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The boo-boos of Lito Atienza

(Article published in the Mar 28,2012 issue of Manila Standard Today)  

The hearing of the Impeachment Court held last 22 March 2012 was a complete disappointment.   Instead of finishing strong and on a high note, with drums rolling and trumpets screaming, on the eve of the five-week Easter break of the Senate, the defense presented the former mayor of the City of Manila, Lito Atienza. Atienza, unfortunately for the respondent, proved himself to be a dud, if not a duh.

The unfortunate result: the public’s last and lasting impression, for now, is that of how incompetent, if not grossly negligent, Lito Atienza was, by way of personal as well as command responsibility, in the handling the purchase by the City of Manila of a small piece of property from the family corporation of Christina R. Corona.  And to think that Atienza even volunteered to testify.   

Atienza’s testimony was offered to prove (a) that early 2001, Basa-Guidote Enterprises, Inc., the corporation of the family of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s wife Christina, owned at least one parcel of land in the corner of Bustillos and Legarda Sts., district of Sampaloc, in the City of Manila; (b) that Christina R. Corona was authorized by the board of Basa-Guidote Enterprises, Inc. to sell such property; (c) that the City of Manila passed an ordinance to expropriate such property and, pursuant to law, accordingly offered to buy, and Christina Corona agreed to sell, such property which Manila intended to be used as relocation site of Manila’s Sampaloc public market that was being displaced from its old site by the impending construction of an LRT station; and (d) that the relevant Deed of Sale was executed with Christina Corona as signatory for the seller and Lito Atienza, then the City Mayor, signing for the City of Manila on 26 March 2001 and payment was made by the City in the amount of  Php34,703,800.00 to, and was received by, Christina Corona on the same day.  It is supposed to be completed by a subsequent witness who is to testify that Renato Corona thereafter borrowed from Basa-Guidote Enterprises, Inc. the amount of Php 11 million, presumably from the said sales proceeds, which Php 11 million he then used to buy the La Vista Property that was reported in his Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN). 


There is nothing in the offer of Atienza’s testimony that could not have been just as effectively, if not more convincingly, proven by other evidence.  Basa-Guidote Enterprises, Inc.’s ownership was a matter of public record, evidenced by TCT No. 76220 issued as early as 1964.  So are the reasons and ordinances for Manila’s acquisition. As for the rest of Atienza’s testimony, the better witness seems to be Christina Corona, who as promised by no less than her husband in his media apparitions would anyway sooner or later testify.  She appears to be by far more intelligent.

As a result of Atienza’s so-so performance at the witness stand, a number of his failings were exposed one after another.  The first of Atienza’s major failing that became evident was his inability to discern how tenuous Christina Corona’s authority was to act for Basa-Guidote Enterprises, Inc.  All he had to go by, if Atienza himself is to be believed, was a “Secretary’s Certificate” issued by Asuncion Basa Roco, corporate secretary, and attested by Sister Concepcion Basa. The document was executed and notarized as far back as June 1987.  It spoke of a board resolution giving Christina Corona the authority to sell the property.  The sale was in fact done in March 2001, a good fourteen years later from the issuance of the certificate.  Yet, it did not occur to Atienza, when he signed the Deed of Absolute Sale, to ask for a more recent certificate of authorization, blatantly ignoring the responsibility that, in those intervening fourteen years, a later board may have revoked the authority.  A diligent buyer certainly would have demanded a fresher authorization. 

Moreover, the Secretary’s Certificate talked of the authorizing board resolution as having been adopted on 07 February 1987.  Atienza did not bother to read that resolution itself.  In fact, in his testimony, it did not seem to have occurred to him that there was in fact a difference between a secretary’s certificate of the existence of a board resolution and the board resolution itself. Prudence required that he demanded a show of that resolution.

Furthermore, Atienza did not even show himself a careful reader of the Secretary’s Certificate itself.  He failed to notice that while Christina Corona was named “exclusive agent to negotiate, sell and/or dispose of the property...” and was given the authority to “execute, sign and deliver such papers, documents, or other writings of whatever nature or kind as may be necessary for the sale, transfer and disposition of the above-mentioned property...”, she was not given the authority to receive the payment itself.  The obvious difference between the negotiating of a sale and the receiving of the payment is understood by even by kids just starting to be financially literate.

 At any rate, although Atienza purported to agree that a check payment should be made in the name of the selling corporation, the check that was intended for Basa-Guidote Enterprises, Inc. was instead issued to “Christina Corona-ITF-Basa-Guidote Enterprises, Inc.”  From direct payee, Atienza relegated Basa-Guidote Enterprises, Inc. to mere beneficial owner of the funds.  Strangely, Atienza had his own interpretation of what his “ITF” meant. He considered “ITF”, which is an accepted abbreviation for “in trust for”, simply as an “added security measure” to make sure that the money went to the rightful owners.  He was clue-less that by cutting the check that way, i.e. “ITF”, the check could not in the first instance be deposited in the account of  Basa-Guidote.  So, instead of ensuring the corporation’s receipt of the funds, Atienza’s “ITF” enabled Christina Corona to deposit the check into her own personal account, not the account of the rightful owner, the Basa-Guidote Enterprises, Inc. 

These boo-boos of Lito Atienza are on record and can no longer be rectified, even if he were to try, when he is called back after the Easter break of the Impeachment Court.  But he could and, in fact, should, give a better account of himself at the next hearing, if he is to think of ever making any comeback in the political arena, either personally or through a proxy.