POSTSCRIPT / June 13, 2006 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Nani Perez better pray that MJ has mellowed

MJ RESCUE: A discussion of the plight of parents who bought pre-need educational plans to insure the worry-free college enrolment of their children is not complete without a mention of former congressman Mark Jimenez.

Jimenez was in the South helping calamity victims like a one-man Caritas-Social Welfare department rolled into one, spending millions from his own pocket, when he suddenly surfaced in Manila to take up the cudgels for pre-need planholders bracing for enrolment expenses.

Taking time off his quiet activities as shepherd of a religious group called Nagkakaisa sa Diyos — Nagkakaisang Pilipino para sa Kabutihan ng Gloria ng Diyos, Jimenez donated P20 million to bail out distressed planholders of Pacific Plans Inc., a pre-need firm.

Days later, he upped this to P50 million by including the more numerous planholders of College Assurance Plan Phil. Inc., a well-connected pre-need firm that is bigger than PPI. The court has not approved any rehabilitation scheme for CAP.

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PRIORITY FOR POOR: Learning that planholders were of varying degrees of economic need, Jimenez got hold of the data base of claimants and decided that the poorest among them would get priority assistance.

Among the planholders were vendors, low-salaried clerks and parents who scrimped to be able to pay the premiums. They now find themselves groping for help in enrolling their children without being able to draw from their pre-need plans.

Suddenly there was some relief when Jimenez entered the picture. Also a positive development in the case of PPI was the court decision approving its rehabilitation plan that seeks to ensure payment while nursing the firm back to financial health.

Jimenez also offered to pay for the bail of some planholders who had been charged with libel for making allegedly defamatory statements against PPI officials.

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SHRINE SET: The latest news on Jimenez is that he is planning to build a monastic shrine, a spiritual theme park, somewhere in Liliw or Majayjay in Laguna. He reportedly vowed to establish a shrine after he dreamed of it.

In his search for the ideal spot for the shrine, he has checked out suggested places as far south as Davao and Bukidnon in Mindanao, and Bohol in the Visayas. The last place he visited was Liliw.

A conversation with him reveals that as young as 4-6 years old, he had this obsession to reach out to those in need. As a boy, he would sneak out foodstuff and canned goods to give to poor neighbors near the railroad tracks in Paco, Manila.

When he was 5-7 years old, he would tarry in church and help out as a sacristan. It was almost the most natural thing to happen that at age 12, he entered the Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary.

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FED TO LIONS: Will not his occasional critical comments on public affairs and his helping people fighting powerful individuals get him into trouble?

He does not care. He says he just has to do what his conviction tells him.

Is not his philanthropy and his helping the downtrodden part of a long-range political timetable? It cannot be, he says, since he has foresworn politics after that frustrating immersion in it a few years ago.

His brief foray into politics, first as a close adviser of then President Joseph “Erap” Estrada and later as Manila congressman ended when he was called to account for his contributions to the campaign chest of his friend Bill Clinton, the US president.

Listening to him recall that episode, one senses that he feels he was fed by the Arroyo administration to the US prosecution service by having him extradited posthaste without affording him a chance to protect his rights and contest the process.

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HUMILIATION: That was the time he had to contend with then Justice Secretary Hernando “Nani” Perez, whom he had accused of persecution, of degrading him before his family and the community, and extorting $2 million from him.

It was also at that time that allegations were rife that Jimenez was giving millions to First Gentleman Mike Arroyo through a common friend who delivered the checks. Some of the funds allegedly ended up in a foundation of Mr. Arroyo, a fact that is easy to verify.

To forestall a political crisis with constitutional and diplomatic implications, Jimenez suggested to Speaker Jose de Venecia that he (Jimenez) volunteer to go back to the US to face the charges and not go through the messy extradition route.

Recalling what he went through, his friends say there was collusion between the Arroyo and the Bush administrations to humiliate him and drag him back to Florida in a crude manner that would ensure his missing the bail hearing set on a Friday.

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NANI, EN GARDE!: Btw, the end of that story on the alleged $2-million extortion by Perez waits to be written.

Based on details given to me, I would advise the Batangas politico to marshal his best legal defense against charges that he laundered a huge dollar hoard abroad.

I have been told that the charges are ready for filing by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and that Europe-based globaltask force monitoring movement of suspected dirty money.

The dollar deposit had been moved, allegedly in a vain attempt to hide it, but the paper trail reportedly has been traced by expert international sleuths.

I was told that the documents that form part of the evidence supporting the charges against Perez are just awaiting the signature of Jimenez.

Mr. Perez better pray that Jimenez had mellowed during his imprisonment in the US after he plea bargained and admitted having made the illegal political contributions. Who knows, Jimenez may have grown more charitable with his seeming return to religiosity.

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PARENTS’ PLAINTS: As expected, my last Postscript on pre-need plans elicited varied reactions. From my in-box, I chose an email from Dr. Florencio de la Cruz as I sensed the pain with which he wrote it:

“Thank you for writing about the pre-need planholders problems. Your discussion has been interesting. However there are certain few things that should be clarified.

“Pacific did not sell investments on the open-ended educational plans. They sold trust which was backed by the name of Yuchengco and nobody else. Had we known this is an investment, we would not have purchased this plan from the beginning.

“When they stopped selling those open-ended educational plans in 1992, they have foreseen that there would be problems in meeting their obligations to planholders. However they did not initiate any warning to the planholders that they will not be able to meet their obligations. They did not initiate moves to retrieve the open-ended plans in the secondary market.

“When they stopped selling those plans, they still had the bulk of the money that the plan holders have paid. They should have filed for rehabilitation in 1992 since they knew that they could not meet their obligations.

“Because of this mismanagement, the planholders became the victims. We could not send our children to school, because we have relied that our open-ended education plan would shoulder the bulk of expenses. Mind you, this is only tuition — not included are the miscellaneous fees. It is only now that they are changing the rules that this becomes investment.

“With regard to your mentioning that 58,000 were serviced completely leaving us 34,000 to suffer, is this fair for the planholders who all paid for their plans and relied on their trust that they will send our children to school?

“With regard to your comments that some of the planholders have this problem because they are sending their children to exclusive schools, is this a crime? Every parent wants the best for his children. What the planholders are asking for is their fair share, nothing more. If they paid for exclusive school plans they deserved exclusive school benefits.

“Most parents are now on the utang-sangla-sell scheme to send their children to school. They borrow money if they cannot meet obligation. This becomes sangla. If there is no way to pay it, this becomes sold. What if those parents cannot borrow, what will they do? Just accept fate and let their children work?

“This has become a big issue because this involves a group of parents who value education as a pillar for their children’s future and they are fighting for their children’s future — not an investment that has failed.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 13, 2006)

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