Ortigas tiff simmers; Balicasan’s woes

Discontent remains in the wealthy Ortigas clan. Members of the family are still waging a legal battle against each other over a property inheritance issue reminiscent of the once-popular US prime time television soap opera “Dallas.”

The riveting narrative of Dallas that aired on CBS channel from April 2, 1978, to May 3, 1991 revolved around the family feuds, machinations and scandals of the Ewing family, which owned an oil company and vast swath of lands used for cattle-ranching.

The Ortigases may not have an oil field and cattle ranches, but they do own immense expanse of prime Metro Manila real estate properties. To the uninitiated, it is as if the Ortigas lands were boundless.

The saga of sisters Michelle and Francesca Litton Ortigas, two descendants of the ultra-wealthy and old world money couple Francisco Ortigas Jr. and Remedios Miranda de Ortigas, started when their relatives left them out.

Michelle and Francesca claimed their relatives deprived them of their rightful share of inheritance from their grandparents. They feel they are being “robbed of their share of the inheritance” due their father, the late Jose Miranda Ortigas—one of the six children of Francisco and Remedios Ortigas. Jose died in a car accident on May 2, 1977.

The Ortigas patriach Francisco and matriarch Remedios were among the largest shareholders of Ortigas and Co. Limited Partnership (OCLP). OCLP is a giant real estate firm with a portfolio that includes Greenhills Shopping Center, Ortigas Center, Tiendesitas, and other prime locations such as Frontera Verde, Valle Verde, and Greenmeadows.

In April 2013, the Litton-Ortigas sisters instituted an intestate case for administration of the estate of their late grandmother, who died in 2012 without leaving a valid will. The case, now on its fifth year, remains pending with the San Juan City Regional Trial Court.

The sisters were trying to prevent of a repeat of what happened to the estate of their grandfather, where they were “deliberately left out” of the extrajudicial settlement.

Majority of the assets of their grandmother’s estate, including shares in OCLP, have been transferred to the other five heirs, namely Victoria Ortigas-Arando, Francisco “Paqui” Ortigas III, Eduardo Ortigas, Fernando “Nando” Ortigas and Remedios “Nenuca” Ortigas-Luzuriaga, the two said.

Michelle and Francesca cited a recurring pattern to deprive them of their rightful share as the legal heirs of their father, who was a legitimate child of Francisco Jr. and Remedios and “entitled to inherit just like his five surviving siblings.”

The Litton-Ortigas sisters accused their aunts and uncles of “falsifying a document to deprive them of a share in the inheritance of the estate of their grandfather, Francisco Jr.”

When the Ortigas patriarch passed away in 2003, his five surviving children purportedly submitted to the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Registry of Deeds an extrajudicial settlement agreement to close the estate. But it did not include the Litton-Ortigas sisters.

Their non-inclusion prompted the sisters to ask their aunts and uncles for their share of the estate in 2006, or three years after their grandfather died.

During a meeting with their uncles Nando and Paqui in October 2007, the Litton-Ortigas sisters were told that they were excluded from the settlement because their grandfather was “broke” before he died. 

After three years of negotiation, an out-of-court settlement was reached in 2009 when the sisters reluctantly accepted the compromise.

The Litton-Ortigas sisters said it “strains credulity, based on what their uncles would like them to believe, that their grandparents were broke and relied on the generosity of their children to pay medical bills when they were still alive.”

“The fact is the wealth of their uncles and aunts enjoy today comes from what they were given and inherited from their parents,” the two said.

The sisters noted that in 2015, their uncles and aunts sold 39.65 percent of their shares in OCLP Holdings Inc. to the SM Group for P15.4 billion. 

PCC misery

Former National Economic and Development Authority director-general Arsenio Balisacan will have a hard time convincing the corporate world about his and that of his agency’s pure intentions.

The findings of the Commission on Audit that he allegedly received unlawfully-granted incentives is casting doubt over his authority to head the Philippine Competition Commission as well as his moral ascendancy to lead aggressive, high-profile attacks against what he deems as “anti-competitive” behavior by corporations.

The CoA recently ordered Balisacan and other Neda officials to return to the government P73.64 million in employee incentives unlawfully granted from 2010 to 2012. In a six-page decision, the CoA directed its Prosecution and Litigation Office to forward the case to the Office of Ombudsman for investigation and the filing of appropriate charges.

CoA said Neda’s grant of the so-called cost economy measure award for personnel who propose time-saving measures was not reviewed by the Department of Budget.

“All told, the grant of CEMA is not clothed with authority, considering that it lacked review by the DBM and the eventual approval by the President. Hence, its disallowance is proper,” read the decision.

CoA also noted that Neda Office Circular No. 03-2005 did not even set the criteria for entitlement to the incentive.

Neda claimed it managed to meet or exceed its target accomplishment despite only having 64 percent of the manpower requirement, but CoA said it did not specify or quantify how man-hours and costs were saved with sufficient evidence.

The payment of CEMA, according to a source, was not supported with a specific appropriation from the annual financial budget. Instead, the awards were generated from the savings, such as those from Neda’s maintenance and other operating expenses.

The realignment of MOOE to its personal services expenses in 2012 violated Section 56 of that year’s General Appropriations Act, which required  the prior approval of the DBM. The violation could give rise to possible criminal or administrative liabilities which the Ombudsman could look into, CoA said.

Balicasan and the PCC are in a bind. He is heading a vital regulatory body that is supposed to “protect markets from anti-competitive behavior of firms and prohibit abuses of dominant position.” His task of creating a “level playing field” has become more arduous.

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Topics: Balicasan’s woes
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