POSTSCRIPT / July 12, 2001 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Gov’t trying hard to lose plunder case against Erap?

WE have this annoying feeling that in the end former President Erap Estrada would walk out of the Sandiganbayan clean and clear.

We cannot put our finger on why or how Erap would go scot-free. It’s just a feeling engendered by our years of watching the judicial circus from a ringside seat or, sometimes, right there with the performers.

We’ve actually grown tired seeing innocent men being tagged and guilty respondents simply walking.

If Erap were cleared, as our gut feel tells us, we would probably yawn and go back to bed.

* * *

WE’VE been wondering lately where all those cronies of Erap have gone after feeding his obvious character flaw and making millions off it.

Sometimes we feel sorry for the guy’s having been abandoned by all those fawning and scheming midnight Cabinet members who must be now looking for the right connect to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s husband or The Law Firm of the moment.

* * *

HAVE you stopped to think where the Dante Tans, the Atong Angs, the Dichavezes… the whole cast… have gone?

Correct us if we’re mistaken, but these gentlemen whose names reverberated in the halls of the Senate during the impeachment trial of the former President are nowhere in sight. Most of them are now neither witnesses nor co-accused.

We want to ask Justice Secretary Nani Perez how come these gentlemen who used to hobnob with Erap seemed to have vanished. But litigation fatigue prevents us from hauling ourselves to the DoJ just to ask a simple question whose answer is quite obvious.

* * *

AND we wonder (as if we don’t know) how the State can hope to win its case against Erap and his phalanx of smart lawyers without these key people being summoned to have the truth wrenched from their sealed lips.

With most of the vital witnesses or co-conspirators having been allowed to slip out of the country, how can the State win its case against Erap?

Not content with letting go Tan, Ang, Dichavez and the rest of the high-flying cronies, now Nani wants to send another important witness, newly-minted congressman Mark Jimenez, across the ocean to America under the pretext of extradition!

Pardon our using the ambiguous “State” to refer to the active prosecutors, because you see we’re still not sure who would get the, huh, credit — whether it be Nani Perez or Ombudsman Aniano Desierto — when Erap’s acquittal is finally affirmed.

* * *

JIMENEZ has signed a damning affidavit implicating Erap to plunder deals — and Nani wants him kicked out?

What’s going on? Really, Ate Glo should call in his Justice secretary and ask him.

Is a puzzlement, as our Siamese twin would say. Especially after we received reports that somebody who looked more like Mark Jimenez than Santa Claus had been pressured to wire his Hong Kong bank to transfer $2 million to some high-profile official’s account.

We’ll let the younger newspapermen do the legwork of tracing the paper trail and finding out who among our officials involved in the Erap plunder case has been commuting with unusual frequency to Hong Kong.

* * *

DESPITE our age (we’re already 33) and our quarry’s known allergy to the prying press, we were able to track down Mark one morning to verify the reported transfer of $2 million.

As expected, for the record, the poor guy denied it. We asked him three times and, like Peter, he denied it thrice. But in this business, as it is in the Bible, we know that there are various kinds of denials.

Whatever it was, we would not be surprised if Mark now finds a US federal grand jury less troublesome than our own kind — and decides to just “extradite” himself to the US of A. For one thing, American justice is less expensive.

(Btw, the “33” above refers to the waistline, regardless of the boys at the bar insisting it is somebody’s age or, worse, IQ.)

* * *

TALKING of Dante Tan, another reason why the sheriff should bring him back is that some contractors who had helped him rush an ErapTown for the homeless as his birthday gift to the Boss in 1999 have remained unpaid.

We’re talking of just P2 million, more or less. Considering the multimillions he raked in in the Best World stock transactions and his whopping Bingo deals, Dante should be able to redeem his name to these contractors who are among the Big Leaguers in the business.

The unique housing project, started on a seven-hectare area in Taguig owned by the San Juan city government, was to feature clusters of buildings ingeniously designed from old 10-ft by 30-ft container vans placed on top and beside one another in Lego-fashion.

Some 70 to 100 units were to be built, each one housing 20 poor families.

* * *

DANTE had a prototype built and the foundations for the rest of the units rushed for presentation to Erap on his birthday on April 19, 1999.

Pressed for time, he got topnotch builders who had the expertise, experience and equipment to beat the deadline. They delivered. Even the toilet bowls were gushing with water when Erap flushed them despite the absence of a water system as the civilized world knows it.

Dante earned some points with the Boss with that Pabahay para sa Kaunlaran miracle. Now if only he would pay the poor contractors, including one who is stricken with cancer and badly needs the money…

If he is really into bad times like the rest of us, Dante could sell one of his luxurious Mercedeses and clear this account from the books.

* * *

HERE’S another one who might just impress his bosses and end up being director and not just officer-in-charge of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. He is Chief Supt. Arturo Alit who became OIC of the BJMP after Chief Supt. Aquilino Jacob Jr. quit.

Alit is telling us that the quality of the food ration of inmates in all prisons nationwide has improved without his asking for additional funds. What he did was to cancel all catering contracts that did not specify any expiration date.

For the last four years, no bidding has taken place, resulting in the deterioration of the quality of the food rations. It did not help that the daily meal budget for each inmate is a measly P30.

There are around 35,000 inmates languishing in the country’s jails for whom there is a meal allowance budget of P1,050,000 a day or about P394 million a year. That’s quite a tempting sum.

Alit created a regional mess council composed of BJMP regional senior officers, representatives of tri-media and religious groups to insure transparency in the bidding for catering done every three months.

He also tapped the BJMP community relations service, which invited representatives from media and the religious sector to inspect jail conditions unannounced and report irregularities and recommend reforms.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 12, 2001)

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