POSTSCRIPT / January 13, 2005 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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High time gov't put up or shut up on Tan case

THE PRESS UNBOWED: Unless we are privy to the details of the torching the other day of an ABS-CBN outside broadcast van in Mandaluyong, it would be irresponsible for us to advance any theory on who did it and why.

Every possible culprit — including the administration, the opposition, anarchists, terrorists, putschists and dissidents — can be assigned a likely motive for burning the van without bringing us closer to solving the crime.

The best thing to do is to leave it to the police to solve the crime and bring the perpetrators before the court to answer for their dark deed.

But as a journalist, I cannot but lament the incident’s being an affront to press freedom, despite the hard fact that most of us in this difficult profession are never deterred by such violent antics.

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3RD TIME AROUND: There is a season for everything, Ecclesiastes said. For taipan Lucio Tan, the time has come to face the music finally, starting with his arraignment on tax charges last week before a Marikina trial court.

The time has come also for government to finally put up or shut up. For over a decade now, the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Internal Revenue have been hounding Tan with a dogged determination bordering on persecution.

Twice, the case went up to the Supreme Court, first on alleged violation of Tan’s right to due process, and second, when the high court reinstated the case after setting aside a lower court ruling dismissing it on a technicality.

Originally filed in 1993 by then BIR chief Liwayway Vinzons Chato, Tan’s tax case is now on its third round. And as in the previous two rounds, it appears government is still grasping at straws to put together a case that can stand in court.

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SPOTTY EVIDENCE: After nearly 12 years, three presidents and at least nine secretaries of justice, no conclusive evidence has been presented against Tan.

Chato’s much-touted and highly-publicized “truckload” of evidence was nowhere in sight when it was time to prove her charges.

In fact, at least one Ramos-era justice secretary admitted years ago that at best, what Chato gave the DoJ were only two folders that — in his words — were grossly insufficient to back up the case, much less secure an indictment.

It is interesting that Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales himself was reported recently to have remarked that the DoJ might have difficulty complying with a court order to produce evidence in support of the tax case.

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FOOT-DRAGGING: This failure by state prosecutors to produce the evidence against Tan was the reason cited in 1994 by a Quezon City judge in barring DoJ prosecutors from conducting a preliminary investigation.

This was eventually upheld by the Supreme Court in 1997 when it ordered the DoJ to produce the documents and give Tan and his co-respondents sufficient time to examine them.

Since presentation of evidence is part of elementary due process, Tan and his co-accused have every reason to be frustrated and angry with government’s foot dragging. Either government has evidence or it doesn’t. It’s that simple.

Indeed, there is a time for everything: A time to sow and a time to reap. In Tan’s tax case, the sate has no reason to harvest because it has not sown anything solid

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MRT-7 PUSHED: Some foreign investors are moving to join the project that will transport millions of commuters on a new 20-km eight-lane dedicated highway from the North Luzon Expressway to Tala, Quezon City, and from there on a 22-km light rail (MRT-7) to the North Triangle in QC.

The road-rail line passing Novaliches and Fairview will connect to the North Ave. main terminal of the MRT running along EDSA all the way to Baclaran.

The North Ave. connection could link MRT-7 to the entire Metro loop, including the Balintawak end-station of the Baclaran-Caloocan LRT and the planned 6-km line to the North Rail terminal in Caloocan.

A 4.8-km spur line connecting to Line 2 at Katipunan will complement Phase-2 of the MRT-7 project together with an integrated joint station with MRT-3.

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TALA HUB: Aside from easing traffic north of the national capital, the $1.8-billion MRT-7 project is expected to help develop the areas where it passes. Its construction andoperation will generate jobs.

It is almost a certainty that malls, and related businesses, will sprout in the 195-hectare bus-train Tala depot where the dedicated Bulacan road meets the rail line. These will replicate similar malls, such as SMCity on North Ave.

Expecting heightened human traffic in Tala, proponents are planning high-rise housing and commercial development in this node that could become the nucleus of a new emerging city.

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CABINET NOD: Universal LRT Corp., project proponent, has firmed up discussions with Siemens to assume leadership of the consortium jointly with China Railway #18th G.

Foreign investors have found attractive the real estate part of the deal. An estimated $500-$700 million is expected to be spent for property development on top of the $1.2 billion for the rail line itself under Phase 1

Seeing its strategic importance, the Department of Transportation and Communication is endorsing the project to the NEDA-ICC that is reportedly impressed by the MRT’s economic impact.

The project will have to be approved by the Cabinet committee on transportation and communication.

The project proponent said that if things go as planned, work on the MRT-7 would start by 2006 and the new rail line would be operational by 2009.

The group said it could have the option to complete the MRT-LRT loop in Metro Manila considering that it was invited to bid in the completion of the 6-km line from North Ave. to the North Rail terminal in Caloocan, a pet project of President Arroyo.

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HARM TO P.S.E.: With Metro Pacific Corp. having been cleared of wrongdoing in the sale of some of its shares, it is counter-productive for brokers who did not profit from the

transactions to keep harping on the supposed irregularity.

Infighting and dissension continue to plague the Philippine Stock Exchange as some brokers keep insisting that Metro Pacific was not yet off the hook despite the PSE’s Market Integrity Board clearing it of irregular activities.

Some concerned brokers have expressed fear that the protracted debate, especially in forums outside the PSE, may erode the credibility and integrity of the stock exchange itself.

In clearing MPC, the MIB said that Metro Pacific did not violate the rules on disclosures when it announced the sale by First Pacific Company Ltd. (FPC) of its 5-percent stake in MPC after the sale was consummated.

The MIB also cleared FPC/MCP of insider training charges.

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S.E.C. BETTER WAIT: The MIB concluded in its report that “what the SRC requires to be disclosed is change in ownership, not a planned or intended change in ownership.” The language of the provision indicates that the duty to disclose arises after the sale, not before, the MIB said.

With that, the insider trading charge fell flat. The MIB ruling affirmed that a stockholder can dispose of the shares before disclosure without running afoul of the insider trading law.

But even the Securities and Exchange Commission and the PSE that it regulates do not seem to see eye to eye on the same issues. The SEC recently questioned the basis of PSE in clearing MPC of insider trading charges.

As I see it, the SEC’s making public comments on the dispute is unusual and premature until the dispute is raised to it in a side action or on appeal.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 13, 2005)

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