HAZY VS BLIND


In an effort to defend his boss, Amando Tetangco, from criticisms expressed by the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre that the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) which Tetangco chairs, has done nothing to cause the freezing of the Ampatuan assets, AMLC Executive Director Vicente S. Aquino wrote to say that my view on their inaction was “hazy”. This is precisely the type of reaction responsible for the country’s latest notoriety as a leading “drug money laundering center” in the world. Judging from Aquino’s letter, he appears to be ignorant of the true responsibilities of the AMLC, or maybe simply playing dumb.

First, he belabors the point that the AMLAC has no power to freeze assets. This is inaccurate. Under the law, the AMLC has power to freeze assets for fifteen days. Beyond this period, a court order is required. But it is still the function of the AMLC to gather evidence to prove probable cause that the funds are proceeds of an illegal act. What actions has AMLC done in this regard? When the widows filed their Petition with the AMLC last November 4, 2010, they did so out of their frustration that one year after the massacre, the AMLC has not filed any action to freeze the Ampatuan assets. Whose responsibility is this in the first place? The victims or the AMLC?

To parry the victims’ frustration, AMLC’s Atty Richard Funk II, who had the decency and courtesy to meet with the widows in a meeting which was supposed to be attended by Aquino, assured the widows that the AMLC has in fact been quietly investigating the Amputuans, a fact which Aquino repeated in his letter. Former Justice Secretary Agnes Denenadera also confirmed this fact to the media a month after the massacre. And yet, Aquino also stated that, “Indeed 500 days have already lapsed since the massacre. Yet, it was only on 4 November 2010 that victims families filed with the AMLC a “Joint Petition to Investigate x x x” There is a contradiction here. While Aquino has said that they have not been remised as they have been investigating the Ampatuans since the massacre, he apparently wants to be responsible for dereliction reckoned only from the time when the victims filed their Petition. So when will the AMLC finally take the required steps? When the Ampatuans had already hidden the entirety of their assets? Maybe this is the game plan.

Aquino then states that murder cannot be a predicate crime under the law. This was not the position of the AMLC’s own investigators, including its Atty. Funk. But in any case, assuming this to be the case, the law still classifies as predicate crime violations of Section 3 paragraphs B, C, E, G, H and I of Republic Act No. 3019, as amended, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. These acts include:

“(b) Directly or indirectly requesting or receiving any gift, present, share, percentage, or benefit, for himself or for any other person, in connection with any contract or transaction between the Government and any other part, wherein the public officer in his official capacity has to intervene under the law.

(c) Directly or indirectly requesting or receiving any gift, present or other pecuniary or material benefit, for himself or for another, from any person for whom the public officer, in any manner or capacity, has secured or obtained, or will secure or obtain, any Government permit or license, in consideration for the help given or to be given, without prejudice to Section thirteen of this Act.

(e) Causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence. This provision shall apply to officers and employees of offices or government corporations charged with the grant of licenses or permits or other concessions.

(g) Entering, on behalf of the Government, into any contract or transaction manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the same, whether or not the public officer profited or will profit thereby.

(h) Directly or indirectly having financial or pecuniary interest in any business, contract or transaction in connection with which he intervenes or takes part in his official capacity, or in which he is prohibited by the Constitution or by any law from having any interest”.

Surely, the 3 Billion in cash reported by the ABS-CBN as belonging to the Ampatuans, and the “35 mansions and a fleet of wheels” written by Carol Arguilles as also belonging to the clan will be enough basis to investigate them for any of the crimes enumerated in the above-quoted provision of Section 3 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Acts. To Executive Director Aquino: no, the view from Malcolm is not hazy. It is simply that you, your Boss Amando Tetangco, and your fellow GMA appointee, Merceditas Gutierrez, have all opted instead to turn a blind eye to the predicate crimes required to freeze the Ampatuan asset. You also have blood in your hands. #30#

COCKTAIL PERKS AT BSP


Cocktales writer Victor Agustin tried to malign my law firm in his column last Monday. No effort at all was made to hear the other side, my side, which genuine journalists always do to differentiate themselves from paid hacks.

In past press releases, the BSP falsely linked me to a supposed P245 million payment made by Banco Filipino (BF) for legal services. In his smear column, however, Agustin unconsciously exposed BSP’s malice because, all along, it turns out that the BSP had records showing that my firm merely got paid one-half of 1% of the alleged P245 million amount. In fact, with P400,000 in still unpaid legal fees, my firm is a victim of the BF closure.

A few lawyer-friends say that if there is any embarrassing disclosure Agustin made, it is that I come comparatively cheap. I challenge Agustin to disprove my friends by equally disclosing the total payments made to the private law firm retained by BSP to act in its defense. Since Agustin has unlimited access to confidential bank records, let him produce the itemized work done and the number of lawyer-hours paid to the BSP-retained law firm. His readers are certainly excited to see who has been paid hundreds of millions of pesos. Agustin’s non-disclosure of the comparative total figures paid to the BSP law firm will only strengthen loud suspicions that the BSP paid eye popping figures not for general patronage.

The reason I agreed to represent BF was because of my honest assessment that it is a victim of injustice. BF was first closed by the BSP under the Marcos regime. The Supreme Court declared the bank closure illegal and ordered the BSP to rehabilitate BF. BF sued BSP in a damage suit for the illegal closure. The BSP attempted to force BF to waive its damage claims in unlawful exchange for the grant of rehabilitation. It was a completely criminal precondition being imposed by the Tetangco-led BSP, so I was engaged to file criminal cases.

Agustin finds much wrong with the P200,000 requested for full page ads that were desperately needed by BF which was fighting to stave off a bank run caused by smear media campaign that Agustin himself actively fuelled. The budget was disapproved and not paid by the BSP-appointed Comptroller, and the ads did not see print, proof that BF could not have been mismanaged because of the comptrollership.

Agustin should instead train his eyes on the P10 BILLION salaries paid by the Tetangco-led BSP in 2008-2009; jaw-dropping in comparison to the P1.9 billion salaries of the gargantuan Department of Justice, the P2.2 billion salaries of the DILG, and the P672 million salaries of the Court of Appeals.

For the same period, the Tetangco-led BSP incurred P543 Million in travelling expenses, P181 Million for consultants, P1.2 Billion for “post-retirement benefits,” and P832 Million in unspecified expenses. How much of this cocktail of perks went to the Tetangco-led BSP Lords during this mere two years of their six years tenure? How much went to paid hacks who render attack and defend services for the BSP against its adversaries, and then collect fees from the BSP?

Agustin also takes me to task for working to earn my keep by taking in paying clients. He insinuates that I should only work full time and completely pro bono on human rights cases. Early on in my career I made a decision that I shall equally perform my obligation to provide for the needs of my family and my obligation to do pro bono work for our less fortunate and oppressed countrymen.

I take pride in my small achievement of being able to maintain a small law firm that provides income to 21 families while at the same time handling pro bono the most difficult and most dangerous human rights and corruption cases. In fact, the ratio now of my law firm’s portfolio is 70% pro bono and 30% paying clients. My 30% paying clients virtually subsidize my 70% pro bono cases.

In Agustin’s world view, I should ditch even my 30% paying clients, entirely devote myself to pro bono cases, and force the 21 families relying on my small firm na magdildil na lang ng asin. In Agustin’s world view, human rights advocates must lead lives of penury. Cocktales writers and BSP Lords must lead, well, cocktail party lives.

The 500th day of the massacre


Today marks the 500th day anniversary of the notorious Ampatuan massacre that claimed 58 lives, including 32 journalists. The massacre has since been referred to as the “single deadliest attack against journalists in the world” and the “deadliest election-related violence in Philippines history”.
On November 23, 2009, 58 individuals were intercepted at Ampatuan, Maguindanao, brought to a hilltop in Sitio Masalay and brutally shot to death by at least eight individuals, all of whom were using high-powered automatic assault weapons. No one of the victims lived to tell their tale, albeit some of those involved in the massacre live until today, ready to give their testimony in the criminal case currently pending against 195 individuals accused of 57 counts of murder pending in Branch 221 of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City. One self-confessed participant, whom we referred to as “Jessie”, lived long enough to tell his tale to the media, but not long enough to repeat his story before a court of law.

Fortunately, at least one eyewitness, Kenny Dalagdag, survives until today, although defense counsels appear hell bent in flushing him out of his safe house under the government’s Witness Protection Program through a writ of mandamus intended purportedly to compel authorities to likewise charge him as a principal for the massacre. As we speak, the Office of the Solicitor General is parrying these efforts by invoking the law: those admitted into the program cannot be charged by prosecutors. More importantly, under the same program, these witnesses cannot be compelled to leave their safe houses save to testify in court for the case for which they were given protection.

So where are we in the prosecution of the country’s worst massacre?

The prosecution has presented close to 35 witnesses, including at least three eyewitnesses, five victims, NBI and police investigators, medico-legal officers and ballisticians. To date, though, the presentation of evidence was primarily in opposition to Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr.’s Petition for Bail, which had been terminated, and is now for presentation of evidence in chief against Unsay and a handful of other accused. Father and son, Andal Sr. and Rizaldy “Zaldy” Ampatuan, have not even been arraigned. Worse, more than half of all accused, including Datu Kanor Ampatuan, nephew of Andal Sr. who allegedly employed the slain witness “Jessie”, is one of those who are still at large.

Worse, it appears from the confluence of events that despite at least three witnesses who testified that the former ARMM Governor “Zaldy” Ampatuan participated in the planning of the massacre, his counsel, Howard Calleja of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, brazenly announced two Saturdays ago that his client would be granted bail by the Court of Appeals. This refers to a pending Petition for Review filed by the former ARRM governor, alleging that Zaldy was wrongfully charged because he was deprived of his statutory right to a preliminary investigation. This announcement came after columnist Ramon Tulfo wrote in his column that P200 million — the same amount offered to former National Economic and Development Authority Secretary General Romulo Neri by then-Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos—is circulating in our courts to free at least one of the detained Ampatuans. Tulfo’s column was followed by an exclusive report by Jomar Canlas, alleging that Zaldy’s Petition in the 11th Division of the Court of Appeals might be decided in his favor since only one justice was against the granting of Zaldy’s Petition to seek his release from detention. What is thus alarming is that in the totality of these reports, Calleja’s brave prediction may not be an empty guess, but a preordained result, which strangely enough, was known only to the accused and his counsel.

To add to the victims’ travails, the Anti-Money Laundering Council under the leadership of Bangko Sentral Governor Amando Tetangco has not frozen even a single centavo or even one real estate holding of the Ampatuans, despite the lapse of 500 days since the day of the massacre. This has prompted one of the victims, Editha Tiamzon, to declare that Tetangco is the “protector of the Ampatuan wealth”. It is important that the Ampatuan wealth be frozen for at least one reason mentioned by another victim, Myrna Reblando: “money talks”. Unless the Ampatuan wealth is frozen, it can be used not only for their defense, but also to defeat the wheels of justice. The BSP governor is a perfect example of how loyalists of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo are still not only well entrenched, but able to subvert the reform agenda of President Noynoy Aquino. Tetangco is joined in the Monetary Board by his fellow Arroyo loyalists: ex-spokesman Ignacio Bunye, ex-Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila, and ex-Social Security System Chairman Juanita Amatong.

Finally, a few words about the reported rift between the private and public prosecutors in the Ampatuan massacre case. One, I do not have any conflict with any member of the original prosecution team. It was another private prosecutor who had such differences.

Two, while I had my share of disagreements with the members of the original panel, I have since transcended them in favor of the more pressing chore of achieving justice for the victims of the massacre.

Three, despite all these, I defer to Justice Secretary Leila De Lima’s decision to change he prosecution panel, even if I have reservations that the change may lead to some delays in the prosecution of the massacre. In any case, the good news is that on the 500th day of the massacre, the prosecution of those accused of the perpetration of the crime is right on course, again.