POSTSCRIPT / March 12, 2009 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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The bet is Legacy boss will escape conviction

CLARK FIELD — When asked what I think would happen to Legacy empire builder Celso de los Angeles, if he would be convicted of syndicated estafa, I invariably answer, “No, nothing of that sort will happen, not here in the Philippines.”

Pardon my cynicism, but if some people think the double-your-money artist, who has amassed a fortune from gullible investors with the kind assist of government regulators, would go to jail or have his fingers cut off, I am afraid they would be disappointed.

The finance whiz kid and his lawyers are light years ahead of us in planning not only the investment scheme that has grossed him billions, but also his legal defense and escape route when the props and the scaffoldings come crashing down.

To get even or get back their investment, the well-heeled among his victims may try spending more money researching if De los Angeles has violated any United States law and if he has substantial assets in the US — and then sue him there.

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PROVE IT!: Private victims themselves will have to do the pursuing, because the government — some of whose officials are in cahoots with crooks — will not do it for the ordinary citizen.

So all that sound and fury in the Legacy hearings in the Senate, plus the advertised promise of Sen. Mar Roxas that swindling victims can make sumbong to him and be vindicated, may all be for naught? I think so.

The Senate, a legislative chamber, can only write an investigation report and propose prosecution or remedial legislation.

There is this loose nut in our legal machinery called “due process” which means that anybody accused of a crime is presumed innocent until convicted with finality by the highest court of the land after a tedious process that is susceptible to human frailties.

De los Angeles and his co-accused, like many other operators before him, will just put up the “Prove it!” legal defense that has been honed to perfection by Arroyo officials under fire. This stops in their tracks all pursuers, who often lack airtight evidence.

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BOUNCED BACK: Remember that De los Angeles is a veteran and has connections.

Years ago, after being linked to some banking anomalies, he was reportedly banned from ever holding a responsible position in any bank. He went abroad and lay low.

When he returned, presumably wizened, he was able to go back to banking almost with a vengeance. He did better than merely holding key positions in a bank — he managed to own a string of rural banks spread like a fishing net cast in rich waters.

How he was able to bounce back to banking has not been explained.

He also went into the pre-need business whose profitability and virtual immunity from close supervision and prosecution was shown in recent scandals that saw the Arroyo administration reduced to a mere onlooker, if not coddler.

Under the circumstances, how do we go after somebody like a De los Angeles?

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NPA JUSTICE: Actually there is a way.

Decades ago, there was what we in Pampanga called “NPA justice” — NPA standing for “Nice People Around.”

The martyred Ninoy Aquino — the boy wonder of Philippine politics before a threatened Ferdinand Marcos cut him down — used to tell us about it, about how plain folk sometimes looked for unusual solutions when the usual solutions failed them.

When a farmer lost his all-purpose carabao to rustlers, he went to the munisipio to report what to him was a heinous crime. When the usual investigation and promises failed, the desperate farmer made sumbong to the NPA.

In a few days, the farmer’s carabao was back and the rustler was found dead among the paddies.

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UNEXPLAINED WEALTH: So it seems to some of us that the wife and the three sons of retired Brig. Gen. Carlos Garcia, former comptroller of the armed forces, have a better chance of being acquitted back here than in the US.

Garcia’s wife Clarita Depakakibo and their sons Timothy, Juan Paolo and Ian Carl are facing charges in the US for allegedly smuggling in a large amount of dollars. All four were arrested in different states and detained.

Bringing into the US more than $10,000 in cash and other instruments is not a crime, but the moneys must be declared. The Garcias did not declare the big bucks they were carrying. They said they used to do that and thought it was routine.

The four family members are also the general’s co-accused in a P303-million plunder case with the Sandiganbayan. The Philippine government wants to have them extradited to Manila, but does not appear to be in a hurry.

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BIG JOKE: Also instructive about how easy it is to go around “due process” is the case of former Undersecretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante, who resisted efforts to extradite him from the US to face a Senate hearing into the alleged use of fertilizer funds for the 2004 election campaign.

When finally he was shipped back to Manila, a well-prepared Bolante had a grand time fending off questions of senators — contrary to expectations that his guilt would be quickly exposed, and he would be clapped in jail.

He landed instead in a luxury hospital and deigned to appear before the Senate only when he felt he was ready to face the grilling. The Senate hearing hardly scratched him. A recommendation for his prosecution, meanwhile, is hardly moving.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 12, 2009)

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