By Raïssa Robles
It was a moment that warmed the heart of a nation and left it teary-eyed: the sight of Cristina Corona hugging her long-estranged Basa cousins on national TV last Friday, while Cristina’s husband Renato sat on the dock being tried on a charge that could lead to his disgrace and dismissal.
UPDATE: TV drama scriptwriter Baby Nebrida replied to this story at 2:00 a.m. Without contesting the version given to me by the Basas in the article, Nebrida said I have “polluted the minds of the public” and I’m “a poor role model” to the youth. You can find her full reply in Comment #73.
I asked a Basa relative to tell me more about their dramatic reconciliation. I was rather taken aback by the blunt answer I got: “There was no apology (from Cristina), just small talk and hug-hug.” The version of events I was told differed in some vital parts to what Cristina’s friend Baby Nebrida told ANC TV.
In this piece, I will put side by side Baby Nebrida’s version of the reconciliation and the version of the Basa relatives, as told to me in several exclusive interviews.
One Basa relative just told me today:
If the reconciliation was a ploy on Cristina’s end and we fell for it hook line and sinker, on our end we were sincere.
I decided to come out with this piece after the Basa version was confirmed today in the form of a statement released to a national daily by the main actors in that telegenic reconciliation – namely, Ana, Carmen, Isabel, Francesca and Eric Basa.
The five Basa siblings had issued a statement to the Philippine Daily Inquirer saying that despite the reconciliation,
There are still fundamental differences that have to be addressed, including the damaging statements, falsehoods and accusations against our family, the probate of our Lola Charing (Rosario Basa), court convictions, BGEI stock and financial issues, and, most especially, clearing the tarnished good name of our father, Jose Maria Basa III. The truth must be made evident.
This will be a long journey of healing and reconciliation. It will take time and it may be a painful process for all involved in light of the 30 years of pain preceding it.
Before I go on, I would like to put the reconciliation in context and try to explain why the Basa siblings had issued such a statement to Inquirer after such a momentous group hug. It now appears that Cristina Corona approached the Basas last Friday, not to say sorry to them, but in order to forgive them for the wrongs they had done to her.
Did you get that? The Coronas were FORGIVING the Basas.
While the Basas, on their part, were expecting an apology from Cristina Corona. As one Basa relative told me:
She (Cristina) just made small talk. She said (to one cousin) – You’re the favorite of lolo. And, how was your trip. There was no invitation (to meet) after. No – let’s talk tomorrow, give me your cellphone. Wala. There was no apology.
Cristina was also persuaded to approach the Basas by her friend Baby Nebrida, who helped engineer the entire episode. Nebrida told ANC TV afterward:
I told Tina, I know it’s painful, very painful, but offer it for the acquittal of the Chief Justice.
How else can you interpret this statement? It seems Cristina went along with the reconciliation in order to help save her husband from conviction.
Apparently the gesture was not lost on Senator-Judge Miriam Santiago. The same Inquirer report said:
The dramatic reconciliation between Cristina Corona and her long-estranged cousins at the impeachment court last Friday will inevitably have a bearing on the verdict in the case of the Chief Justice, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said.
“Definitely it will tug at the heartstrings of every sentimental Filipino. The masa (masses) like tons of tears leading to a happy ending. After all those waterworks, the public might not become comfortable with an unhappy ending,” Santiago said in a phone interview.
It is not entirely far-fetched that politicians seeking reelection in May 2013 will take advantage of this, she said.
“Politicians are first and foremost political animals. The first instinct is to survive, and the survival instinct is strongest among politicians when an election is approaching. The reconciliation tableau that we all saw on TV, which affected millions of voters, will surely affect those who plan to run for office (in 2013),” she said.
I learned today that I’m also not the only one who had misgivings about the reconciliation. Former Senator Rene Saguisag shared with me his views on the matter in an e-mail. Saguisag said:
Good that the Basas and Coronas reconciled. Let’ s see a month or two from now whether the Basas will say that they should have counted their fingers after shaking hands with the Coronas.
First, a recap
In the last four months, the nationwide telecast of the Senate impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona was largely doze-inducing to the general public. Much time was spent squabbling over legal technicalities, marking numerous exhibits and taking testimonies about bank accounts, real properties, income taxes paid by Corona and his total earnings.
Only the occasional tirade of Senator-Judge Miriam and the private prosecution lawyer who covered his ears in front of Santiago relieved the tedium.
Things really perked up when the defense made the inexplicably colossal mistake of demanding that the Ombudsman appear as a witness as a precondition to Corona’s own appearance.
When Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales appeared, she completely flabbergasted the defense by producing a 17-page document from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) which she said detailed a total of US$12 million flowing into Corona’s accounts, which numbered 82 in all from 2003 to 2011.
Corona himself took the witness stand last Tuesday. Instead of testifying, he delivered a three-hour diatribe; signed a waiver on his bank accounts; but added that one senator-judge and all the congressmen who signed his impeachment complaint should do the same first; pocketed the waiver; then left without leave from the Senate court after imperiously saying: “The Chief Justice wishes to be excused.”
His dramatic exit was slowed by the nimble photographers and TV cameramen who crowded around him. It was foiled by the impeachment court presiding officer Juan Ponce Enrile who swiftly ordered a lockdown of the entire building. Humiliatingly, Corona was forced to go back to the session hall on a wheelchair, to be berated by Enrile.
After that, Corona took to a hospital bed and did not get up until Friday, when he tottered to the witness stand once more. There, he started waving a piece of paper which he said would allow the court to examine all his bank accounts. Not wanting to bicker in front of the public, the senators retired to debate the implications of accepting Corona’s waiver so late in the trial.
During the break, TV cameras suddenly caught sight of Corona’s wife Cristina, who was unmistakable in a flaming red suit. Cristina was suddenly beside her Basa cousins whose father, the late Jose Maria Basa III, she had successfully sued for four counts of libel.
The late Jose Maria Basa III was convicted of Cristina’s libel charge even after he had died. And the Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc., where Jose had held majority shares, ended up with Cristina’s daughter Carla in a court-sanctioned auction. This was ostensibly to pay for the moral and civil damages awarded by the court to Cristina. But the moral and civil damages were a fraction of the real value of the company, since by then it had acquired P34 million in cold cash from the sale of its lone asset. Cristina, with the help of her husband Renato, had personally arranged the 2001 sale to the city of Manila.
From this you can see how much bad blood had been flowing between the two sides of the family. It was against this backdrop that the dramatic “reconciliation” took place last Friday afternoon, eclipsing all other telenovelas on TV.
Like everyone, I had wondered what Cristina and her cousins were talking about in between hugs since the TV cameras merely caught their images but not their voices.
Lynda Jumilla of ANC TV was able to interview Cristina’s friend Baby Nebrida afterward. Nebrida is a writer, director and producer of TV dramas and documentaries. She is also a known supporter of Renato Corona and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. This is what Nebrida said:
Actually, it was all impromptu, we didn’t expect this. And then I saw Betsy Tenchavez (at the Senate impeachment court). I didn’t know she was a Basa. And so I said (to)Tina – and I waved to Betsy – Betsy is my friend. And then I said, who is Betsy Tenchavez? Is she a Basa also? She’s wearing black. And Tina said yes, she’s a first cousin. She’s the daughter of Mario Basa.
The view from the other side is quite different.
My source — a Basa relative — cast doubts on Baby Nebrida’s version. My source pointed out that Cristina Corona and Baby Nebrida were once classmates at Maryknoll College, while Betsy Tenchavez – Cristina’s cousin – was two years ahead of them both in Maryknoll and was then called Betsy Basa. My source added that Betsy Basa-Tenchavez was among those whom Cristina had sued for libel. Because of this, my source doubted that Nebrida did not know that Cristina and Betsy were cousins.
Nebrida continued her tale:
So I called Betsy. When I got a text this morning that ANC mentioned that they’re willing to reconcile. So Sally Zaldivar-Perez texted me. I said, are you sure they want to reconcile? I was very, very skeptical. So what happened, I talked to Betsy immediately and I said, ‘is it true you people are willing to reconcile?’
And Betsy said , yes.
My source confirmed that Betsy and Nebrida indeed talked with each other.
Nebrida continued with her story on ANC TV:
And I said (to Betsy) really! That’s great. And I said let’s see what I can do. So I talked to Tina. Tina has been my friend. We’ve been praying together at the Supreme Court. I said Tina, forgiveness is the way to healing. You have to forgive and you will be healed. I know it hurts you. Don’t you want to reconcile? And she (Cristina) said, of course, of course I want to reconcile. As a matter of fact I never said anything bad against them in public. All the things I’ve been hearing and reading, I kept quiet. Because to me, my family is my family. That’s what she said. And I don’t want to be throwing dirty linen around and I value my family.
And then Carla, the daughter, came to me. And said Tita, actually I miss them. They’re my aunts and most of them I don’t know them anymore.
Then Tina said, for 30 years they’ve been at odds with each other. And so Tina said, OK, OK, I’m willing. And then Bel Cunanan, you know Bel, and Chit Pedrosa, we were all together and Sally (Zaldivar-Perez). How do we do this?
And so I called again Betsy and said, Betsy let’s do it this way. And I said, Tina will go there. That side. And also Carla. And then um — nobody naman is watching right now, I said. But if after the ano, it will be a spectacle. Right now nobody is watching. So you know, so I saw the sincerity of Tina and Carla.
And so I went again to Betsy’s side. This time. I said are you sure you want to? Ya, ya, ya , sabi niyang ganoon. So we brought Tina there, sa middle middle ground. So Bel Cunanan, me and Sally and Chit Pedrosa. We were in tears, you know. It was so moving.
My source contradicted Baby Nebrida’s take of events and gave me the following blow-by-blow version:
Betsy Tenchavez was in the gallery, not in VIP (section). Nebrida approached her and said, Cristina wants to reconcile and all that. Is your family open. And she (Betsy) said ya. They’re gonna go over and Betsy said – not here, not when everyone is watching.
And then Nebrida told Betsy, – they’re (the senators) are all in the caucus. There’s no camera. And then she left. Dala na niya si Cristina. Wala na – Cristina was already there. Binati ni Betsy si Cristina (because) we have breeding.
Nebrida had also told ANC:
And then this Ana, Ana Basa came to me and said, actually I really want to hold CJ (Corona) and kiss him and wish him luck, sabi niya.
This time, my source – a Basa -relative – said “Ana Basa never ever said those words to Baby Nebrida. She never said, actually I really want to hold CJ (Corona) and kiss him and wish him luck.”
Among all the Basa relatives at the impeachment court, Cecilia Basa, husband of Mario Basa, did not get up and go to Cristina. However, Cristina’s daughter Carla went up to Lola Cely and kissed her.
From these photos, you can see how awkward the meeting was between grandma and niece. Carla – to recall the history of the feud – had bought Basa Guidote on the cheap during a court auction in 2003.
Lola Cely merely gives her niece a wave.
While Carla pecks her on the forehead.
Afterward, my source said, Cecilia Basa was heard to mutter:
Mukhang nauto yata tayo.
One of Cristina’s cousin, Eric Basa, was also heard to blurt out:
What just happened?
I asked my source what Cristina Corona had actually told her cousins inside the Senate session hall that had been converted into a court room. My source said:
She just made small talk. She said (to one cousin) – You’re the favorite of lolo. And, how was your trip. There was no invitation (to meet) after. No, let’s talk tomorrow, give me your cellphone. Wala. There was no apology.
In the succeeding hours, it dawned on the Basa relatives that they might have been taken for a ride by Cristina Corona. However, the family was divided on how to do damage control.
My source quoted Ana Basa as saying she believed the reconciliation was “a work of God” and she wanted to leave it at that.
Perhaps, to put the entire thing further into context, it was the Basa side that first talked about their wish to reconcile with their cousin Cristina during an interview with Ted Failon over DZMM that Friday morning.
Fortunately, I was listening and taping that very interview. I have transcribed for you what the Basa siblings said in the last part of the program where Ted Failon asked them about closure:
Ted Failon: Anong magandang closure dito as far as your family is concerned?
Eric Basa: Kung anuman ang resulta ng impeachment, maganda naman sana kung matapos na at magkabatian nang lahat ang pinsan namin para merong peace ang mga pinsan namin. Wala ng away-away. Yon lang ang sasabihin ko.
Ted Failon: Ako medyo – I asked Sr. Flory about it – sa magkakapatid – Sister Concepcion, Mario Basa, mother ninyo, magpipinsan – sinong humiwalay? Meron bang anak kasama sa grupo ni Corona?
Basa: Actually, noong bata pa kami. Lahat kami magkakasundo. Ang humiwalay lang, sila. Sila ang naghiwalay.
Ted Failon asked Ana Basa to give the final message. She said:
That we will see the final resolution, the just cause, tama na. Let’s just get along. Whatever it is, nobody wins. Let’s just have closure. Really praying one day, Cristina and us will be be together and say hello.
Ted Failon asked them if they were willing to settle amicably.
Ana Basa replied:
Matagal na naming ginagawa yan. What is it that will take to settle. Ang problema, kung ano lang gusto nila. Ano ba ang gusto ng ibang stockholders? Parang hindi naman fair yon. So matagal na kaming nag-sesettle. What is it that you want?
It was these words that prompted Baby Nebrida to arrange for Cristina to meet the Basas – ironically inside another court room, but this time with Cristina’s husband as the accused. If Nebrida is to believed, Cristina behaved as if she was the offended party, approaching the Basas not to ask for forgiveness but to forgive them.
If indeed Cristina had managed to put one over the Basas again, my source said:
If the reconciliation was a ploy on Cristina’s end and we fell for it hook line and sinker, on our end we were sincere.
My source vehemently denied that a monetary settlement had been reached with Cristina.