Sunday, May 6, 2012

Basa-Guidote heir speaks truth to power

Philippine Daily Inquirer/SPECIAL REPORT/Ma. Ceres P. Doyo                                                                 

Last month US-based Ana Basa flew to the Philippines after learning that the only surviving sibling of her father, her Tita Flory (Sr. Flor Maria) has a life-threatening ailment. The nun is one of the original incorporators of the Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc. (BGEI).

Like her illustrious forebears who influenced the course of Philippine history, Sr. Flor Maria now finds herself, albeit unwittingly, in the cusp of the unprecedented, in the confluence of events that might have a bearing on how this country could rise or fall flat on its face. Sr. Flor Maria Basa of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM) is the granddaughter of Filipino patriot, Jose Maria Basa.

Thrust recently into public consciousness because of her family ties to the protagonists in the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief (CJ) Justice Renato C. Corona and because of the pronouncements she made to uphold her niece Ana Basa in the family problem concerning inheritance that could have a bearing on the ongoing trial, Sr. Flor Maria has become fair game for the paparazzi.

Here is a nun who had quietly lived her religious vocation for 65 years suddenly coming out, with guns blazing so to speak, to shoot down what she believes is not the truth.

Speaking truth to power, one might call it.

Oppressive tactics

When Ana arrived here, the impeachment trial was well underway. The bank accounts and other assets of the impeached Chief Justice were being laid bare by the prosecution. Witnesses were being examined and cross-examined. It was then that Ana learned, straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak, that the alleged source of Corona’s funds in his Philippine Savings Bank accounts were BGEI funds, that Corona’s wife Cristina was merely holding the money in trust. Ergo, the money did not have to be in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). One of the charges leveled against Corona had to do with his incomplete SALN.

Ana grabbed the opportunity to share her version of a long-festering family problem that had to do with BGEI and Cristina’s control of it.

To Inquirer reporter Cynthia D. Balana, Ana first bared in detail what she claimed were oppressive tactics by the Coronas to leave the rest of the Basa-Guidote heirs out of BGEI.

Sr. Flor Maria’s name again came up. What did she know? Being the only surviving original BGEI incorporator, Sr. Flor Maria was privy to her niece Ana’s allegations.

With TV-radio host Ted Failon in tow, Ana went to see her Tita Flory who readily shared what she knew. The nun made the news.

Backs niece’s story

Sr. Flor Maria (Flory to her next of kin) became hot news last March after her interview with the Inquirer which was followed by a taped interview with Failon.

In the interview, she gave credence to the statements of Ana, who said in so many words that the Coronas (spouses Cristina Basa-Corona and the impeached Chief Justice) had taken over the BGEI without so much as a by-your-leave.

Ana’s father Jose Ma. Basa III, Cristina Corona’s mother Asuncion Basa-Roco, Sr. Concepcion FMM and Mario—all deceased—and Sr. Flor Maria were siblings.

Crowns of flowers, thorns for Sr. Flor Maria Basa

90 but not infirm

The Inquirer spent a whole day with Sr. Flor Maria recently. She was anything but infirm or feeble. Yes, cancer somewhere in her body was recently discovered, but Sr. Flor Maria carries herself better than her younger sisters at the FMM retirement and wellness home. Before the medical diagnosis, she was assigned in various places in the Philippines.

Sr. Flor Maria, who turned 90 last December, has always made it known with great humor that she has her burial garb ready, that she takes it with her wherever she is assigned. Not the casual skirt and blouse she wears every day, but the full white habit with the turtle neck. When the time comes, her resting place will be at the grassy Tagaytay ridge with the splendorous view of Taal lake and volcano, in that hallowed place where mist turns to dew.

Heirs puzzled

With the Basa-Guidote siblings dead (except Sr. Flor Maria), their surviving spouses and children are now supposed to be BGEI shareholders. How Cristina ended up holding the reins and how funds ended up in her husband’s bank accounts was something Ana and other Basa-Guidote heirs could not understand.

Questions beg for answers. Are the funds in the PSB accounts really BGEI funds as Corona’s counsels argue they are? If so, why were the other Basa-Guidote heirs in the dark about these funds? But if they are not BGEI funds, where did they come from? The high-caliber defense bristled with energy to defend the accused by saying Corona merely borrowed from those funds. And where is the board resolution for the loan?

During her interview with the Inquirer, the nun describes her ailment as a blessing in disguise and Ana’s visit as “perfect timing.” She says that were it not for her health condition, Ana might not have come to visit. Indeed, upon arrival, Ana serendipitously found a perfect storm, namely, the impeachment trial that put the Coronas on the defensive. This was a time of reckoning.

To Ana’s revelations, Sr. Flor Maria adds that she had more than sensed some maneuverings on the part of Cristina. She recalls, “In 1999 people were telling me, ginigiba na ang Bustillos.” (The property on Bustillos St. is being demolished.) That property was sold to the City of Manila for P34.7 million in 2001, former Manila Mayor Joselito Atienza told the impeachment court. Cristina Roco-Corona received the payment and put it in her bank account.

(Sr. Flor Maria requested that several paragraphs in this article that have to do with an alleged attempt to seize control of BGEI that she had witnessed be deleted to prevent family members from feeling hurt. -CPD)

‘Notice to the public’ ad

Things came to a head in 1995 when Jose Ma. III placed in two national newspapers paid announcements with Cristina’s photo and name in bold letters. The “notice to the public” said, “Notice is hereby given to the public that on 15 July 1995, BASA-GUIDOTE ENTERPRISES INC. THROUGH ITS STATUS QUO Board of Directions (based on the 1986 General Information Sheet), has officially WITHDRAWN whatever authority that was given to CRISTINA ROCO-CORONA by her father, Vicente Roco (the president of the corporation, who passed away on 07 March 1993). Please be warned that Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc. shall not recognize any transaction made by Ms Corona for and in its behalf.

“The issuance of this notice does not mean, however, that the corporation has recognized the validity of Ms Corona’s past representation that she was authorized to act in behalf of Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc. Ms Corona’s picture appears above for the public’s guidance. By: Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc. Felix Carlos Vicentillo, Assistant Secretary.”

Estafa case, libel suit

Jose Ma. III also filed an estafa case against Cristina who was collecting the BGEI rentals.

Incensed, Cristina filed a libel suit against Jose Ma. III, Sr. Flor Maria, Cecilia Basa (wife of the late Mario Basa) and Betsy Basa-Tenchavez (a daughter of Mario Basa). (Sr. Concepcion died in 1995.) The three women coaccused hired the services of Yorac Arroyo Chua Caedo Law Office. (Jose Ma. III who was the principal accused in this case had his own lawyers.)

Yorac’s glare

Sr. Flor Maria remembers defense lawyer William Chua remarking that they would have rough sailing because Cristina’s husband, Renato Corona, was holding a high position in Malacañang. The feisty Haydee Yorac flashed her famous glare and said, “What is our law office for?” And so the lawyers fought it out in court and got the three women acquitted in 2004. “Sometimes Corona would be there,” Sr. Flor Maria remembers. “William (Chua) was already ill at that time but he showed up when the decision was to be handed down. When I turned around, there he was, standing behind me, with a mask on his face.” Chua had made sure the courtroom would be packed with nuns. He died not long after.

Libel case pending

As Ana had said in her two-part interview with Inquirer reporter Balana, the libel case against her father is still hovering over their heads. It is possible, a lawyer who knows something about that libel case, that if Jose Basa III was found guilty of libel, Cristina might have been awarded damages and she could have helped herself to her uncle’s shares.

Nun still an incorporator

Is Sr. Flor Maria still a co-owner of BGEI and therefore entitled to her share of assets? “When Peping (Jose Ma. III) was still alive, he bought my shares, Sr. Concepcion’s and the others’,” the nun recounts. Sr. Flor Maria says that Peping did this because their mother Rosario had wished that her inheritance from her deceased parents should remain with her children and would not be sold away outside the family.

“This property supported us after Papa died at the age of 47. So Peping offered to buy it at the appraised price. Each of us received P2 million. What I know is that he did not give Cristina because she had been collecting BGEI income.”

This treasured family property is what Cristina sold to the City of Manila when Atienza was the mayor of Manila.

An Inquirer source, a lawyer, said that Jose Ma. III’s “buying out” other BGEI shareholders must have been a private arrangement between siblings because the last time she looked at Securities and Exchange Commission records was not long ago, Sr. Flor Maria was still an incorporator.

‘I have forgiven’

As to members of religious orders who have vows, they do not lose their legal claim to their shares in their families’ fortunes. An FMM sister explains: “Members of contemplative religious orders usually pronounce solemn vows and make a total renunciation. We, the FMM, make simple vows. Our policy on the sisters’ property is this: Before we make our final vows we write a will indicating the beneficiary of whatever inheritance we are entitled to. The beneficiary could either be the congregation or any member of our family—or both. Some sisters give a part to the congregation and a part to a member of her family.”

Suffice it to say that both Sr. Flor Maria and the late Sr. Concepcion had decided on their beneficiaries.

And so it was that after decades of missionary work, the spunky 90-year-old nun was living a quiet prayerful life and translating French documents into English when there was a knock on her door. Sr. Flor Maria had to say her piece. She was not raring for a fight. “I have forgiven,” she declares. She merely supported what Ana had said, but what she said was more than enough. Will she be subpoenaed to testify?

Victim-soul for justice

“I am doing this (interview) as a victim-soul for justice,” she declares, “as a victim for souls and the church.” In spiritual parlance, making oneself a victim-soul is a form of sacrificial offering so that good may prevail.

Sr. Flor Maria at 90 is only two years older than the impeachment court’s presiding senator-judge, the now highly rated (in surveys) Juan Ponce Enrile. “Please mention that I have a good review of his performance,” she says wistfully. With a mind as sharp as a razor, Sr. Flor Maria might yet have the last word.

“When we were children,” she muses, “Mama used to tell us, ‘No hay mal que por bien no venga.’” (This is also a line from a 2002 Gloria Estefan pop song.) The literal English translation of this double negative—“There’s nothing bad from which a good doesn’t come”—is as unwieldy and confounding as the issues plaguing this nation that is groaning for redemption. Turned on its head, the saying simply means “Good things can come out of bad situations.”

It is not quite sunset. In the afternoon haze, Sr. Flor Maria walks unassisted past the garden and to the convent chapel after the interview, but not before jotting some inspiring lines in this journalist’s notebook. In her elegant handwriting, she ends, “…for the greater glory of the Triune God. Sr. Flor Maria Basa fmm, March 25, 2012.” #