, appearing to be comfortable in courts, and more importantly, winning almost all of her cases … Cristina has consolidated her hold over the family corporation after a long battle ….” But this is going ahead of the story.
Flory and her mother, Cecilia, spoke to the Inquirer first about what they did not know then and knew only now because of the ongoing impeachment trial: that Cristina, after winning the libel suit she had filed against her uncle, Jose, had the majority of BGEI shares [91 percent] auctioned and sold to the sole bidder, her daughter Carla, for a measly P28,000 in 2003.
Quipped Cecilia: “Why were we not asked to bid? We could have bought at a higher price.”
Said Mario’s widow Cecilia: “We know now what we did not know then.” Cecilia, now pushing 90 but still spritely, recalled what they went through because of the libel suit that stemmed from a newspaper notice on Cristina that Jose’s lawyer had published.
Jose had filed an estafa case against Cristina for collecting rents from tenants without authorization. After the estafa case was dismissed, it was purgatory for several Basas when Cristina filed a libel suit against Jose, his wife Raymunda, cousin Betsy Basa-Tenchavez, aunts Cecilia Henson-Basa and Sister Flor Maria, and two employees of Jose.
Flory recalled what it was like for her sister Betsy and mother Cecilia. Cecilia remembered the time the arrest warrants were issued—the start of a weekend. They all went into hiding as they could not post bail immediately and were likely to spend nights in jail.
Recalled Cecilia who was already getting on in years at that time: “After that, we went from one law office to another. No one wanted to take the case because the complainant was a Corona.” It was the law firm, now known as Yorac Arroyo Chua Caedo and Coronel Law Office, that said yes and boldly defended the accused.
The accused remembered the feisty Yorac’s glare when she said: “What is our law office for?” But they remained fearful, they could not leave the country, they had to appear in court during trials, they were always tense whenever they saw Cristina’s husband, pacing about outside the courtroom.
Jose had his own lawyer whom he later replaced for some reason or other. The court declared him and his wife Raymunda guilty and ordered them to pay Cristina a total of P400,000 plus P100,000 in lawyer’s fees. It also sentenced them to a maximum of one year, eight months 21 days behind bars.
The court decision became final on Oct. 12, 2002.
Cristina’s cousin Betsy Basa-Tenchavez, her mother Cecilia, her aunt Sister Flor Maria and two others were acquitted. Jose left for the United States before the guilty verdict. He passed away in Nevada on Aug. 29, 2002.
Wrote Vitug: “(T)he court went ahead and had Jose Ma.’s and Raymunda’s shares in BGEI—they owned a majority—garnished through a public auction. The lone bidder was Carla, Cristina’s daughter, who bought these for P28,000. At that time, Cristina had already sold BGEI’s 1,000-square meter property in Manila for P34.7 million.
“Still on a winning streak, Cristina got more from the libel case years later. The court, in 2005, levied a 104-square-meter Sampaloc property of the deceased Jose Ma.”
This, despite the fact that Jose passed away in 2002 and as a result his criminal liability extinguished. Therefore, he could not be made to pay for damages.
Cecilia recalled that long before the family feud began and after Mario died in 1983 she was receiving a P2,000 monthly allowance in cash. She was never made to sign for it. The allowance stopped coming a long time ago and never knew the reason.
It is worth mentioning that through a private arrangement years ago, Jose bought the shares of his siblings (except those of Cristina’s mother Asuncion’s) so that the property would remain with the family. But a lawyer said that Sister Flor Maria, who had also sold her shares to her youngest brother, was still officially a shareholder.
Sister Flor Maria and Sister Concepcion, the eldest, received their shares from the sale and were free to either donate these to the religious congregation to which they belonged, the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, or some members of their family.
Cristina filed 13 cases
Flory and her mother spoke about Cristina’s “fondness” for filing cases. Vitug wrote that since the 1980s, Cristina had filed the following:
“Two cases with the Securities and Exchange Commission which stopped the majority of the Basas from reorganizing and running the corporation. (These have been transferred to the courts and are still pending.)
“Three libel cases (two in Quezon City and one in Manila) which have all been resolved in her favor and which led to the purchase of BGEI’s majority shares of the corporation by her daughter Carla Castillo.
“One or two reconveyance cases (to return land titles), one of which she has won and one is apparently still pending.
“One case to settle the authenticity of her grandmother’s (Rosario) will which led to her appointment as ‘special administrator’ of the Basa estate by a probate court. She is applying to be made “regular administrator” (this is still pending).
“About five cases of ejectment against tenants of the BGEI building before the property was bought by the city of Manila in 2001.”
Exclaimed Vitug: “That’s about 13 cases and you can imagine the time, energy and expenses involved in all these. Appearing as witness in court is not a usual activity and it’s not something many take a liking to. And, as we know, our judicial system moves painfully slow and cases take several years to resolve.”
Sister Concepcion was overheard to have remarked that Cristina should not keep doing what she had been doing to her next of kin because she would be calling God’s punitive justice upon herself. But “the litigious Mrs. Corona” paid no heed.
As to the last will and testament of Rosario Guidote-Basa, mother of the five Basa siblings, grandmother of 26 grandchildren (Cristina, Flory and Ana, among them), questions persist. It puzzles those in the know as to how the last will and testament led to Cristina’s appointment as “special administrator.”
Nowhere in the original document (in Spanish and executed in May 1972) does it say so. Stated clearly are the shares of each named heir and who gets what, the two Franciscan nuns included.
Toward the end of the last will and testament, Rosario wrote: “I beg all my children to respect faithfully all my given disposition above as signed, to try to live in complete peace among themselves and to avoid troublesome lawsuits in memory of this mother who loves them all equally.” Signed: Rosario Guidote vda. de Basa