POSTSCRIPT / September 16, 2007 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Sandiganbayan dissects the anatomy of plunder

HAUGHTY: In its telecast last Wednesday, ABS-CBN showed my picture as the Federico Pascual of the Government Service Insurance System who bought P1.1 billion worth of shares in a gambling firm in 1999 and helped former President Joseph Estrada collect a commission of P189,700,000.

ABS-CBN never bothered to correct its error with equal prominence in the same program. The Lopezes and their minions in the network probably think they are untouchable, that they can get away with anything.

That haughty attitude may explain why many Lopez businesses are not doing very well.

A reader who wants the Senate to stop beating a dead horse in the Garci tape scandal, said that if senators really want attention, they can investigate instead ABS-CBN’s “Wowawee” noon show.

Everybody is already bored with Garci, but many Pinoys — even those in the States subscribing to a Filipino cable service — want to know if host Willie Rivellame “made daya” (cheated) in his “Wowawee” show.

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ACROBATS: The same reader who called himself “Asian barbecue” laughed at some senators’ “mixed” reaction to the conviction of former President Estrada for plunder. He said in an email (edited):

“All of them were saying that they respect the court ruling (siempre they have to say that pa-pogi line) but that they were saddened by Erap’s being found guilty! Really? Remember:

“Senate President Manuel Villar initiated, as then House Speaker, the impeachment of Erap by railroading the plenary session without regard to objections from Erap loyalists.

“Ping Lacson was the first general to abandon Erap by announcing on nationwide television that he and his police force were withdrawing their support from their godfather.

“Dick Gordon was one of the most vociferous in demanding that Erap be removed by hook or by crook.

“Pia Cayetano’s brother and her father not only played key roles in Erap’s impeachment but were among the loudest in denouncing him.”

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BELLE SHARES: The Social Security System, the private-sector counterpart of the GSIS, also bought 249,679,000 shares in the gambling firm Belle Corp. valued at P784,551,150.

Its president Carlos Arellano could throw away close to P800 million for high-risk stock, but could not pay pensions of retirees. In my case, for instance, because SSS records are in shambles they have withheld paying me my long-overdue pension.

The shares that Arellano and Pascual of GSIS bought on instructions of then President Estrada were priced at an average of P3.14 per share. Their combined Belle purchases totaled P1,887,516,757.50.

Weep when you hear this: As of Dec, 29, 2000, the shares that they bought at P3.14 each fetched only 60 centavos per share. As of Feb. 11, 2002, each share was worth 40 to 50 centavos.

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VELARDE ACCOUNT: For raiding the trust funds of state and private workers, the Sandiganbayan said, Mr. Estrada got a commission of P189,700,000. (It was supposed to be a cool P200 million, but they deducted taxes and other things.)

His commission was among the big amounts deposited in the Equitable-PCI Bank savings account No. 0160-62501-5 under the name “Jose Velarde” of which Mr. Estrada, according to the Sandiganbayan, “is the real and beneficial owner.”

It was from the same Jose Velarde account that P142 million was taken to buy the fabulous “Boracay mansion” for actress Laarni Enriquez. It was called Boracay because its huge pool had comparable fine sand and a wave-generating machine.

From jueteng tong collections – which former Ilocos Sur Gov. Chavit Singson said totaled P540 million – around P200 million was allegedly placed in a foundation for Muslim youths.

Singson’s testimony before the Sandiganbayan was substantially a repetition of his testimony during the impeachment trial of then President Estrada.

But the Sandiganbayan rejected Singson’s claim that the former president took P130 million from his province’s P200-million share in tobacco excise taxes.

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READ TEXT: Those looking for the full text of the Sandiganbayan decision on the plunder case can visit my website Click the link at the top of the home page to start reading on the anatomy of massive graft.

The plunder decision (case No. 26558) has 84,000 words printed on 262 pages, so be ready to strain your eyes. The companion case for perjury (No. 26905), where Mr. Estrada was acquitted, has 18,000 words.

(You might be wondering if I actually counted the words. No, that would have been an ordeal. I just copy/pasted the Sandiganbayan decision on a fresh page of MSWord, then asked for the word count.)

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ABBREVIATED: The defense was wise to ask that only the dispositive (or the judgment) part of the decision be read. It was just 4,000 words, or 1/21 of the total.

Had the entire decision been read, the public would have heard a detailed account of how Mr. Estrada committed plunder in connivance with his associates. More people would have understood why he was found guilty, the first Filipino official to be so convicted.

The public reaction was generally “ho-hum.” There were no widespread angry outbursts or vocal sympathy for the deposed president, with the exception of some rabid supporters who cried “injustice” in the streets.

The orderly resolution after six years of litigation at the Sandiganbayan should be a signal for everybody to go back now to the serious business of building a nation.

The former president has had his day in court. If he believes there was a miscarriage of justice, many means of redress are still open to him. If indeed he is innocent, that truth will eventually come out to set him free.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 16, 2007)

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