By: Ruben Carranza
“She is described as a demure, quiet-spoken woman who served Imelda Marcos in New York as a personal, confidential aide. What the new Philippine Government would like to know is where she is and exactly what it was she did.
“Vilma H. Bautista, a $3,000-a-month first secretary at the Philippine Mission to the United Nations, moved discreetly around New York as the business agent, personal shopper, confidante and eyes and ears of Mrs. Marcos. The new Government of Corazon C. Aquino says it believes Mrs. Bautista holds such a store of information about the property portfolio of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos and his wife that it has canceled her diplomatic passport and alerted United States immigration and customs officials.
“She has been named, along with the Marcoses and their New York lawyers, as a defendant in a suit brought in New York State Supreme Court that seeks to return to the new Government the New York holdings purported to belong to the Marcoses. Lived in Rundown Building. Traces of Mrs. Bautista, 47 years old, who lived in a rundown rent-stabilized apartment building on West 70th Street but who was chauffeured around the city in a car with diplomatic plates, are turning up in some unlikely places. Her name appears on the purchase papers for four apartments in the Olympic Tower on Fifth Avenue, on the documents for an apartment on the East River at 70th Street, on a $1.43 million bill for emeralds, rubies and diamonds from Bulgari, the jewelry merchant at the Pierre Hotel, and on the property tax bill for a sprawling waterfront estate on Long Island.
“Mrs. Bautista, who began as a casual employee at the mission 20 years ago, was apparently so close to Mrs. Marcos that the telephone number at her West 70th Street address was shared with the Olympic Tower quarters used by Mrs. Marcos. Among Mrs. Bautista’s jobs was making sure that the town house on East 66th Street that belongs to the Philippine Government was kept in top shape for the visits of Mrs. Marcos, who used it as a guest house and entertaining place. Indeed, the last known traces of Mrs. Bautista are from two days after the Marcoses fled Manila on Feb. 25, according to Francisco Rodrigo Jr., the temporary head of the Philippine Consulate, when she ordered the telephone company to sever the phone connection at the Government-owned residence. May Have Removed Art
“According to Heherson Alvarez, the head of the Aquino movement in the United States, Mrs. Bautista probably supervised the removal of the profusion of Impressionist and 20th-century paintings, English antiques and other valuables that have disappeared from the town house. A removal truck was seen outside the town house, with crates on the sidewalk, during Mrs. Marcos’s visit last October. More recently, Mr. Alvarez said, a truck and a Rolls-Royce with diplomatic plates pulled away from the house two hours before the new Aquino Government secured it. Mr. Alvarez says he does not really know where the material went, but he speculated that Mrs. Bautista might have stored the antiques in the Olympic Tower apartments that had once been Mrs. Marcos’s partying headquarters but had been replaced by the six floors at East 66th Street. ”The Filipino community called those apartments the ‘warehouse’ because in the last four years Mrs. Marcos stuffed the place with art works,” Mr. Alvarez said.
“Three adjoining condominiums on the 43d floor of the Olympic Tower were bought by Mrs. Bautista in 1977 on behalf of Thetaventure Ltd., a Hong Kong corporation with offices at Mrs. Bautista’s West 70th Street address. Her signature appears on papers filed with the city as the power of attorney and authorized agent for the corporation that paid $880,000 for the three apartments. The apartments are now worth about $1 million each, according to Manhattan real estate agents. Mrs. Bautista’s signature also appears on the power-of-attorney papers for an apartment bought in 1976 on the 29th floor of Olympic Tower. Bought $335,000 Apartment
“Then, in 1984, Mrs. Bautista, together with her sister, Leonor Hernandez, bought an apartment at The Kingsley, 400 East 70th Street, according to a deed filed with the city. The purchase price was $335,000. From time to time, Mrs. Bautista would show up at Lindenmere, a 16-bedroom, 16-bathroom home at Center Moriches, on Long Island, where Mrs. Marcos reportedly liked to entertain with lunches and dinners prepared by the kitchen staff of the embassy in Washington. Mrs. Bautista, according to Emily Austin, the caretaker, would oversee the preparations for Mrs. Marcos’s arrival and her party roster, which included the actor George Hamilton, his mother, Ann, and Christina Ford, the former wife of Henry Ford. The Long Island property, along with four New York City properties, is said by the Aquino Government to belong to the Marcos family. In 1984 and 1985, Mrs. Bautista made payments of almost $40,000 in property taxes on the estate, according to records from Suffolk County. And according to testimony before a Congressional committee investigating the Marcoses’ wealth, Mrs. Bautista accompanied Mrs. Marcos to conferences where the four Manhattan properties were discussed with lawyers.
“She also appears to have taken care of some other bills. A weekly newspaper in Manila run by the Roman Catholic Church recently published a copy of a bill to Mrs. Marcos for $1.43 million from Bulgari. The bill was actually made out to Mrs. Bautista, with Mrs. Marcos’s name beneath. Although Mrs. Bautista led an outwardly modest personal life, she apparently had five servants. Papers discovered by representatives of the new Government show that Mrs. Bautista had arranged immigration papers for five household employees, they said. It was possible, these officials said, that she used these servants at a town house she owns in Manhasset, L.I., where, according to guests, she entertained in surroundings filled with icons and Chinese art.
“Mrs. Bautista has not been seen by the new Government’s officials here since the downfall of the Marcos Government. While other diplomats aligned with the former President have been turning up at their New York offices after offering their resignations at Mrs. Aquino’s request, Mrs. Bautista phoned hers in. Mr. Alvarez said he believed that Mrs. Bautista was still in the United States, probably ”cooling it off” in San Francisco, where she has friends and can keep in easy touch with Mrs. Marcos in Hawaii. He described her as a ”country girl” at heart, who would not conceive of elaborate plans to flee to Europe, as had been suggested, he said, by some of her colleagues.
”She has to be subpoenaed as a witness,” Mr. Alvarez said. ”But from there it can be arranged that she can be excepted from the complaint. We see no point in punishing her if she cooperates. After all, she was only a staff officer.”