POSTSCRIPT / January 9, 2007 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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$2-M 'extort' comes back to haunt Perez

THIS FOR REAL?: It will be interesting watching former justice secretary Hernando “Nani” Perez squirm out of the extortion-robbery charges that the Office of the Ombudsman ordered yesterday to be filed against him.

Former Manila congressman Mark Jimenez had claimed that Perez, then in the Arroyo Cabinet, extorted some $2 million from him in exchange for dropping him as a co-accused in the plunder case against former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada.

Perez has denied the charges. But Jimenez produced documentary evidence, including some cancelled checks for the amount allegedly deposited in Perez’s account.

Not only that. The Ombudsman said it would also file against Perez charges for graft and corruption, and falsification of public documents for non-disclosure of some $2 million in his statement of assets and liabilities and net worth as required of government officials.

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MONEY-LAUNDERING: Even assuming Perez will be able to use a legal loophole, some loose ends in the documentation by the Ombudsman or debunk the charges, he still has to contend with other cases abroad related to the same $2 million.

A source told me that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and that international agency campaigning against money laundering already have the charge sheet and the supporting documents ready for filing.

The only detail missing, I was told, is the signature of Jimenez on the complaint.

Electronic sleuths, I was told, have followed the paper trail pertaining to the $2 million allegedly deposited first in Hong Kong then moved to Europe.

That separate case is likely to be filed abroad, beyond the reach of influence peddlers in the Philippine judicial system.

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ONE WAY OUT: But if Perez prays hard enough, he might still get a reprieve on those charges, even those reportedly being pursued by the FBI for filing abroad.

Jimenez has been obsessed lately with things spiritual. Believe it or not, he has been seeing, not lawyers or political strategists, but monks, nuns and that sort of religious crowd.

If you are lucky, you might catch him, clad in all-white, having coffee with nuns, chatting and laughing like classmates at a reunion, at Starbucks.

Such outings in surroundings entirely different from the nuns’ secluded home grounds are a break from more serious discussions at his penthouse at the Essensa in Fort Bonifacio.

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TOGETHER: It does not normally happen that nuns of various orders or congregations sit together and discuss common concerns, but Jimenez has been able to bring them together.

Those bugging his penthouse may get bored listening to them talk about spreading the Gospel, looking after the poor, spreading cheer and food to street children and slum dwellers, and helping launch livelihood projects.

The man that Erap Estrada once described as a corporate genius is in his element indirectly sharing his management and marketing techniques in helping the nuns find solutions to their earthly problems.

For instance, a monk has this recurring dream of a prayer center atop a hill described in detail in her vision. He moves to help locate the site and goes all out to make her vision a reality.

The monks discuss spiritual and survival problems besetting their areas. Some of these problems sometimes touch on logistics, a department where Jimenez seems to be amply blessed.

To put it plainly, he has millions, maybe billions, figuratively dropping from the sky.

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BUSINESS APRPOACH: So when a “big chief” monk mentions that her nuns have a hard time reaching remote areas in their weather-beaten pickup, Jimenez gets them a new vehicle.

When another group says they have to go and catch the bus for something urgent in the province, Jimenez asks them to sit down, not to hurry, and keep the discussion going. He has them ferried later by helicopter to catch up on their schedule.

With Jimenez talking, some projects inadvertently turn business-like. A monk says they want to streamline the making of hosts (the circular bread that is consecrated at Mass and distributed in communion), which is in short supply in some remote parishes.

The businessman responds by saying he will buy for them the latest host-making machine, so they can distribute standard-sized hosts to poor parishes.

Etcetera. Etcetera. Amen.

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WHAT’S UP?: So if Perez prays hard enough for MJ ( as his friends refer to him) to be absorbed deeper into this spiritual preoccupation, the man might just forget to sign the FBI documents.

Btw, the projects of religious congregations — among many other groups gravitating to him — are all over the country, not in Manila where political wags speculate Jimenez is preparing to run for mayor.

Think about it — if he is aiming for Manila, why is he dissipating his time and resources in far-flung places all over the archipelago?

He had shown up in calamity areas in the provinces to distribute relief goods and cash. He gave millions just like that to parents who could not collect on maturing pre-need plans for their children going to college.

MJ may want to run for senator? That is funny!

Maybe he dreams of becoming president? That one is a matter of destiny.

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REALLY READY?: If the fearful forecasts of pessimists are to be taken seriously, it looks like the government needs another super-typhoon to hit Cebu this week to justify the resetting, if needed, of the Asean and East Asia summit meetings set to open there Jan. 10.

While the government says it is all systems go for the Jan. 10-15 meeting of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, reporters yesterday saw workers still hammering at some portions of the Cebu International Convention Center.

At least the roof of the $11.2-million convention center, one of the main venues for the summits, did not leak when it rained yesterday. It did last time it rained.

Leaders of Asean members — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — are also meeting their counterparts from Japan, South Korea, China, India, Australia and New Zealand.

While the ministers and leaders will meet at the luxurious Shangri-la resort on Mactan island, separate meetings including those of the East Asia group will be held at the CICC. Hence the concern over the preparedness of the center.

Adding to the jitters are the travel advisories of a number of countries warning their nationals not to travel to Cebu, citing possible terrorist attacks.

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PSALM SCORES: The Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (Psalm) Corp. did not bungle it this time when it transferred the operation of the 112-megawatt Pantabangan Masiway plant to a winning bidder without a glitch.

Just recently, First Gen Hydro Power Corp., a wholly-owned subsidiary of First Gen Corp., acquired the hydroelectric complex in Nueva Ecija.

Psalm had vowed never to bungle again on its privatization moves after the botched sale of the Masinloc power plant in Zambales last year.

Psalm lined up for auction this year at least three more power plants in compliance with the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (or the EPIRA law).

The smooth sale of the Pantabangan plant shows that Psalm has corrected several errors in past transactions.

It also highlighted the fact that the government is on track with its privatization efforts in the power sector. It was criticized when it failed to meet the requirements set by the EPIRA law to privatize plants owned and operated by the National Poswer Corp.

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KUDOS: Engineer Edwin B. Maliwat, manager of the Lucena Fish Port Complex in Dalahican, Lucena City, writes to commend the management of the National Orthopedic Hospital in Quezon City.

He praised them for, he said, coming up with a “very systematic way of dealing with voluminous number of patients at their Emergency Room, for training their staff to be very courteous, accommodating, facilitating and efficient.”

He said: “I personally experienced being treated at their ER on Dec. 29, 2006, and I must say that the people I have dealt with were all professional, the delivery of services was swift and with concern.

“Good deeds, to multiply, must be given proper recognition. And this is my small contribution.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 9, 2007)

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