Stay with the facts

Marites Dañguilan Vitug
Deliberately or not, the public is being made to meander into outlying territory.

The big challenge we face in watching the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona is to keep our eye on the destination: the truth. Even some of the senators seem to be losing focus.
The best guides in this truth-seeking journey are the hard facts. They serve as our luminous street signs. When we seem to go off-course, these pull us back. When darkness descends, they are the stars that lit up our way.
Let’s watch out for unwelcome distractions. Deliberately or not, the public is being made to meander into outlying territory.
This week, some of the senators spent an inordinate amount of time determining the provenance of the leaked Philippine Savings Bank document which showed account numbers of Corona. But these peso accounts do exist and, in fact, the recalcitrant PSBank president, Pascual Garcia III, had earlier confirmed these and disclosed the year-end balances. Despite Garcia’s misplaced civic spirit—company first before country—he has cooperated albeit with much prodding from some senators.
Let’s recall these substantial amounts in PSBank: P5 million in 2007, P8.5 million in 2009, and P19.6 million in 2010.
Separately, the manager of BPI Ayala, Leonora Dizon, testified that Corona has an existing current account with them and its 2010 year-end balance was P12-M. The other time that this account had significant deposit was in 2007, with a year-end balance of P5-M.
Combining his deposits in the PSB and BPI accounts, Corona had a total of P10-M in 2007 and P31.6-M in 2010.
Compare these to Corona’s declared cash assets in his SALNs:
     2007 – P2.5-M  (P10-M in BPI and PSB)
     2009 –  P2.5-M  (P8.5-M in PSB)
     2010  – P3.5- M  (P31.6-M in BPI and PSB)
These facts are uncomplicated and indisputable. The huge disparities clearly tell us that Corona did not tell the truth.
It surprised me thus when one senator asked the prosecution what undeclared amounts would constitute a “culpable violation” of the Constitution. Since when has truthfulness been quantifiable? Can we even put a peso or dollar sign to one’s truthfulness?
Corona’s BGEI

We anticipate, as the defense lawyers have said, that Corona will explain his undeclared millions by way of earnings of his wife’s family corporation, Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc. or BGEI.
The story begins much earlier, when the matriarch, Rosario Guidote vda de Basa, passed away in 1983. Four of her 5 children started to fight for control of the family corporation versus granddaughter Cristina Corona and her mother, Asuncion Basa Roco.
A key point was in June 2001 when BGEI sold to Manila City Hall its 1,000-square meter property in Sampaloc, which included a building, for P34.7-M. At the time, City Hall, under Mayor Jose Atienza, expropriated the property to provide relocation to stallholders of the Sampaloc market displaced by Line 2 of the MRT.
The check was issued to Cristina Corona “in trust for” the BGEI. This means that Mrs. Corona was merely holding the funds on behalf of the family corporation.
But to this day, the surviving Basas, including a 90-year old nun, are demanding an accounting of the P34.7-M.
Read about the long-running family dispute here.
Renato Corona did not declare this P34.7-M sale in his 2002 SALN. Mrs. Corona, for her part, has not submitted a single SALN when she was with the John Hay Management Corporation (JHMC).
In her December 2011 counter-affidavit responding to graft charges by Frank Daytec, formerly with the JHMC, Mrs. Corona said that she did not file any SALN because “as wife of then Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, our SALN was filed at the Supreme Court…” She cited a section of the law requiring SALNs: “Husband and wife who are both public officials or employees may file the required statements jointly or separately.”
Neither did Corona declare BGEI as his wife’s business interest in 2002. One section of the SALN requires disclosure of any business interests, including that of one’s spouse.
But he declared his wife’s business interest in BGEI from 1992 to 1995. He stopped declaring this, though, in 1996. (Copies of Corona’s SALNs from 1997 to 2001, when he was with the Office of the Vice President, are not available.)
It was only in 2003 when BGEI re-surfaced in Corona’s SALN. This time, it was to declare an P11-M loan he took out from BGEI. He thus continued to declare BGEI as a business interest until 2009 when he fully paid the loan.
Will his wife’s family corporation rescue him and explain his undeclared wealth?  This is murky territory and will lead to even more questions.
It is best to return to our oars, the hard facts. –

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.


Marites Dañguilan Vitug

Marites is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished journalists and authors. For close to a decade, Vitug – a Nieman fellow – edited 'Newsbreak' magazine, a trailblazer in Philippine investigative journalism. Her recent book, 'Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China,' has become a bestseller.