Corona negotiated for the Basa-Guidote property

Marites Dañguilan Vitug
The irony is: the one thing Corona said he had nothing to do with is now appearing to be the core of his defense

In September 2001, when Renato Corona’s nomination to the Supreme Court was opposed by his in-laws, led by Jose Ma. Basa III, he said:  “From the very beginning, I have purposely stayed away from the financial and material affairs of my in-laws.”

He claimed that he did not know the roots of this dispute over inheritance between Cristina, his wife and Jose Basa’s niece, and the rest of her uncles and aunts.

But earlier in the same year, when he was chief of staff of President Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo, he negotiated the sale of a property that belonged to his wife’s family.   

The 1,020-square meter lot on Legarda Street in Sampaloc, which consisted of a dilapidated building that was rented out to a few tenants, was the crown jewel of the family corporation of the Basa-Guidotes. In fact, it was its sole property.

Lito Atienza was mayor when the city of Manila bought the property. It was going to be used as relocation site for the Sampaloc market stallholders who would be displaced by the construction of an MRT line.

Manila City Hall passed an ordinance expropriating various adjacent properties, including that of the Basa-Guidotes, and allotted a budget of P30 million. But this was apparently disregarded as Manila entered into a negotiated sale with the Coronas, on behalf of the Basa-Guidote Enterprise Inc. or BGEI.

“That was the first time I met Rene and Tina [nicknames of Renato and Cristina],” Atienza recalls in a chance interview. “They came to the office. Rene introduced himself as the former legal counsel of President Ramos and the chief of staff of President Arroyo. I told him that he doesn’t need to introduce himself. I know of him.” He found him “soft-spoken” and they’ve become friends since.  

Atienza remembers that Renato offered, to his surprise, a price of P50 million: “It was too high. I said we’d rather expropriate.” That set the tone for an eventual negotiation. They agreed on P34.7 million or a price of P34,000 per square meter.

I gathered from sources privy to the sale that the value at that time of an adjoining estate, which was also eyed by Manila, was much lower at P25,000 per square meter.     

The city of Manila issued a check to Cristina Corona “in trust for the Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc.” Cristina deposited this in June 2001 to her account in Land Bank, Malacañang branch.

From this amount, she was expected to pay 6% capital gains tax (the deed of sale said that capital gains tax would be on the account of BGEI) and VAT on sale of rental property. An estimate of what would have been left after taxes is about P29 million.

Fast forward to 2012. When the Philippine Savings Bank revealed that Corona withdrew P32.6 million on December 12 last year, the day he was impeached, his counsels, reflexively, pointed out that the funds belonged to the Basa-Guidotes. The chief justice confirmed this later. So the money has traveled a long way from Land Bank to PSBank.

I asked Atienza why he settled for a negotiated sale when the ordinance clearly said expropriation, and why he went over the provided allocation of P30 million.

“It would have taken longer if we expropriated,” the former mayor replied. “And LRTA (Light Rail Transit Authority) was breathing down our necks. Besides, they had already paid us P100 million-plus. The city earned from this.”

Ten years after the sale, however, the title of the Sampaloc property is still in the name of BGEI. This raises questions, in a way, similar to that of Demetrio Vicente. In his case, 20 years after he bought the Marikina property from Cristina, the title is still in her name.

Legal victories

In the decades-long contentious family dispute, Cristina, so far, has won in various court cases. This paved the way to her take-over of the corporation.

It’s not a coincidence that her string of legal victories took place when her husband was with Malacañang, starting in the 1990s—as deputy executive secretary of President Ramos and later chief of staff of President Arroyo—and  continued till 2002 onwards when he became Supreme Court justice.

The public got introduced to what seemed like an innocuous family corporation, the BGEI, early on in the impeachment trial. In his 2003 assets and liabilities statements, Chief Justice Corona listed it as the source of an P11-million “cash advance,” apparently to partly pay for his biggest acquisition that year, the P16-million La Vista property.

We later learned that the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked BGEI’s registration in 2003, the year that the corporation forked out millions to Corona. It had failed to submit any reports and was practically inactive.

Since then, more information about BGEI has spilled out and this climaxed when majority of the Basa clan, represented by Sister Flor Ma. Basa and Ana Basa, disclosed the bitter history of a struggle to control the family corporation. Sister Flor (of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary) is the 90-year old aunt of Cristina Corona and Ana is her first cousin.

The irony is: the one thing Renato said he had nothing to do with is now appearing to be the core of his defense. –

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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.