POSTSCRIPT / October 1, 2002 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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MJ a fugitive or not? Question stirs debate

POLITICAL REALITY: Everything considered, we see no way Manila congressman Mark Jimenez can escape being brought before a US court to answer charges filed against him. That is the political reality as we see it at this point.

It may take time before he appears before a US court because of his elaborate holding action, or it may suddenly happen if he decides to plea bargain — but it will happen.

Meantime, Postscript readers — based on their email to us — are split on how they regard this interesting man whom former President Erap Estrada called a corporate genius and who, according to his detractors, brokered some juicy deals for the short-time president.

The Erap factor, btw, is his heaviest public relations baggage. With his identification with the former president chased out of Malacanang by impeachment and plunder charges, Jimenez now has to contend with negative perceptions transferred to him.

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WHO’S A FUGITIVE?: We stirred some discussion when we said last time that it was incorrect to tag Jimenez a “fugitive” because he was not facing (and presumably not aware of) charges from the time he left the US on business trips in April 1997 until he arrived in the Philippines in May 1998.

It was only in April 1999, after almost a year after he came home, that some charges were filed against him in Florida. Warrants for his arrest were issued a month later, in May 1999.

The way the media labeled him a “fugitive,” one would think Jimenez had been arrested in the States but broke free, or was arraigned then vanished, or was convicted then eluded his police escorts or jumped bail or bolted jail.

Lawyer-journalist Mel “Batas” Mauricio said in an email that based on at least two Supreme Court decisions promulgated long before the Jimenez extradition case hogged the limelight, the congressman “is not and could never be considered a fugitive from justice.” Others disagree.

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RISK OF FLIGHT: Mauricio said: “This determination of whether Jimenez is a ‘fugitive from justice’ or not is important, considering that in its decision on his extradition case issued last Sept. 24, 2002, the high tribunal anchored its denial of bail to the solon on the claim that he is a ‘fugitive from justice.’

“The court said that since Jimenez is a ‘fugitive from justice,’ he must be detained immediately upon the filing of the petition for extradition against him, and that bail could be granted to him only after he has been put in prison, considering the great possibility of flight.

“In the 1995 case of Marquez vs. Comelec (243 SCRA 538), the high court defined a ‘fugitive from justice’ as someone who not only flees after conviction to avoid punishment but likewise someone who, after being charged, flees to avoid prosecution.

“Amplifying, the Supreme Court in the 1996 case of Rodriguez vs. Comelec (259 SCRA 296) said that the most important issue that should be looked into in classifying someone as a ‘fugitive from justice’ is his intent to evade.

“Obviously, the intent to evade refers to the frame of mind of the extraditee to avoid criminal prosecution, if a case has been instituted against him, or to avoid punishment if a decision has already been rendered against him.

“In that Rodriguez case, the high tribunal emphasized that the extraditee must know of the institution of the case against him, or of the imposition of a sentence against him, when he left the jurisdiction of the country requesting for his extradition.

“If the extraditee did not know, either of the filing of the cases against him or the issuance of the decision against him, prior to or at the moment he left the jurisdiction of that country, he could not be considered a fugitive.”

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FEELING THE HEAT: Reader Jorge Bocobo using an Infocom address has a contrary opinion. He said the Jimenez case “is an open and shut case of a US resident alien who felt the heat of the law and intentionally left America when he knew that he would eventually be charged with serious crimes.”

Bocobo quoted what he called a “US Code defining fugitives from justice”: “A fugitive from justice is a person who has fled from any state to avoid prosecution for a crime or to avoid giving testimony in any criminal proceeding.”

He added: “Your contention that MJ innocently traveled on ‘business trips’ and eventually relocated to the Philippines in May 1998 and was not charged at the time and is therefore not a fugitive does not hold water.

“If a person kills somebody, and is later questioned by the police and flees or hides afterwards when he feels the heat coming, that person becomes a fugitive from justice immediately after being indicted for the crime. Warrants of arrest are not needed to brand someone a fugitive as you again implied.

“By the way, MJ was indicted in Washington D.C. for illegal campaign contributions in September 1998. Pretty close to his May 1998 arrival in the Philippines, don’t you think?”

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ANTE-MORTEM STATEMENTS: We were able to trace an interview that the late Don Eugenio Lopez, patriarch of the Lopez clan, gave to Parade magazine in the US before he succumbed to cancer in July 1975.

The interview, which gives an insight into Lopez’s frame of mind at the time, debunks claims of former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile that the dying man willingly, and with profuse thanks to the dictator, signed away Meralco in a valid transaction.

Realizing that then President Marcos was fooling him when he promised to release his eldest son Geny in exchange for Meralco, the old man broke his silence with newspaper interviews in the US and exposed the pressure tactics being applied on his family.

Close to death in San Francisco, a bitter Eugenio gave an impassioned interview to Parade, a glossy insert for Sunday papers across America, exposing Marcos’s use of his son as a hostage. He said:

“I have already given up to the Marcos Foundation my holdings in Manila Electric which are worth at least $20 million. The Marcos Foundation had made to me the ridiculous down payment of $1,500 and claims they will pay some more if the company ever makes money. Meanwhile they control the company which is worth some $400 million.

“I signed over my holdings in the hope that President Marcos would release my son and let him join me here in San Francisco. But to date, Marcos has refused. He still holds my son captive and claims he will try him in a civil court.

“I accuse President Marcos of holding my son hostage so that he can blackmail me and my family into silence and have his front men take over all our business enterprises in the Philippines. Only recently the Marcos front men took over our family’s six TV and 21 radio stations. They paid nothing for them.

“I am an old man of 74. I am ill with cancer. I would like to have my son beside me, to see once more before I pass on. The report that Geny was involved in an attempt to assassinate Marcos is ridiculous. After all, Marcos was an old friend of ours. We supported him and Imelda until we realized his true aims.

“My family has agreed to all of the Marcos demands to secure the release of our son. I have signed away the Manila Electric Company, the largest corporation in the Philippines. I have signed away the largest TV-radio chain in the islands, the ABS/CBN broadcasting networks. But no sooner do I comply with one of their demands than they come up with another.

“First, they demanded that my family keep quiet about everything and never criticize Marcos or his martial law. Then they asked me to visit the Philippines to prove that I was no political opponent in exile, threatening Marcos’ position. I did that, too, in April 1974.

“I have been blackmailed into silence, into giving up millions of dollars in my company assets. Enough is enough. I refuse to be blackmailed further. The Marcos and Romualdez families have bled me dry.”

Four months later, on July 6, 1975, Eugenio Lopez died of cancer in San Francisco while Geny remained in prison on capital charges. From his deathbed, Eugenio pleaded with Marcos to send his son “under guard” for a last visit. Marcos refused.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 1, 2002)

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