An inconvenient truth
When it was convenient for them, Chief Justice Renato Corona and his defense team had no hesitation in bringing up the name of Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc. to account for gaps in his financial records. All those undeclared multimillion-peso properties, for instance. They were supposedly partly financed by an P11-million “cash advance” Corona received from BGEI, which used to be a corporation jointly owned by his wife Cristina and her relatives, until the latter sued her for estafa and she counter-attacked with a libel charge. Now the corporation has become completely hers, or so she says—a claim that the defense lawyers have dutifully echoed.
Next, when Philippine Savings Bank officials revealed under oath that Cristina, on the basis of her husband’s authorization, closed three accounts in the bank to the tune of P37.7 million on Dec. 12, 2011, the day the Chief Justice was impeached, the defense was quick to bring up BGEI again. The money wasn’t declared in Corona’s statements of assets, liabilities and net worth, they said, simply because it wasn’t his but was his wife’s—the purported proceeds from the sale of a property owned by her company, which the Chief Justice merely deposited in his personal bank account for safekeeping. Later, Corona would say—not under oath, but to the media during his recent radio and TV blitz—that he grew distrustful of PSBank upon hearing that some of its staff may be disclosing his confidential bank details to the prosecution. He decided to withdraw all the money from the three accounts, which he then promptly deposited in a new account—in the same bank.
But never mind for now such bizarre behavior from a supposedly discontented bank depositor. What Corona’s defense lawyers have consistently done every time their client’s finances have raised troubling questions is to trot out an expedient rejoinder in the form of BGEI. They’ve not bothered to explain why, if indeed the corporation were Cristina’s and therefore part of the couple’s conjugal property, it was not included in any of the Chief Justice’s SALNs. Whether in the form of a multimillion-peso loan or a well-timed sale of a prime lot, the now-defunct corporation’s raison d’être seems to be to provide Corona an easy way out of his glaring SALN omissions.
In the past days, however, the defense has been singing a different tune. The Basa family members, apparently, have no standing at all to speak up about the corporation that bears their name, and in the name of which the Chief Justice has hoisted his counter-argument. According to defense spokesperson Tranquil Salvador, Cristina’s cousin Ana Basa and her 90-year-old aunt, Sister Flory Basa, or any of the other kin who have anything to say about the family corporation, cannot be presented by the prosecution as rebuttal witnesses in the impeachment trial because a rebuttal only answers “new matters raised by the defense.” It is a phrase doubtless dear and familiar to crafty lawyers like himself, but a weary public can very well view it as simply another obstruction to hearing the truth about Corona’s fitness for the post he holds.
It was Corona’s lawyers that made BGEI a central plank of their plea for his case. It was they who repeatedly invoked the family corporation as a ready cover or justification for Corona’s unreported assets and transactions. Why is it that now that Ana Basa and her aunt have come out with a different narrative—a story that credibly challenges Cristina’s alleged sole ownership of the corporation and, as a consequence, any activity it might have entered into, such as lending Corona P11 million when BGEI itself had ceased to exist per the records of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and selling off multimillion-peso properties whose proceeds are then placed in the bank accounts of someone who is not even part of the corporation—suddenly the matter is out of bounds, irrelevant to the case, and beyond scrutiny?
Corona’s lawyers must think this is all a game of lawyerly posturing, and the search for truth can go hang. Now that their convenient prop has stirred to life with an alternate, devastatingly contrary story, they’re trying to wish it away with the hope that the public would not demand answers to some very basic questions about their favorite excuse. This should not be allowed. The impeachment court would be remiss if it settles for spin instead of asking Corona those hard questions.
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