The Ilusorio Family Inheritance Wars

It's not the first “prominent/wealthy family” inheritance battle waged nor will it certainly be the last, but the on-going estate litigation of Potenciano 'Nanoy' Ilusorio's heirs has emerged as one of the longest, nastiest, most public, no-holds-barred litigious family feuds in Philippine history or in the annals of jurisprudence.

What has unfolded is like a deadly brew of the soap-opera “Dynasty,” mixed with a chapter from “Reversal of Fortune” (the Sunny von Bülow story) and a dash of “The Borgias.”

There have been kidnapping, false imprisonment, so-called “mental torture,” extortion charges and countercharges. There has been skullduggery, a really physical episode at the Baguio Country Club (BCC) where one faction attempted to bodily block the other from attending; and a very Watergate-type break-in in a down-and-dirty legal soap opera that has chugged on for some 14 years.

Who are the Ilusorios? They're the wealthy Manila/Parañaque-based family headed by Potenciano Ilusorio and his wife, the former Erlinda Kalaw. Potenciano or “Nanoy” as he was known to intimates, was a successful lawyer-businessman who was best known for being one of the principals in the X-Y-Z scandal in the early Marcos years and a major stockholder of Philcomsat, the first Philippine satellite company.

The X-Y-Z caper, for those who don't recall it, was one of the more publicized scandals of the early Marcos administration wherein Marcos used his presidential powers to manipulate the stock prices of Benguet Mining, which New York Wall Street interests were acquiring and Marcos was helping facilitate in exchange for shares in casinos in the Bahamas and, of course, in Benguet itself. While the negotiations were going on for a while, the Benguet stock traded on the New York Stock Exchange swung wildly, and certain parties, later called X-Y-Z, made sizeable killings before “insider trading” was classified as a crime.

The X-Y-Z front men were, in no particular order, later unmasked to be Roberto Benedicto, Honorio Poblador and Potenciano Ilusorio.  In addition to the Benguet stock market killings they made on their own; they cut in Da Boss himself.  Ilusorio was also less known for being the purveyor of one Dovie Beams for one Ferdinand Marcos."  

Not too many photographs of the Ilusorio family are publicly available -- hence, this bust of Ilusorio at the Baguio Country Club, which is on public view. What's paradoxical is that the publicly played-out legal woes of the family have all but voided whatever privacy concerns they tried to maintain. They don't even have Facebook accounts. (Source: Inquirer.net/Photo by EV Espiritu)

Not too many photographs of the Ilusorio family are publicly available -- hence, this bust of Ilusorio at the Baguio Country Club, which is on public view. What's paradoxical is that the publicly played-out legal woes of the family have all but voided whatever privacy concerns they tried to maintain. They don't even have Facebook accounts. (Source: Inquirer.net/Photo by EV Espiritu)

At stake in this landmark legal battle was a fortune loosely estimated in the year 2000 to be between one and two billion pesos (one of the larger Filipino family fortunes at the time). The centerpieces of it all were the 18.1 percent share of ownership in Philcomsat, the exclusive satellite company, and control of Baguio Country Club, Ilusorio's favorite “civic” cause. And there were considerable real estate and other less publicized businesses as well.

But let's go even further back a bit. Sometime in 1967, Ilusorio was tasked by his boss, Marcos, with putting together a commercial movie, “Maharlika,” to glorify for posterity Da Apo's (the Boss) so-called heroic World War II exploits. What better way to cement Marcos' dubious claims of war-heroism than a color, wide-screen film treatment? Ilusorio's producer chores included casting the heroine's role, which went to a B-list American movie starlet named Dovie Beams. Selecting the lead actress got very personal with the literal casting couch when no less than Da Boss himself personally approved Ms. Beams for the project.  

Advertisement for the big-screen treatment, which Nanoy Ilusorio produced for his Boss to set Ferdinand Marcos' war-record “straight” Paul Burke played “Bob Reynolds” (the supposed young Marcos role); and Dovie Beams as his love interest. (Source: https://nursemyra.wordpress.com/2010/09/01/a-little-dovie-told-me/) 

Advertisement for the big-screen treatment, which Nanoy Ilusorio produced for his Boss to set Ferdinand Marcos' war-record “straight” Paul Burke played “Bob Reynolds” (the supposed young Marcos role); and Dovie Beams as his love interest. (Source: https://nursemyra.wordpress.com/2010/09/01/a-little-dovie-told-me/) 

(The character Beams played in the film was a guerilla fighter named Isabella -- so, sounding like “Imelda,” fair and mestiza-like but not quite lady-like since this was more of an actual Gabriela Silang-type hands-on fighter. Having "Isabella" fight on-screen in glamorous Christian Espiritu- designed ternos would've been too obvious (and farcical). But the fact that the Marcos-like hero, now named “Bob Reynolds” for the film, was a good-looking Caucasian, of course, only belied that this was a “Hollywood” [i.e., fictional, ha!!] film although done on the cheap. With roles named “Bob Reynolds” and “Isabella,” one wonders if that wasn't a dry run for future adventures of Sir and Ma'am when they used names “William Saunders” and “Jane Ryan” for little itty-bitty things called Swiss bank accounts? "Maharlika' was released in 1970 and was a giant box-office turkey.)

And as later events proved, Beams was no dumb brunette to dismiss so easily. She had secretly tape-recorded her lovemaking sessions with "Fred" and attempted to blackmail him. Eventually, Ilusorio earned first lady Imelda's enmity because he came out looking like the bugaw (pimp/procurer) for her husband's not-so-private affair. Thus Ilusorio quickly fell out of favor from Malacañang Palace, although he had already made his pile and shrewdly multiplied it many times over in the succeeding years.  

When times were good, Nanoy Ilusorio was generous. Even though they were no longer in connubial bliss, the Ilusorio couple still celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1992 -- six years after the fall of their former patrons -- in grand style. Some select 18 lucky family and close friends were taken on an all expenses-paid eight-day Mediterranean cruise. Not even previous presidents of the Philippines traveled like that. That golden anniversary cruise (for which they booked eight state rooms and a suite on the cruise ship) ended up at Expo 1992 in Seville, Spain. That junket, as befits a rajah's purse, purportedly cost at least $50,000.


At stake in this landmark legal battle was a fortune loosely estimated in the year 2000 to be between one and two billion pesos (one of the larger Filipino family fortunes at the time).

Now you will need a scorecard. (Note: all the cases noted below were filed with the Philippine justice system and all the details are available online and in the sources quoted at the end.)

There are six Ilusorio children: 1) Ramon; 2) Erlinda I., Jr. (also Lin or Lynn Bildner); 3) Maximo; 4) Sylvia (Yap); 5) Marietta; 6) Shereen.

When the call to battle came, the family split into two camps. The first group (Team A or the senior camp since it) was led by matriarch Erlinda (Kalaw; so EKI), Ramon and joined by youngest daughters Marietta and Shereen.

The opposing side, Team B or the so-called “abducting” camp, consisted of the three middle siblings -- Lin, Maximo and Sylvia.

Like many of Manila's elite, the Ilusorios are/were a low-key but high living lot. Home base was the compound in Parañaque; and at least one mansion in Baguio. Oldest son Ramon used to have his own apartment (#537) at the uber-discreet Pierre Hotel in Manhattan (where former Mr. Meralco himself, Iñing Lopez, was known to reserve half a floor whenever he was visiting New York pre-martial law). Lin Ilusorio Bildner has her own penthouse at 880 Fifth Avenue, the only Filipina now known to have that exclusive distinction. (Jackie Kennedy Onassis lived farther up at 1040 Fifth Avenue.) In addition, the family had three other units at an older brick apartment building near Lincoln Center, and another home in Englewood, New Jersey.

When it was still active, Philcomsat was jointly owned by the Philippine government (through the PCGG) with a 35 percent interest; the Ilusorios (led by Lin Bildner), 18.1 percent; Manuel Nieto, 13.1 percent; Honorio Poblador, 12.4 percent; Jose Africa, 7.1 percent; Roberto Benedicto/Traders Royal Bank (BOC) bloc, 7.1 percent; and Juan Ponce-Enrile, 6.6 percent -- all Marcos cronies. (The above info comes from the company website, which has not been updated or removed since 2000.)

The family break-up pretty much began in February 1999 when Team B, Lin Bildner’s group, claimed that Team A caused their father Nanoy to overdose on the antidepressant drug Zoloft, resulting in the patriarch becoming weak and bringing him close to death. Team B further alleged that Ramon (from Team A), who had been estranged from their father, had sought to be declared the sole beneficiary of Potenciano’s assets, cutting everyone else out of the estate. Thus, older daughters Lin and Sylvia, and son Max, took preemptive action when the occasion presented itself and spirited their father away from their mother and the others. 

The Supreme Court of the Philippines where most of the Ilusorio cases were adjudicated and almost became its own “mini-cottage industry” within its halls over 14 years.  (Source: wikipedia.org)

The Supreme Court of the Philippines where most of the Ilusorio cases were adjudicated and almost became its own “mini-cottage industry” within its halls over 14 years.  (Source: wikipedia.org)

What follows is a hopefully concise, blow-by-blow chronology of the landmark inheritance battle waged by a once proud and united family, deciphered in simple layman's terms and in as uncluttered a manner as possible.

March 11, 1999 - Following the abduction, matriarch Erlinda Kalaw (EKI) fires the first salvo by filing a writ of habeas corpus against Team B. A habeas corpus writ is a demand to produce a body (a still living one, in this case, her husband) being "detained by three of their children."

Team A follows this up with a second cause of patricide charges, alleging that by dragging their feet before seeking medical attention for the aging patriarch (now publicly acknowledged to be suffering from early Alzheimer's), Team B children had in effect hastened Nanoy's demise and thus seized control of his assets. In effect, a Janus phenomenon was happening: One side was alleging overdose of medication while the other side withheld medication which action the other side now claimed was detrimental to Nanoy's health.

A Philippine Daily Inquirer article published later on the Ilusorios on September 7, 2003 (Source: spot.ph)

A Philippine Daily Inquirer article published later on the Ilusorios on September 7, 2003 (Source: spot.ph)

On April 5, 1999, the Court of Appeals (CA) dismisses EKI's March 1999 petition for lack of unlawful restraint or detention of her husband.

[Mid-1999, Potenciano takes a turn for the worse; so on June 8, 1999, the principal is supposed to have executed his final Last Will and Testament. Details to emerge later.]

October 11, 1999 - EKI again files with the Supreme Court (SC) an appeal via certiorari for review of the April 5, 1999 decision by the CA. The SC consolidates this case with another filed by the ailing senior Ilusorio and Team B appealing from the order giving visitation rights to his wife, asserting that he never refused to see her.

2000 - Respite; nothing happens. Everyone, including the courts, seems to be enjoying the new millennium and thus taking a breather from all the litigation.

January 31, 2001 - SC denies EKI's October 1999 appeal and motion asking that her husband be produced and examined by a team of court-appointed medical experts.

March 27, 2001 - SC again denies with finality EKI' s motion to reconsider the Court's order of January 31, 2001. It rules for no-visitation rights to Nanoy and that the patriarch can live on his own. But time is running out; Nanoy is getting weaker by the day.

June 28, 2001 - Nanoy finally dies at age 88. He is quickly cremated per his wishes -- and the remains are split between the two factions. (After much ceremony, Team B's share of their father's ashes are scattered in his beloved Baguio Country Club grounds.)

Then Team B produces the June 1999 will. It distinctly disinherits spouse Erlinda, oldest son Ramon, and youngest daughter Shereen "... for various unsavory reasons." (Marietta was inexplicably left out altogether as neither heroine nor villain.) Strangely, the June 1999 will was not challenged by the “senior” camp as is usually the case when an opposing side reveals a later, conflicting will. In effect, Team A accepted this will as the final document and wishes of the patriarch.

July 2001 - On her own, Shereen files a motion before the local Parañaque Regional Trial Court to have EKI assigned as the sole administrator of the estate. According to Shereen, their father bequeathed all his properties, real or personal, to all of his heirs in equal shares.

July 19, 2001 - SC issues a Resolution hoping to finally put widow EKI's motions to rest, concluding the Resolution with: Let his (Nanoy's) soul rest in peace and his survivors continue the much prolonged fracas ex aequo et bono... At any rate, the case has been rendered moot by the death of subject." "Ex aequo et bono" means that the litigants settle the matter among themselves fairly and squarely.

Still 2001 -- no such luck. Team A produces a bomb of its own. EKI releases her own version of events, a book, the ironically titled On The Edge Of Heaven, issued under the Potenciano & Erlinda K. Ilusorio Foundation, which had not yet been dissolved at the time.

September 2001 - Based on allegations in the book, daughter #2 Sylvia files libel charges against Team A. The book claimed that Sylvia stole millions of pesos from her siblings from the sale of their assets where she supposedly falsified documents to make it appear that the sale of the property was only P9 million when it was allegedly $20 million. EKI also rakes over the Philippine justice system (which has been the venue of her grievances in the most unflattering terms. This will come back to haunt her.)

November 8, 2001 - A physical showdown at the annual BCC stockholders' meeting ensues. Ramon, Marietta (and supporters) are physically denied entry by dozens of security guards hired by the BCC administration sympathetic to Team B, on the grounds that the two were no longer active members of the club. Matriarch Erlinda, however, was allowed to attend.

Team A reacts to this slight by pulling a page directly from the Cory Aquino-Club Filipino power grab m.o. of the 1986 People Power moment. Team A sets up its own “rebel” BCC Board of Directors at a different location. This tactic didn't go very far in displacing the legal, sitting BCC board of directors.

(November 27, 2002 - In a separate matter, oldest son Ramon files vs. Manila Banking Corporation with the CA regarding the bank cashing 17 of his checks negligently and without observing proper safeguards.)

June 5, 2003 - After a respite of some two years, the leaders of Team B, Lin and Maximo, file a motion with the Department of Justice (DOJ) asking that Team A "...be cited for indirect contempt for alleged contemptuous remarks and acts directed against the Court (i.e., their mother's Heaven book, and) . . . for disbarment or disciplinary action against Atty. Manuel R. Singson for alleged gross misconduct, among other offenses." Singson was the chief legal counsel for the “senior” side.

May 2004 - DOJ dismisses Sylvia's 2001 libel suit. Sylvia immediately files for reconsideration.

December 14, 2005 - SC (3rd Division) dismisses another, second disbarment motion filed by Lin Bildner against Luis Lokin, an attorney whom Bildner claims had mishandled her father's interest in some other previous case.  

One of the rare, publicly available photos of oldest daughter Lin I. Bildner, NYC Fifth Avenue matron, at a recent charity event in New York. (Source: http://www.mb.com.ph/chino-the-cecile-licad-of-the-violin )

One of the rare, publicly available photos of oldest daughter Lin I. Bildner, NYC Fifth Avenue matron, at a recent charity event in New York. (Source: http://www.mb.com.ph/chino-the-cecile-licad-of-the-violin )

(September 2006 - Now a bit of Watergate skullduggery: Lin and Marietta (otherwise adversaries but colleagues now in this caper) led a team which included seven members of the Philippine Senate security unit to break into the offices of Philcomsat. How could members of the security unit of the Philippine Senate be involved in stealing (cash and) documents belonging to the director of PHC, Philcomsat's holding company, when the Philippine government was waging its own battle vs. Lin Bildner's group for control of Philcomsat? There was some sort of collusion. Trespassing and larceny raps were filed against the intruders, but this chapter seemed so very Inspector Clouseau.)

November 2006 - DOJ undergoes a change of heart on Sylvia's 2001 libel suit and agrees that there is probable cause to Sylvia's claims.

Jump to May 23, 2008 - Meanwhile, the CA dismisses reciprocal cases initially filed in 1999 and succeeding cross-complaints. It rules that there was no parricide involved.

After eight years, there is still no clear winner, and the Supreme Court has started to exhibit its displeasure with the waste of the Court's time and resources over this one family's seemingly endless squabbling. (Running alongside the core internecine Ilusorio fued was the battle for control of Philcomsat between two factions [the Bildner group & others vs. the Republic of the Philippines and the Nieto group] but which legal matter was also being decided by the same Supreme Court already wallowing in the countless other Ilusorio cases.)

June 5, 2009 - Nine years after her book came out defaming the Philippine court system, the SC charges EKI with contempt of court. SC fines her P10,000 and suspends Team A's counsel, Manuel R. Singson's, license from the practice of law for one year.

Fast forward to May 2013 - CA finally junks Sylva's 2001 libel case (once again).

September 5, 2013 - But Sylvia, like a heat-seeking missile, had attracted the particular ire of Team A because, undaunted, Team A launched a new set of patricide charges against her despite the various setbacks. After some 14(!) years of legal battle, this is the last known entry on the legal front. Whew!

One asks, where did it all lead to? Nowhere. All in all, court costs and attorneys' fees in the Philippines could've easily amounted to over 25 million pesos (which in US dollars is chump change) but for a billionaire family, probably three months' income.

Today, the matriarch, Erlinda K., according to a source familiar with the Ilusorios, is well and fine, still doing what most Manila matrons do; and the various children are well ensconced in their various enterprises and comfortable abodes.

The one reassuring thing that came out of this saga is that, at least as Philippine standards go, one clan addressed their grievances by the book and did not take matters into their own hands.

However, one adage, “You can choose your friends but not your relatives,” definitely trumps another by a mile: “Blood is thicker than water.”


Sources:

1. X-Y-Z case: Seagrave, Sterling, "The Marcos Dynasty," Harper & Row, New York, 1988, p. 336-7.
2. http://www.spot.ph/newsfeatures/50196/high-society-woes-top-10-scandals-that-rocked-metro-manila/6
3. http://ssristories.org/court-scraps-ilusorios-vs-ilusorios-cases-philippine-daily-inquirer/
4. "Maharlika"/Dovie Beams' story - https://nursemyra.wordpress.com/2010/09/01/a-little-dovie-told-me/
5. https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/greengazette/conversations/messages/64
6. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2479&dat=20011109&id=_adjAAAAIBAJ&sjid=hiUMAAAAIBAJ&pg=994,3272632
7. Ilusorio v. Lokin - http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/jurisprudence/2005/dec2005/ac_6554.htm#_ftnref1
8. Philcomsat offices break-in: http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/29669/news/nation/robbery-raps-filed-vs-ilusorio-sisters-9-others
9. http://globalnation.inquirer.net/cebudailynews/news/view/20080613-142419/Court_scraps_Ilusorios_vs_Ilusorios_cases?ModPagespeed=off- http://ssristories.org/court-scraps-ilusorios-vs-ilusorios-cases-philippine-daily-inquirer/
10. http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/jurisprudence/2009/june2009/157384.htm
11. Ramon's case vs. bank: http://gabatovinson.blogspot.com/2014/08/ramon-k-ilusorio-petitioner-vs-hon.html
12. http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/metro-manila/06/19/09/sc-holds-ilusorio-contempt
13. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2479&dat=20030914&id=DrljAAAAIBAJ&sjid=eyUMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2547,37718700; and
14. Resolution of Sylvia's case: https://pinoysnayper.wordpress.com/tag/erlinda-k-ilusorio/
15. Personal sources who prefer to remain confidential.


Myles A. Garcia is a retired San Francisco Bay Area-based author/writer. His proudest work to date is the book "Secrets of the Olympic Ceremonies" which begat the Plaridel Award-winning article (Honorable Mention), "Ten Best Kept-Secrets of Olympic Ceremonies" (this publication, January 15, 2014).  Myles is also finishing a play, "Love, Art and Murder," and belatedly teaching himself to play the piano.  Better late than never.


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