POSTSCRIPT / November 28, 2002 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Dizzying megabucks deals involving (ND)

WHY NOT $15M?: It was not just $2 million, insisted Sen. Panfilo Lacson, the former Top Cop who had done his own investigation into charges that Justice Secretary Hernando Perez had been given that small fortune by Manila Rep. Mark Jimenez in a case of bribery/extortion (decide for yourself).

Lacson said the total amount that was supposed to change hands was $14 million, and that the $2 million was part of it.

And while Lacson said that the $14 million was for a power contract, Jimenez explained that he gave the $2 million to Perez to fend off the hounds of the Arroyo administration harassing him and his family.

Out of curiosity, we asked former President Erap Estrada the last time we talked to him: “Bakit may butal pa? Why was it only $14 million, and not a round $15 million?”

Erap stopped shelling his grilled prawns and grinned: “Baka sinikwat ni (ND or Name Deleted) ang one million. Maybe (ND) pocketed the $1 million.”

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ERAP ON THE REBOUND: By the way, Erap is looking better these days and the number of people seeking an audience with him is getting bigger. By coincidence, approval surveys of the Arroyo administration are showing alarming results.

From his guarded presidential suite at the Veterans Medical Center in Quezon City, the President-on-leave (according to him) is hoping to spend Christmas at his San Juan residence under “house arrest.”

We recall that the late Sen. Ninoy Aquino himself (who would have turned 70 yesterday) was granted by the dictator a Christmas furlough before he was sent abroad for medical treatment. At that time, Ninoy had a death (by musketry) sentence on his head.

But if the Sandiganbayan justices would deny Erap even just house arrest during the Yuletide, he said he would be happy if his son Jinggoy, former San Juan mayor, and the lawyer tending to his Muslim foundation who are co-accused in the plunder case against him will be given home leave by the graft court.

* * *

ERAP CONFIRMS APPROVAL: Back to that controversial power deal that has been in the news lately, we asked Erap if it was true as claimed by many people in the know, including officials of the power firm itself, that then President Estrada had approved the contract.

To our surprise, Erap said Yes he had approved it — but explained that that was only to give then Finance Secretary Jose Pardo “full authority” to negotiate and take the next proper steps.

He elaborated that he had misgivings about the contract because the proponents were asking for “sovereign guarantee” for bank loans for the project. He stressed that his policy was not to grant government guarantee for private business seeking loans.

* * *

CHECK THE TEXT: The question of whether Erap approved that power contract or not is no idle point. The Arroyo administration which is now pressed to defend its “lightning approval” of the contract claims that it was actually the former president who approved it and that the present administration is just implementing it.

But Erap was clear about his giving it his approval. We tried hinting that maybe it was not approval, but just an “endorsement” to Pardo for the latter to take whatever action was appropriate. But Erap did not take back his disclosure that he “approved” it.

So now we are looking for that piece of paper showing Erap’s signature — not Jose Velarde this time but really Joseph Ejercito Estrada. We want to see how his approval was worded, so we can decide for ourselves what his “approval” meant.

* * *

$1M FOR DAY’S WORK: That point will have to be clarified, because it will determine the validity of charges that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo approved the deal only four days into her administration (she took the presidency on a Saturday and the deal’s approval came Tuesday) on the strength of a legal opinion of her justice secretary.

Not counting the weekend, Justice (now on leave) Secretary Perez came up with that crucial legal opinion upholding the deal in only two days. Now if it was true that $2 million was given to him, that would be a cool $1 million per day of work!

(No wonder some officials are denying the cries of the opposition and a big section of the population that we have fallen into hard times).

Of course Perez denies having received the amount, and under our legal system, he is presumed innocent until proved otherwise.

Unfortunately for him we are not just under a legal system. We are also under a political and a social system where perception is often more important than legalities.

* * *

NO $14M OFFERED TO HIM: Since we were face to face with the man himself, we asked Erap if it was true that he was offered $14 million by the proponents of the power deal. He said No, he was not offered by officials of the power firm.

It was just (ND), he said, who told him that the interested foreign investors were ready to shell out $14 million if he approved the deal. The way he said it, Erap sounded like he did not trust (ND) and was skeptical that the $14 million offer was true.

We picked up the mistrust angle and asked why he had a falling out with this supposed investment genius.

* * *

LOPEZES DUNNED $.5M: That started Erap talking about how it got to him that (ND) used his name to summon officials of top corporations and extorted huge sums from them. He said that while (ND) was talking to the top businessmen, his phone would ring and he would pretend to be talking to the President to impress his audience with his right connect.

He said he finally caught (ND) when his in-laws the Lopezes of the Manila Electric Co. requested Beaver Lopez (married to Erap’s daughter Jackie) to find out directly from the President if he got the $500,000 that (ND) extorted from them supposedly to give to his boss Erap.

The Lopezes were at the time applying with the National Telecommunications Commission for 5 megahertz for their Bayantel telephone firm. The going rate, it would seem, was $100,000 per megahertz granted.

Of course Erap’s obvious allergy to (ND) may be explained partly by the possibility that this former consultant of his may just testify against him in his plunder case involving various juicy mega-deals. That’s another story we will pick up some other day.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 28, 2002)

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