POSTSCRIPT / December 31, 2000 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Laquian to Postscript: I didn’t talk to Zamora!

JOSE Velarde is still on the loose, remember, free to sow mayhem. The earlier he is put behind bars, the better for this badly battered nation.

* * *

WITH the spate of violence erupting in the nation’s capital, Malacañang’s wish that the impeachment trial be pushed away from the headlines may yet come true. It’s a proven diversionary formula.

There is never a lack of sitting targets for a leader searching for an excuse for a distractive war or a violent rampage.

In case of war, the unlucky target could be a small band of Abu Sayyaf kidnappers in the hills of Sulu or an oil-producing giant like an Iraq under Saddam.

If it’s violence, there is no need for an excuse, or a target. The perpetrator just sets the bombs.

* * *

ONE reason why the Estrada administration is sure to crumble is that it is built upon lies upon lies.

A regime built on the sands of falsehood may be able to stand for a while, like cinematic props, but it cannot last. The onslaught of truth will eventually overwhelm it.

* * *

TAKE the matter of former Chief of Staff Aprodicio A. Laquian being present at that Malacañang event where President Estrada affixed several times the signature “Jose Velarde” on bank papers brought to him by Equitable PCIBank officers.

After Laquian was mentioned by Equitable PCIBank senior vice president and trust officer Clarissa Ocampo as among those present during the signing, Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora told media that he had just talked to Laquian, who was/is back home in Canada.

Zamora retailed an elaborate story, which we had confirmed to be a lie, of Laquian telling him he did not remember that signing event and that the latter would have to consult his notes to refresh his memory. Et cetera.

* * *

ELSEWHERE in the Palace, other officials announced that Laquian would come over to testify for the President and demolish the testimony of Ocampo that Joseph Ejercito Estrada affixed a Jose Velarde signature on bank documents.

Why do they have to invent stories about Laquian? Why do they have to lie about such a simple matter? …unless prevarication has become official policy in the Palace under President Estrada.

* * *

AFTER Zamora mentioned him, we emailed Laquian at his address at the Centre for Human Settlements at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver to ask him directly about the story told by Zamora.

The next day, Dec. 27, Laquian replied to Postscript:

All I can say is that I have NOT talked to Secretary Ronnie Zamora since I left the Philippines in March 2000. If asked to testify, I will uphold the truth wherever it leads.

That was clear enough for us. Still, we emailed back to verify the authenticity of his reply (which he had sent using his wife’s email address instead of his own at UBC). Laquian promptly replied the next day, Dec. 28:

“I confirm that I sent you the message below in response to your email of 26 December 2000 regarding the Ocampo testimony. I was using my wife’s temporary email address….”

* * *

WILL Laquian testify in the impeachment trial? We asked him this question, but he did not answer it directly.

Impliedly, he would come over “if asked to testify.” Until yesterday, however, we did not know if either the prosecution or the defense had asked for his taking the witness stand.

If he testifies, on whose side would he be? Again, our clue is his saying that he would “uphold the truth wherever it leads.”

* * *

UNTIL now, we have no reason to doubt the truth of Ocampo’s testimony that Joseph Ejercito Estrada signed bank documents as Jose Velarde and that Laquian was among those in the room when he did that.

If Laquian would tell the truth, and we have no reason at this point to doubt his honesty, then he would confirm that such a signing incident happened in the Palace as recounted by Ocampo.

Beyond that, such as whether or not Laquian would confirm that the President signed as Jose Velarde, we don’t want to read any extended conclusion into his short email to us.

For one, it would have been improper for Laquian to peep over the shoulder of the President to check what signature he was using. What we don’t know is if Laquian, being Chief of Staff, gathered the documents for the President afterwards and checked the signature.

* * *

BEFORE we proceed, btw, we beg the anchor on Channel 21 who was updating viewers on the bombing incidents in Metro Manila to please stop saying “at this point IN TIME…” We developed migraine being subjected repeatedly to that atrocity of an expression.

The anchor should have noticed that when Dr. Firdaussi Abbas called the TV station to appeal to everybody not to automatically blame Muslims for the bombings, Abbas simply said “at this point” without adding “…in time.”

* * *

TO help readers arrive at their own conclusion on a remark by Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. on the burden of proof in cases involving government officials with assets grossly out of proportion to their legitimate income, we are reprinting some pertinent excerpts of the applicable laws.

Davide said last week that the burden of proving the excess wealth to have been illegally acquired rests on the prosecution.

On the other hand, the prosecution in the impeachment case of President Estrada said that the burden of proof is on the official caught with the unexplained wealth.

We secured the text from lawyer Leonard de Vera of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, whose view, we learned later, is that the burden of proof is on the accused official.

* * *

SECTION 2 of RA 1379, the law on the forfeiture by the state of property found to have been unlawfully acquired by a public officer or employee, says: “Whenever any public officer or employee has acquired during his incumbency an amount of property which is manifestly out of proportion to his salary as such public officer or employee and to his other lawful income and the income from legitimately acquired property, said property shall be presumed prima facie to have been unlawfully acquired.”

SECTION 8 of RA 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, says: “If in accordance with the provisions of RA 1379 a public official has been found to have acquired during his incumbency, whether in his name or in the name of other persons, an amount of property and/or money manifestly out of proportion to his salary and to his other lawful income, that fact shall be a ground for dismissal or removal. Properties in the name of the spouse and unmarried children of such public official may be taken into consideration, when their acquisition through legitimate means cannot be satisfactorily shown. Bank deposits shall be taken into consideration in the enforcement of this section, notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary.”

The same RA 3019, under its Section 7, requires a public officer to regularly file “true, detailed and sworn statements of assets and liabilities, including a statement of the amounts and sources of his income, the amounts of his personal and family expenses and the amount of income taxes paid for the next preceding calendar year.”

* * *

THE related issues of unexplained wealth and burden of proof cropped up in the impeachment trial when the prosecution submitted that President Estrada had declared a total worth of only P35 million for 1999, but allegedly had enough money to issue a P500-million check from a P1.2-billion account with the Equitable PCI Bank.

The P1.2-billion account is just one of several big deposits made by President Estrada in 1999, according to the prosecution.

Since his money in the bank is manifestly in excess of the P35 million he had declared in his statement of assets, the difference is prima facie proof of graft and should be seized by the government, the prosecution said.

Graft and corruption being an impeachable offense, the President should be convicted and removed, the prosecution added.

* * *

BUT the defense said the maintaining of the questioned Equitable PCI Bank account under the name of Jose Velarde was not alleged in the impeachment charge sheet. It is therefore irrelevant and immaterial, the defense said, and should be ignored.

Besides, there is no showing by the prosecution at this point that the P500 million was illegally acquired, according to the defense. Besides, there is yet no conclusion that Jose Velarde is President Estrada.

The prosecution countered that under the laws cited, any amount manifestly out of proportion to the declared legitimate income of an official is automatically presumed to have been illegally acquired and the burden of proving its legality rests on the official, in this case President Estrada (who the prosecution said is actually Jose Velarde).

The Chief Justice got embroiled in the debate after he stated from the chair that the burden of proving that the excess property was illegally acquired rests on the prosecution, and not on the accused.

* * *

WE want to advise readers, meanwhile, that we have closed our survey on what the public believe is the Best Exit for impeached President Estrada.

We thank those who have submitted responses. Many of them were insightful and a select few were very informative. When space permits, we might publish some of the remaining responses in coming issues.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 31, 2000)

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