POSTSCRIPT / September 2, 2001 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Ping threw an 'All right' and lost some points

SEN. Panfilo Lacson (PMA ’71) made a big gamble when he threw an “All right” question to Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes (PMA ’66) in last week’s televised Question Hour in the Senate.

“All right?” is the ultimate question that is asked to extract the truth from a cadet or an officer bound by the same honor code imbibed in the Philippine Military Academy. One does not trifle with it.

The officer being asked is bound by code and tradition to be truthful, forthright and not be evasive in his response. If he replies “All right, sir,” he is deemed telling the truth and there is no need for further questioning, or doubting.

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ANOTHER key point is that one does not challenge his upperclassman or senior officer with an “All right.” More so in a public and contentious setting like the Senate proceedings covered live by media, including television.

By resorting to “All right,” Lacson must have been desperate to push back Reyes, whose testimony has not been very helpful to the senator being accused of murder, kidnapping, robbery, drug-trafficking and money-laundering.

While Lacson may have been subliminally trying to gain the sympathy the officer corps, particularly fellow PMA alumni, by pinning Reyes with an “All right,” many Peemayers we’ve talked to said that the senator failed to rally support or sympathy.

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REYES EVASIVE?: Instead of an “All right, sir,” Reyes’ reply was a solemn “I am under oath, your honor.”

Was Reyes evasive, maybe lying in part or harboring a mental reservation when he failed to candidly return with an “All right” reply? The unanimous answer of the Peemayers we had asked was “No.”

The consensus was that Reyes did not want to dignify what they said was the uncalled-for resort to the ultimate “All right” question.

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IN the first place, they said, Lacson should not have used “All right” on his senior officer and in a public setting at that.

Secondly, as Reyes himself pointed out, he was already testifying under oath before the Senate. That, plus his word of honor as an officer and a gentleman should be more than assurance that he was telling the truth.

Thirdly, if the resort to “All right” was beamed at the officer corps of the armed forces, such a pitch registered to many as reckless and divisive. At a time when the alumni in the service are under siege, pressing them to take a position for or against the Secretary of Defense, a senior alumnus, could further split the corps.

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HOSTILE FIRE: Instead of confronting Reyes in a public arena the way Lacson did, we think he should first try talking to him in private. Alone together, the beleaguered senator can then shoot at his senior all the “All rights,” and more, in his arsenal.

Open confrontation would just cause Reyes, or anybody in his position, to stiffen. That’s not good for the junior officer looking for an ally while trying to extricate himself from hostile fire.

We want to share with Lacson our observation that among Peemayers we’ve talked to, the defense secretary is way above the senator as far as reputation is concerned. Some of them even believe some of the charges hurled against Lacson.

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LACSON needs as many allies as he can muster because he is under fire from various directions.

Aside from the spectacle in the Senate, where he has to contend with adverse public perception, there is also the Ombudsman who is now looking into charges of wiretapping and perjury in connection with state-of-the-art eavesdropping devices that Lacson and his men had allegedly used.

Also forwarded to the Ombudsman were documents from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation on an alleged substantial bank deposit in San Francisco in the name of his wife Alice — an account whose existence he has been denying.

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POLITICAL HIT JOB?: Earlier on, Lacson tried using the defense that all this is a political hatchet job because, according to him, he looms as a presidential candidate in 2004. This line of defense had been found effective in some other cases.

Assuming there is a political motive behind the charges, it seems to us, however, that that is irrelevant to the probative value of the cold evidence that may be presented.

The basic question is whether the accusation is true and can be proved. It is secondary, if not irrelevant, if the accuser himself has skeletons in his closet. Sometimes former partners in crime of the accused are the bearers of damning evidence.

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BENTAIN CASE: Meantime, we’ll give you a peek into the latest affidavit of Danny Devnani, the Indian “owner” of Club 419 in Greenhills, San Juan. where he said a lot interesting things happen aside from the alleged heavy gambling and the cutting of big deals.

Toward the end of his 15-page affidavit, Devnani talked of the disappearance of Edgar Bentain, the audio-visual operator who leaked the videotape showing then Vice President Erap Estrada and his friend Charlie “Atong” Ang gambling at the Heritage Hotel casino on Roxas Blvd.:

“I recall that some months after the 1998 elections I met with Atong at the Heritage Hotel to tell him of my complaint that my credit line for gambling was ordered cut by Casino Filipino. I sought his help to make arrangement with Butch (Tenorio), a casino Filipino executive, for the restoration of my credit line.

“I believed that Atong Ang was malakas with Mr. Tenorio and the former could therefore persuade the latter to accommodate my request. To this, Atong told me that during that time he was not the right person to make representation with Butch.

” ‘Nagaway kami sa harap ng Presidente (referring to President Estrada) at nasampal ko siya (Tenorio),’ he said. Atong confided to me that the slapping incident took place while he heatedly berated and argued with Butch for the latter’s failure to prevent the leakage of the aforesaid controversial videotape which embarrassed him (Atong) and Erap.

I asked Atong if he already identified the person responsible for absconding with the copy of the videotape and releasing the same to media to which he responded, ‘Alam ko yan, kami na bahala. Malapit na.’

“I did not give due importance to Atong’s statement until an incident took place sometime in January 1999 which convinced me that the same had an ominous and possible fatal consequence to the person responsible for the same videotape leakage.

“One night in February 1999, after retiring from the gambling table at the Silahis Casino Filipno, Grand Boulevard hotel, and before proceeding to go home I decided to take my meal at the Fu Manchu Chinese restaurant at the ground floor of the said hotel.

“To get to the restaurant, I had to pass the hotel coffee shop where I noticed Atong with Eduardo Villanueva, a policeman and Atong’s chief security officer, and some other friends seated at a table. I noticed that Atong’s eight or so security escorts were also seated at another table a few meters from Atong’s.

“I waved at Atong who looked towards me and who appeared to have sensed and recognized my presence. Atong, however, looked very worried and disturbed as he was busy juggling cellular phones and answering calls. Nonetheless, I walked toward Atong, positioned myself a meter away from him and waited for him to finish his calls.

“After finishing his calls, Atong said ‘Kumusta,’ to which I responded,‘Panalo kami, kain muna ako.’

“Intrigued as to why Atong appeared bothered and worried, I asked ‘Bakit ganyan ka, may problema ka ba?’

“He answered, ‘Alam mo naman marami akong problema — sige uwi ka na at tatawagan na lang kita mamaya at mag-karaoke tayo.’

I excused myself and said, ‘Sige, mauna na ako, tawagan mo na lang ako.’ Thereafter, I walked toward the direction of the Chinese restaurant.

“While pacing toward the restaurant, I greeted one of Atong’s bodyguards who was some five meters away from Atong and who approached me. I then asked this bodyguard, ‘Anong problema ni 1-5 (1-5 is the code I use to refer to Atong).’ The bodyguard responded and whispered to me, ‘Nandiyan si Bentain.’

“I did not pay much attention to such remark and proceeded to have my meal before I repaired to my home. Days later, I read in the newspapers about the abduction of Bentain.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 2, 2001)

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