The $10 million question


At long last, the die is cast. After repeatedly saying that Chief Justice Renato Corona need not take the witness stand in the impeachment trial against him, his counsel, out of the blue, assured the Senate that the CJ will take the witness stand.

The promise though appeared to have a condition: that is, that the Complainants against the CJ in a pending complaint in the Ombudsman, to wit, former Akbayan Representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and Rep. Walden Bello, together with Harvey Keh, and no less than Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales; should be subpoenaed by the Senate to appear purportedly as hostile witnesses in the impeachment trial. After which, the CJ’s counsel promised that his client will take the stand to rebut what these witnesses may say. This is interesting. While the nation has been left wondering about an alleged 700,0000 dollar account with PS Bank allegedly belonging to the CJ and yet undeclared in his SALN,  the nation gasped with horror at the possibility that the CJ may have a lot more in his  dollar accounts. In fact, the amount is mind-boggling: 10 Million or at least 420 Million pesos at today’s exchange rate.

There’s an obvious difference between the circumstances behind the 700,000-dollar placement and this later 10 Million deposit. In the case of the smaller amount, it was the Prosecution that asked the Court to subpoena PS bank to bring and present to the Court the documentary evidence for such an account. When asked by the Court where the Prosecution obtained its information about the account, the Prosecution panel claimed that a “small lady” in the gallery of the Senate gave it to Rep. Reynaldo Umali. It would later turn out that Rep. Jorge Banal of Quezon City had previously gone to the Katipunan branch of PS Bank to inquire about this 700,000-dollar account. Rep. Banal in turn, claimed that an unknown person left the documents at his residence.

The Supreme Court then came to the rescue of the embattled CJ when in a petition filed by PS Bank, the Court issued an indefinite temporary restraining order which effectively stopped the impeachment court from compelling the bank to produce all relevant documents relative to the $700,000 account. This time, the $10 Million dollar deposit was not even by reason of any document, even information, provided by the Prosecutors. Instead, what is  clear on the basis of newspaper reports are: One, as alleged by veteran Journalist Ellen Tordesillas in a story published by Vera files, the Ombudsman allegedly had asked the Anti-Money Laundering Council to provide her with a copy of the documents establishing that the CJ has an undisclosed amount in  dollar deposits in  undisclosed banks. This, according to Tordesillas, the Ombudsman did in response to the complaint filed by Hontiveros et al.

Two, in a story carried exclusively by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the CJ was allegedly asked by the Ombudsman to explain in writing within 72 hours how he acquired several peso and dollar accounts, described as  “grossly disproportionate” to his salary. Quoting from Carpio’s order, the PDI reported that the CJ was allegedly asked to explain, among others, how he acquired dollar deposits with an “aggregate amount of at least US$10,000,000”.

It was because of this second story that Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago opined that the Ombudsman could conduct a parallel investigation with the impeachment court on the CJ’s concealed dollar deposits. Senator  Edgardo Angara , for his part, said that the impeachment court could accept evidence emanating from the Ombudsman in this regard. The legal basis for both Senators’ opinions is found in the Ombudsman law, which provides that the said office may investigate even impeachable officers for the purpose of recommending to Congress the initiation of impeachment against them.

Apparently, this was the game changer. While the CJ, through his lawyers, lawyers ignored the show cause letter of the Ombudsman arguing that the said office has no jurisdiction over an impeachable officer such as the Chief Justice, the results of such an investigation was nonetheless, the reason why the CJ will now take the stand. According to his counsel last Tuesday evening, this was to “rebut the testimonies” of Hontiveros and the Ombudsman et al, which presumably, will be adverse to the CJ. Obviously the nation will be glued to the proceedings specially when the Ombudsman takes the stand, which she has said she will. And the obvious question will no longer be whether such a huge deposit exists, which for all intents and purposes, appear to be admitted. The issue now is why he did not declare such an amount and how he acquired this huge sum.

The plot thickens. It’s definitely more fun in the Philippines!

Revival of Pestano case made possible by Gutierrez ouster from Ombudsman – Roque


Philip PestanoThe re-opening of the Pestaño murder case  by the Ombudsman could not have happened had Merceditas Gutierrez remained at its helm, according to a lawyer for the parents of the slain Navy officer.
“We have information that Merceditas Gutierrez already had a prepared draft  dismissing with finality the complaint filed by our clients against the suspects thus denying  the  motion for reconsideration we filed on their behalf ,” said lawyer Harry Roque. “It’s a good thing Gutierrez resigned from office after she was impeached.”
Roque added: “When former justice Conchita Carpio-Morales took over at the Ombudsman, she immediately made a review of all the big cases Gutierrez had placed on the back burner. This case shows that sometimes it only takes the appointment of the right person  to the right position to turn things around.”
He challenged the Philippine Navy to take the opportunity to correct the egregious harm it has perpetuated for many years against the family of the slain Navy officer by cooperating with prosecutors in bringing its officers charged by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales before the Sandiganbayan for murder to the bars of justice.
The  Pestanos have accused the Philippine Navy of white-washing the case and making it appear that their beloved son committed a suicide just before his blood-soaked body was found in his stateroom at the cargo ship BRP Bacolod City on September 27, 1995. A suicide letter was also found near the body of Phillip Andrew Pestaño, then a Navy Ensign.
His family however rejected the suicide theory, pointing to many forensic evidence that told a different story. The Navy Ensign’s father Pepe also revealed that earlier, his son had confided to him about the illegal activities that has been happening on his ship and his plan to blew the whistle on his superiors responsible for these.
He praised the slain Navy officer’s family for having kept their faith through the long years of struggle for justice.
Roque noted that the Philippine Senate opened an investigation on the case after an investigate report  written by two reporters – Romel Bagares and Jerry Botial – was published by the Philippine Star. The report  revealed that the BRP Bacolod City was being used by Navy superiors for illegal logging and drug trafficking. The Senate would later on issue a joint committee report that blasted the suicide theory to smithereens.
“One of the two reporters , Romel Bagares, later on became a lawyer. In fact, he works as a senior  associate in my office and it was he who was approached by the Pestaños to help in the case  before the Ombudsman.”
Charged for murder were;
·         Navy Capt. Ricardo Ordoñez
·         Commander Reynaldo Lopez
·         Commander Alfrederick Alba
·         Lt. Commander Luidegar Casis
·         Lt. Commander Joselito Colico
·         Lt. Commander Ruben Roque
·         Machinery Repairman 2nd Class Sandy Miranda
·         Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Welmenio Aquino
·         Petty Officer 1st Class Carlito Amoroso
·         and Petty Officer 2nd Class Mil Leonor Y. Igacasan.
·
Roque said some of the accused in the 16-year old murder case  are still in active service.
He said: “We have information that Commander Reynaldo Lopez  is now serving as Executive Officer of the Philippine Navy’s newest fighting ship, a decommissioned US Coastguard cutter renamed  BRP Gregorio Del Pilar.
Ordonez has since retired from the Navy; Alba and Casis are still on active duty but we do not know where they are currently assigned.  Ruben Roque has left the Navy – we suspect, at the behest of its top-brass – and is now living somewhere in the United States.  Colico has gone AWOL and hasn’t been heard from.  Amoroso, whom the family suspected to be the triggerman in the case, has also allegedly died  a few years ago under suspicious circumstances. As for the others we have no information about them.”