POSTSCRIPT / September 6, 2001 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Dared on bank hoards, Ping beats hasty retreat

THREE POINTS: Sen. Panfilo Lacson beat a tactical retreat in the Senate yesterday and refused to meet head-on the three-point challenge of AFP intelligence chief Col. Victor Corpus on accusations that the senator had laundered millions of dirty dollars abroad.

Testifying before Senate committees looking into the charges, Corpus dared Lacson to do three things if he really did not launder money from criminal activities:

  1. To deny under oath that he has substantial deposits in foreign banks. Corpus noted that he and other witnesses were testifying under oath, but that Lacson was not.
  2. To sign a Power of Attorney authorizing military-police investigators to look into the details of Lacson’s bank accounts abroad. He said that if Lacson really has no bank accounts as claimed, he would not harm himself by signing such a waiver.
  3. To take simultaneously with Corpus a lie detector test on their foreign bank deposits, if any. Corpus said Lacson need not be afraid of such a test if it is true that he has no dollar hoard abroad.

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LACSON BACKS OFF: On his refusal to accept the challenge, Lacson said the Senate was not the right place to make such a statement under oath. He said if charges were filed before the justice department or the court, that would be the right place.

With due respect, we think that any place would be a good place and any time the right time to swear to the truth — if indeed it is true that he has no foreign currency hoard abroad.

What’s so difficult about professing one’s innocence under oath? Why does one have to be in a court to swear to it?

An innocent man will affirm the truth anywhere — in court, in church, in the forest, out at sea, among his peers, beside his dying mother, at Plaza Miranda, in a prison cell, in the Senate, anywhere, everywhere.

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WHY IS HE SCARED?: We’re intrigued by the same mysterious behavior of Lacson in staunchly refusing to issue a waiver of his rights under bank secrecy laws in favor of government investigators tracking down his alleged money laundering.

The waiver that Corpus wants is not a blanket authority for all suspected Lacson accounts everywhere. He is just asking for a waiver for specific bank accounts that he had listed in his testimony before the Senate.

If these accounts are indeed non-existent, Lacson should have no problem signing even a thousand waivers pertaining to these specific accounts. Why is the macho senator suddenly scared?

* * *

NO EVIDENCE: This behavior sends us confusing signals, because our information from California is that the investigators sent by Corpus to look into Lacson dollar hoards have been unable (as of last Monday) to turn up any convincing evidence of money laundering.

Our informant said that whatever pieces of paper that Corpus’ boys had been able to gather in the US so far could not sustain charges in court. They have to dig deeper.

He added that it was the US customs service, not the vaunted Federal Bureau of Investigation, that picked up the supposed Lacson bank records now being bandied about in Manila.

His theory is that the FBI was mentioned probably just to make followup reports of our own national bureau of investigation look impressive.

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CITIBANK TRICKS: Corpus belittled the Citibank certification read by Lacson into the Senate records that the senator did not have any account with the bank. The certification implied that Corpus was misinformed or was peddling lies when he reported the alleged accounts of Lacson.

Corpus pointed out that Citibank also issued similar certifications for Raúl Salinas, the older brother of former (1988-94) Mexico president Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who was later caught with huge hoards in Swiss and British banks.

Citibank officials coordinating with their banks in Europe were found to have even helped Salinas open secret accounts, estimated at $100 million, sometimes with the use of fictitious account names and offshore companies and trusts.

Although Salinas’s administration scored high for its economic reforms, it lost some when his brother Raúl was arrested in 1995 for the murder of a political party official and later accused of massive financial misappropriations. In the gathering storm, Carlos Salinas was pressured into exile.

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DON’T QUIT YET: But still, we would hesitate at this point to join the clamor for the resignation of Lacson from the Senate.

Using his own rejoinder to the challenge of Corpus for him to sign a waiver and declare his innocence under oath, we think “this is not the right time” — yet — for him to resign.

The presentation of evidence in the Senate has been mostly one-sided, which is normal, since those making the accusations will have to state their case first before the accused is able to defend himself.

There is also the fact that Lacson is an elective official with a direct mandate from the people. There is no established method of recall for senators, but if enough of the electorate sign a demand for his resignation, that is another matter.

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NAPOCOR DEMAND: Over at the Government Service Insurance System, we were amazed to learn that National Power Corp. has been pressuring the system to allow NPC to decide with whom GSIS would reinsure NPC coverage purportedly worth $10 billion.

The NPC lost some $2 billion last year, but it maintains $10 billion as the working figure. That’s still a lot of money, in fact it is the biggest account of the GSIS. From the reinsurance commission alone, some lucky official in NPC could retire several times over in luxury.

We don’t know who in NPC stands to catch the windfall. We can only report that NPC President Jesus Alcordo wrote the GSIS on Aug. 24 saying that the NPC has formed a committee to select the reinsurance firm. The GSIS was asked to send two representatives to the committee.

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ROLE REVERSAL: Wait a minute, said GSIS president and general manager Winston Garcia who was surprised by the attempt to reverse roles. He said: “The law is clear and unequivocal about which entity has the responsibility to insure and reinsure government assets, and it is the GSIS.”

Finance Secretary Jose Isidro Camacho, who is NPC chairman, agrees: “GSIS is mandated by law as the insurer of government properties.” Garcia and Camacho were referring to RA 656, which orders all state firms to ensure with the GSIS.

The NPC is actually willing to insure with the GSIS, but it wants to dictate to whom the GSIS should reinsure the risk. Reinsurance, which spreads the risk, is common practice in the business.

* * *

WHO’S HE?: Sources at the GSIS are wondering at the apparent influence of somebody named George Francisco, said to be a consultant of the NPC president.

In one of their conversations on the issues, Alcordo gave Garcia the business card of Francisco who he said would negotiate with the GSIS on the insurance question. The card identified Francisco as the president of “Capital Strategies Inc.”

Garcia refused to deal with Francisco, since the latter had no official personality.

The imbroglio must be resolved before Sept. 30, when the current insurance of NPC expires. If the reinsurance is negotiated too close to the deadline, the time pressure could jack up rates.

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P.A.L. NETS P419M:Over at the Philippine Airlines, while the flag carrier is expecting growth and profitably over the near term, its officials confess being a little worried over “external challenges.”

Reporting to stockholders in their recent meeting in Manila, PAL chairman Lucio Tan and president Avelino L. Zapanta exuded optimism as a result of the two straight years of profits after six years of massive losses.

The officials reported a net income of P419 million for the 2000-2001 fiscal year ending March 31. The figure is a slight adjustment of the P436 million announced earlier and is more than nine times the previous year’s profit of P45.8 million.

Despite the encouraging financial report, Tan and Zapanta warned about “the uncertainty in the global economy, the unpredictability of jet fuel prices, the continuous escalation of passenger service levels, the constant pressure on yields, and intensifying competition.”

The airline is on target in its financial commitments to creditors despite operating problems that cropped up during the year, they said.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 6, 2001)

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