Sunday, January 29, 2012

'Accuser's kin all in drug business'

MANILA, Philippines - The Northern Police District (NPD) anti-illegal drugs division officials charged with extortion before the National Police Commission said yesterday the complainant only wanted to get back at them for arresting her relatives for drug offenses.
Chief Inspector Romeo Ricalde Jr., NPD-District Anti-Illegal Drugs (DAID) Special Operations Task Group head, said the family of Editha Morales, 33, a resident of Bagong Barrio in Caloocan City, is at the top of their list of suspected drug peddlers.
“The complainant’s husband is in jail for a drug offense, her mother and her three siblings were also arrested for the same offense. Drug peddling is their family’s business,” Ricalde told The STAR yesterday.
Ricalde said Editha’s younger siblings – Christopher, Peter and Bernadeth – all residents of Bagong Barrio in Caloocan City, have been charged with drug offenses by the NPD-DAID. Senior Police Officer 1 Fernando Gomboc led the team who arrested them.
Editha’s mother Edna, and Editha’s two other sisters – Irene and Daisy – were arrested by the Caloocan City police anti-narcotics unit, he said.
Ricalde said on Dec. 30, 2011, his men also conducted a drug bust targeting Edna’s other brother, identified only as “Pogi,” in Bagong Barrio but failed to arrest him.
Chance encounter
On Jan. 3, at around 4 p.m., Ricalde tasked a team led by Police Officer 3 Doelethone Gatdula to turn over to the custody of the Caloocan City Jail drug suspect Brandon Buenaventura.
Ricalde said when his men were about to return to the DAID office, they encountered Editha and Edna outside the jail. The two women confronted the police officers about their failed operation against Pogi, accusing them of trying to shoot him.
Gatdula told Editha and Edna to follow them to their office if they want to file a formal complaint, Ricalde said.
Record at the DAID blotter showed Edna and her daughter arrived at the anti-narcotics unit office at around 5 p.m. on Jan. 3 but both left after a heated argument with the police. Ricalde said Edna resented it when he scolded her about allegedly consenting to her children’s illegal activities.
Ricalde said Edna warned him and his men that she would sue them.
On Jan. 5, Editha filed a complaint before the Napolcom accusing Ricalde, Gatdula and Gomboc of illegal arrest, arbitrary detention and extortion.
In her statement Editha claimed two men forced her into a gray Toyota Innova car and brought her to the NPD-DAID office, where the accused allegedly asked P300,000 in exchange for her freedom.
Edna claimed that she followed her daughter to the NPD-DAID office upon learning of her arrest. Editha said she and her mother agreed to pawn her house to a certain Francisco Abella for P170,000.
At about 10 p.m., Edna said she returned to the DAID office with the P170,000, which she allegedly gave to Gatdula and to a certain “Toto.”
After the alleged payoff, the police allowed them to go home.
“Those are malicious allegations and very self-serving,” Ricalde said. - By Pete Laude (Philstar News Service, 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

4 Dominguez carjack gang men slain

MALOLOS CITY, Philippines – Four suspected remnants of the Dominguez carjacking syndicate, supposedly including the one who burned car dealer Emerson Lozano, were killed in a shootout with lawmen and operatives of the Highway Patrol Group (HPG) in Meycauayan City, Bulacan yesterday morning.
Senior Superintendent Fernando Mendez, Bulacan police director, said only one of the slain suspects was identified as Nestor Samonte, 32.
But HPG director Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina said one of the three others had the same build and complexion of Napoleon Salamat, who was wanted for the 2011 killings of Lozano, fellow car dealer Venson Evangelista and Lozano’s driver Ernani Sensil.
Espina said another member of the Dominguez syndicate, Rolando Talban, tagged as the group’s triggerman, could be the one who managed to escape on a motorcycle along with a companion at the height of the shootout at around 1:45 a.m. at Muralla Park in Meycauayan.
The syndicate leaders, brothers Raymond and Roger Dominguez, are locked up in jail and being tried on car theft with homicide charges for the killing of Evangelista.
Told about the shootout, lawyer Oliver Lozano, the slain car dealer’s father, said, “They have been killing their victims like chickens. Now they died like rats.”
“That’s what I have been saying that while you can ran away from the law, you cannot escape karma,” he said.
In his testimony, state witness Alfred Mendiola said it was Salamat who burned the young Lozano.
For his part, Evangelista’s father Arsenio said, “I also believe he was the one who burned my son.”
Espina said elements of the HPG Task Force Limbas responded to a report on a group of men detaching and replacing the license plate of a gray Isuzu D-Max.
As the lawmen were approaching the scene, the suspects opened fire, triggering the shootout. Two of the suspects died on the spot, and the two others in a nearby hospital.
A check showed that the license plate being attached to the Isuzu D-Max – NOA-153 – was for a Honda Civic stolen in Cabuyao, Laguna.
Seized at the scene of the shootout were an Ingram machine pistol with live bullets, three caliber .45 pistols with bullets, another license plate (NHI-625), an ATM card of one Pablo Baguiwet, a copy of Salamat’s release order dated Nov. 4, 2010, and a driver’s license of one Eduardo Lopez who matched Talban’s description.
Meanwhile, Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo ordered the police to hunt down the killers of a female witness against the Dominguez brothers.
Robredo issued the order after receiving a report that Cristina Bruan Rojas was shot dead in a passenger jeepney yesterday after attending a court hearing in Malolos City on the car theft case against Raymond Dominguez. – With Reinir Padua, Ric Sapnu, Cecille Suerte Felipe - By Dino Balabo (Philstar News Service, 

Comelec says Gloria Arroyo’s hospital arrest has limits

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s hospital arrest is a temporary arrangement, with the Pasay City Regional Trial court last year taking into consideration that she was sick.   Sixto Brillantes, Commission on Elections (Comelec) chair, explained that from the very beginning government wanted her confined in a detention cell but agreed to have her placed under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City.   “Noong una pa, gusto namin sa regular detention na, e. Pumayag lang kami na ilagay lang sa hospital dahil may sakit. Kung wala nang sakit, e ‘di pumunta na siya sa regular cell,” he said.   Comelec, which filed an electoral sabotage complaint against the former President that prompted the lower court to have her arrested on Nov. 18, 2011, is leaving it up to the court to decide where Arroyo should spend her days while waiting for her case to proceed.   Arroyo was then confined at the St. Luke Medical Center in Taguig City’s Bonifacio Global City.   “Maski ano pa i-counter nila, okay lang sa amin pero ang judge ang magde-desisyon diyan in the end… We will definitely oppose already their  motions,” said Brillantes.   On Tuesday, the commission asked the Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) to compel Arroyo’s attending physician to issue a medical report recommend if she is now fit for discharge from the hospital.   GMA News Online called Arroyo spokesperson Elena Bautista-Horn for a statement, but she wasn’t picking up her phone.  — VS, GMA News

Lapid's wife on smuggling: Sorry, I screwed up

The wife of Sen. Lito Lapid reportedly apologized repeatedly to US authorities following her arrest in Las Vegas last year for allegedly smuggling $50,000 in cash.
“I’m sorry, it’s for my house,” US authorities quoted Marissa Lapid as saying. “I screwed up.”

Senator Lapid, for his part, said in a statement yesterday, “My wife can defend herself.”

The senator said his wife has submitted herself to the jurisdiction of a US court, which has authority over the case.

“This is sad, but my wife is ready to answer all the issues related to the incident. A lawyer is assisting her,” Lapid’s statement, which was in Filipino, read.

He added that they are waiting for details from Marissa’s lawyer. Lapid, who attended the seventh day of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona yesterday, confirmed the arrest of his wife on Wednesday, adding that she had posted bail.

Lapid’s spokesman Alex Marcelino has denied claims that Marissa went to Las Vegas to gamble.

“She and the senator have never gambled. They are never known to be fond of any form of gambling,” Marcelino told The STAR.

Marcelino said he was unaware why Marissa had been flying to Las Vegas recently, except that she was working on the citizenship of her grandchildren by daughter Mitchi who were born in the US.

He said Mark, who went on leave as general manager of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, is supposed to study in the US.

Marissa was arrested after arriving at the Las Vegas International Airport last Jan. 15. The arrest was based on a warrant issued last Jan. 5 for allegedly smuggling $50,000 in cash last Nov. 27.

The case was filed before US Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen, who gave weight to the testimony of Albert Giangregorio, special agent of the Homeland Security Investigation.

Giangregorio said that when Marissa arrived in Las Vegas from Manila, she declared she “was not carrying currency or monetary instruments over $10,000 in US currency or a foreign currency equivalent.”

Upon reexamination by a Customs Border and Protection officer, Marissa said she also had P10,000. But two socks containing $10,000 each and a cloth bag with $20,000 were found during an examination of Marissa’s carry-on luggage.

When asked about the money, Marissa reportedly replied, “I’m sorry. It’s for my house.”

Giangregorio said Marissa then apologized and repeatedly said “I screwed up.”

And now, plunder

Meanwhile, the arrest of Lapid’s wife in Las Vegas for alleged dollar smuggling has encouraged former Pampanga governor Ed Panlilio to pursue a plunder case against the senator and his son Mark.

In an interview, Panlilio said he would ask the Commission on Audit (COA) to reopen its investigation into reports that P500-million worth of lahar sand quarry income of the Pampanga provincial government when the Lapids were still governor were missing.

* Panlilio said the case of Marissa was similar to that of former Armed Forces comptroller Carlos Garcia, who was charged with plunder when his two sons were held at the San Francisco International Airport in 2009 for failure to declare $100,000 in cash.

He said the plunder case he had filed against the Lapids was dismissed by former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez two weeks before she resigned in May last year.

“The Ombudsman cited insufficiency of evidence, but COA has the data as to what happened,” Panlilio said. - Christina Mendez, Ding Cervantes  (Philstar News Service,

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lapid's wife arrested in US for smuggling $50,000

The wife of Sen. Lito Lapid was arrested shortly after her landing in Las Vegas last Jan. 15 in connection with the dollar smuggling charges filed against her after she was accosted at the international airport there last November.
Senator Lapid confirmed yesterday that his wife Marissa was arrested but she was released on bail. She will, however, remain in Las Vegas pending the resolution of the case involving the alleged smuggling of $50,000 in cash last November.

He said an American lawyer is now assisting Marissa.

“I have also sought the help of the Department of Foreign Affairs to find out what really happened,he said, adding that he has coordinated with the US embassy in Manila for clarification.

Reports from the US said agents of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested Marissa Lapid at the Las Vegas International Airport last Jan. 15.

Marissa’s arrest arose from a US federal warrant issued against her on Jan. 5, 2012 in connection with her earlier arrest on Nov. 27 last year for the dollar smuggling attempt.

US authorities filed an affidavit that said Marissa was caught after she declared to Customs personnel at the Las Vegas airport that she had in her possession only $10,000.

A search of her luggage, however, yielded two socks containing $10,000 each and another $20,000 was recovered inside a cloth bag.

Under US laws, anyone carrying more than $10,000 cash should fill out Customs Form 4790 and submit it to Customs authorities at the point of entry or departure. The possessor must also be prepared to prove legitimate ownership of the cash.

US Customs officials at the Las Vegas airport reportedly seized the $50,000 cash pending investigation of the case.

Apparently, Marissa was released without posting bail and no charges were filed against her pending the investigation.

Lawyer Filmer Abrajano, Sen. Lapid’s chief of staff, said that the information they had received regarding Marissa was still sketchy and he could not say why she was released last November.

Abrajano said that Marissa spent Christmas here in the Philippines.

He said Marissa was nabbed when she returned to Las Vegas last Jan. 15.  She was apparently not aware that a case had already been filed against her.

Abrajano declined to give other details upon the instruction of Marissa’s American lawyer in Las Vegas.

Sen. Lapid said that he was informed that a hearing on the case has been set on Feb. 7.

Marissa could be sentenced up to five years in jail, fined up to $250,000, and made to forfeit the $50,000 cash recovered from her if she is convicted of the offense.

The criminal complaint against Marissa cited violation of US laws, regardless of whether or not the $50,000 was acquired legally.

After a court appearance, Marissa was allowed to post bail.

The court reportedly ordered Marissa to surrender her passport, restrict her travel to only within Clark County, Nevada unless the pretrial services office of the court gives her permission to leave.

The court also ordered her to wear an ankle bracelet monitoring device.

Marissa is the mother of former Pampanga Gov. Mark Lapid, now the general manager of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Authority under the Department of Tourism.

Sen. Lapid and Marissa have four children, with Mark being the youngest.

Personnel at Mark’s tourism office in Manila said their boss left for the US sometime last week with the permission of Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. and that he is on leave without pay.

Sen. Lapid said that Mark is in the US to arrange for his studies at Stanford University.

Similar dollar smuggling charges were filed against two sons of former military comptroller Gen. Carlos Garcia who were arrested at the San Francisco airport after they tried to smuggle $100,000 cash in 2003.

Garcia’s sons Juan Paulo and Ian Carl were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bulk cash smuggling, and one count of bulk cash smuggling.

Juan Paulo also faced charges of failing to file a report on the import of monetary instruments and one count of making false statements to a government agency.

Gen. Garcia is now detained at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa after a military court martial found him guilty of misdeclaring his assets and hiding his status as permanent US resident while still in active service.

Garcia, his wife and three sons, including Juan Paulo and Ian Carl, were also charged with plunder before the Sandiganbayan for allegedly amassing P303.27 million in unexplained wealth during the former comptroller’s active military service. (Philstar News Service,

Philippines sets February date for Arroyo arraignment

A Philippine court has ordered ex-president Gloria Arroyo to be arraigned over alleged vote rigging on February 20, with trial dates to be set soon afterwards, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Pasay City Regional Trial Court rejected Arroyo's application to have her arrest warrant revoked and set a date for her arraignment, said court legal researcher Selda Domingo. Arroyo is expected to plead not guilty.
The 64-year-old former leader was arrested in November on charges she led a conspiracy to rig the 2007 elections to favour her senatorial candidates. She is in detention.
Arroyo's arrest came after her successor, President Benigno Aquino, launched a drive to stamp out endemic corruption which he blames for worsening poverty in the archipelago nation.
Domingo told AFP that Pasay court judge Jesus Mupas had denied Arroyo's "motion to recall the warrant of arrest", as evidence put forward on her behalf would be better presented at a trial.
"There is no more reason to unduly delay the proceedings and she is ordered to be arraigned on February 20," she said.
Trial dates for Arroyo, who says she is suffering from a rare spinal illness, would be set soon afterwards, she said.
Arroyo, who was president from 2001 to 2010, has also been charged over a second criminal case involving a telecom deal with a Chinese firm, in which her husband and a key political ally allegedly received kickbacks.
Arroyo denied any wrongdoing over the scandal but she was forced to scrap the telecom deal due to public pressure.

Ramgen slay suspect surrenders to NBI

MANILA, Philippines - A suspect in the murder of actor Ram Revilla (real name Ramgen Bautista) surrendered to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) yesterday morning.
Ryan Pastera, accompanied by his aunt and lawyer, showed up at the NBI headquarters on Taft Avenue at around 7 a.m.
Pastera’s aunt, who refused to be identified, said they learned that Pastera was implicated in Ramgen’s murder from the media. She said her nephew surrendered to clear his name “and defend himself. He is innocent.”
She said Pastera noticed unidentified people casing their home at night, so he went to the province for a vacation. Pastera’s aunt said they went to the NBI to seek protection from the threats her nephew has been receiving.
The Parañaque City regional trial court earlier ordered the arrest of Pastera, Glaiza Visda, Norwin de la Cruz and Ramgen’s sister, Ramona, in connection with the attack on Ramgen and his girlfriend, Janelle Manahan, on Oct. 28, 2011. Only Ramona, who fled to Turkey, remains at large.
Pastera may have to stay in NBI custody until the Parañaque court decides where he will be detained.
NBI coddled Pastera?
After condemning the NBI for allegedly coddling Pastera for over two months, Manahan’s lawyer, Argee Guevarra, welcomed reports of Pastera’s surrender.
“Did Ryan Pastera really surrender to the NBI or was he in the company or custody of the NBI all this time?” he said, noting that NBI agents “were caught on video” escorting the suspect in to the Parañaque prosecutor’s office during the preliminary investigation last year.
According to Guevarra, Pastera is a fraternity brother and best friend of Hiro Furuyama, the husband of Gail Bautista, a sister of Ramgen. The Furuyamas are undergoing preliminary investigation before the city fiscal.
He called on the NBI to hand over Pastera to the police, as commanded by Judge Fortunato Madrona in a Jan. 13 arrest warrant.
“If the Paranaque City Jail is good enough for RJ Bautista, then it should also be good enough for Pastera. To grant Pastera’s whimsical desire to be detained at the NBI would be a tell-tale sign of special privileges being accorded by the NBI to him,” Guevarra said.
He said they are prepared to “appropriate criminal and administrative charges against recalcitrant NBI agents” if Pastera is not turned over to the police.
Guevarra also urged Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to probe the NBI’s alleged coddling of Pastera so that the NBI “will be purged of elements who see the agency as a private bureau of investigation whose powers can be availed of by paying clients.” - By Sandy Araneta and Aie Balagtas See (Philstar News Service, 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Army unit to Palparan: Surrender

ANGELES CITY, Philippines  – The Army’s 7th Infantry Division, which retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan used to lead, has appealed to him to surrender to authorities and “take the opportunity of proving that he is not guilty of the accusations against him.”
In a statement, the 7th ID said, “The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) is a professional organization composed of disciplined and law-abiding soldiers.”
“It is not the policy of the AFP to provide safe harbor to any person wanted by law,” it added, apparently in reaction to reports that Palparan is being coddled by supporters in the military.
The 7th ID said it would inform authorities of any sighting of the fugitive retired general in their “duty assignments.”
But it added, “It would be better for Maj. Gen. Palparan to take the opportunity of proving that he is not guilty of the accusations against him.”
Palparan, who carries a P1-million reward for his capture, was commander of the 7th ID, also known as Kaugnay Division, from September 2005 until his retirement in September 2006. The 7th ID is based at Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija.
The Bulacan court has tasked the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police to serve the arrest warrant for Palparan who, along with three other officers, was tagged in the disappearance of University of the Philippines students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan in 2005.
Also accused in the case were M/Sgt. Rizal Hilario, S/Sgt. Edgardo Osorio and Col. Felipe Anotado. Osorio and Anotado are now under government custody, while Hilario is still at large.
Saying that at least 108 of its members and sympathizers were among the victims of Palparan, the Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL) said it is joining the nationwide manhunt for the retired general.
“Palparan imposed the reign of terror in Central Luzon that implemented the countless extra-judicial killings of activists and supporters. He is indebted to farmers and various sectors of the region,” said AMGL chairman Joseph Canlas. -

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Impeachment court secures Corona's SALN

After a long discussion, the impeachment court finally got hold of Chief Justice Renato Corona Jr.'s controversial Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SALN).

Supreme Court clerk of court, lawyer Enriqueta Vidal had no option but to turn in Corona's SALN despite her apprehensions she might be sanctioned by the High court.

Vidal, a custodian of the records, initially refused to submit Corona's SALN despite admitting she brought it to the Senate.

She cited SC's May 2, 1989 resolution which states the Clerk of Court could furnish copies of SALNs "to any person upon request, provided there is a legitimate reason for the request" unless the "person making the request and the request for information appears to be a “fishing expedition” intended to harass or get back at the Judge."

"We are covered by the rules of the Supreme Court and also by this honorable court. But may I request that I get the authorization from the court before I submit [SALN]," a calm but apparently nervous Vidal said.

But Senator-juror Franklin Drilon noted that Senate as an impeachment court is allowed by the Constitution to do its duty to resolve the case.

"This court under the Constitution has the sole power to try and solve this case and must not be impeded by any other agency in our in our performance of duty," Drilon said.

This was however opposed by Senator-judge Joker Arroyo, who noted that compelling the witness might spur more problems.

"We will now run the risk of having a showdown between the impeachment court and the Supreme Court. We cannot have another problem of the clash between SC and Congress," said Arroyo.

"In our desire to have a fair trial, [let us] give her a day to ask the Supreme court whether it's alright with her," he added.

But Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Jinggoy Estrada noted that the impeachment court was not requesting but ordering Vidal to hand over the SALN.

Defense panel's Serafin Cuevas warned that the witness may then be subject to disciplinary action.
SC to clerk: Don't worry
Supreme Court spokesman Midas Marquez said Vidal need not worry about handing over Corona's SALN.
"Just for the assurance of the clerk of court, I was told by the Chief Justice to assure her she has nothing to worry about as far as the Chief Justice is concerned," Marquez said in a separate press conference.
Vidal was called to testify on the authenticity of Corona's SALN, which comprises Article II of the Articles of Impeachment.

Vidal has been working in her current post since September 24, 2010 but has been in the judiciary for 36 years.

Prosecution's lead private prosecutor, Mario Bautista earlier asked her to explain how justices file their SALNs.

But when asked further why the SALNs were not disclosed when the law states it should be made available to the public, Vidal said: "It is not within my competence, it is within the competence of the court."

In the course of the examination, Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile, acting as impeachment presiding officer, repeatedly told Bautista to rephrase his questions and treat Vidal not as a hostile witness.

"Frame question in such a manner you are eliciting facts," Enrile told Bautista.

Second witness
The prosecution panel then called its second witness, Marianito Dimaandal, head of the Malacanang Records Office.

Dimaandal, the custodian of SALNs for the Office of the President, brought with him Corona’s SALNs while he was working in Malacanang from 1992 to 2001.

After the Dimaandal authenticated and Corona's SALNs, the prosecution and the defense teams marked them as evidence.

Lawyer Jose Justiniano, private prosecutor of the House panel, said Corona’s SALNs will show the trend of his gained wealth.

Can Corona still testify?

Meanwhile, despite a decision not to compel Corona to testify, the defense panel said they still have the option to put the chief justice himself on the witness stand.

Lawyer Tranquil Salvador, spokesperson of the defense team, clarified that the court only prohibited the prosecution team from asking the Senate to summon Corona and his family and to testify against the chief justice.

“It is our option if we feel that it is necessary but it also depends on the chief justice and his family if they will voluntarily testify. It’s a matter of strategy,” Salvador said.

He added that even if the prosecution team can cross-examine Corona once he submits himself as a witness for the defense team, the chief justice would still be protected by his constitutional right against self-incrimination. This means that the questions of the prosecution team would be limited and can be objected upon.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New case on fund misuse vs Philippine president

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The Department of Justice (DOJ) has recommended the indictment of former Philippine president Gloria Arroyo and three former officials in her administration for two counts of technical malversation in connection with the alleged misuse and illegal transfer of 546 million pesos (US$12.4 million) in Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) funds in 2003.
The DOJ preliminary investigation panel also recommended the filing of charges against former Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo, former Owwa Administrator Virgilio Angelo and former PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Francisco Duque III, currently chairman of the Civil Service Commission (CSC).
Labour Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, former Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas, former Labor Undersecretary Manuel Imson and Owwa trustees Mina Figueroa, Caroline Rogge, Victorino Balais, Gregorio Oca and Virginia Pasalo were cleared by the panel due to absence of probable cause.
The Owwa trustees were absolved of the charges because, according to the panel, they were only following Arroyo's order.
The case will be referred to the Office of the Ombudsman for its approval and action. The DOJ panel, headed by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Theodore Villanueva, left it to the Ombudsman what to do with the case against Duque, who, as CSC chairman, may only be removed by impeachment.
In technical malversation, a public officer applies public funds under his administration not for his or another's personal use, but for public use other other than that for which the fund was appropriated by law.
It is punishable with six months to six years imprisonment plus a fine of up to half of the amount misappropriated.
Case filed
The charges arose from the case filed last year by lawyer Francisco Chavez accusing Arroyo and the others of having "purposely and systematically orchestrated the diversion and/or misuse" of Owwa funds.
The panel dismissed Chavez's other complaint for plunder, graft and corruption, violation of election laws, misconduct and qualified theft that he filed against the respondents.
In March 2003, Romulo sought Arroyo's approval for the release of $293,000 to finance the preparatory activities of the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait for the purchase of vehicles and stockpiling of supplies in Philippine posts in neighboring countries as the United States and its allies readied their invasion of Iraq.
Arroyo, according to documents, approved the release and ordered the amount be charged to Owwa funds.
In July of the same year, Angelo shelved the general assistance program of Owwa and stopped the processing of Owwa members' claims worth P16.5 million, roughly the equivalent of the $293,500 at the time.
Only for Owwa members
Chavez, in his complaint, said the release was illegal because Owwa funds were only for the direct and exclusive benefit of Owwa members-overseas Filipino members who paid $25 each.
Duque, for his part, also sought an executive order from Arroyo for the transfer of the health insurance funds of OFWs from Owwa to PhilHealth.
He said in his letter to Arroyo that the transfer "will have a significant bearing on the 2004 elections" and "far reaching political implications."
In February 2003, Arroyo ordered the fund transfer through Executive Order No. 182, after which the Owwa board of trustees approved the transfer of an amount worth 530,382,446 pesos.
The respondents, in their defense, said the Chavez complaint was identical to the one filed in the Office of the Ombudsman, that the Ombudsman's investigation had terminated and that the transfer complied with the laws.
They also pointed out that the Owwa funds in question were devoted to lawful public uses to protect OFWs and to finance the national health insurance fund.
The panel, however, said the Ombudsman's termination of its case did not mean no new one may be filed if new evidence cropped up.
The panel members said the DOJ had joint jurisdiction with the Ombudsman in investigating public officials.
No legal basis
The DOJ said there was no legal basis for the release of the $293,500 to the Philippine posts in Kuwait and other countries.
It pointed out that the Owwa board did not approve the transfer. The panel asked why Owwa funds were used and not the funds of other government agencies.
The transfer of the Owwa healthcare funds to PhilHealth "obviously had nothing to do with the direct and exclusive benefit and welfare of OFWs," the panel said.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda expressed satisfaction over the DOJ panel's recommendation to file technical malversation against Arroyo.
"It would not do us any good if we file a case which will not merit us a conviction. We would rather have a case that would secure us a conviction based on the evidence submitted and based on the review of the Department of Justice" Lacierda said. With a report from Norman Bordadora

Palace not keen on Associate Justice Carpio's alleged Makati penthouse

Malacañang is not keen on investigating the penthouse unit in Makati City, allegedly owned by Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, saying the focus now is on the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.   “The focus right now is on the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona. So all those who are trying to divert our attention to Justice Carpio, if you have any ground to file against him, then do so in the House of Representatives,” Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said at a press briefing Tuesday.   He added that Carpio can very well defend himself against the allegations. “He is in a position to explain himself. Let him defend himself. Nobody is a sacred cow in the judiciary,” he said.   Reports have it that Carpio owns an 800-sqm unit atop Avignon Tower on H.V. De la Costa Street in Makati’s upscale Salcedo Village.   “If anybody has proof of that, let them produce it. What we are concerned right now is the issue on the leadership of Chief Justice Corona. We have asked him to produce his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth,” he said.   “We have asked him because on account of the properties that he allegedly owns, in spite of his 20 years of service in government. So, again, this is a simple request. We ask the Chief Justice respectfully to settle all issues on alleged hidden wealth, to produce his SALN,” he added.   Carpio, on the other hand, released a summary of his SALN to Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership.   Carpio’s net worth in 2010 was P47,269,928.          Lacierda expressed hope the Supreme Court would reverse itself and “decide to come out with their statements of assets, liabilities and net worth. It is not an unreasonable request in the light of transparency and accountability.”

Manila prisoners draw knives for "Iron Bar Chef"

              MANILA (Reuters) - Convicted murderers and rapists in the Philippines faced off against each other in a prison battle using knives, but also aprons, hats, pots and pans.
Enter "Iron Bar Chef," the latest recreational effort at the largest prison in the Philippines -- part of a broader programme that officials say has vastly helped tame the mood of the jail's restive inmates.
Inspired by reality TV cooking show "Iron Chef," the version at Manila's New Bilibid Prison pitted six teams against each other, tasking them to create an appetizer, a main course and a dessert in 60 minutes.
Each three-man team was given a box of ingredients including meat, fish, vegetables and fruits. When the clock started, the inmates began frantically chopping, frying and steaming.
"This is my passion, that's why I was really interested in doing this," said Bienvendio Diaz, who worked as a cook and caterer before receiving a 27-year-sentence for fraud.
The January 7 showdown at the prison, which has 12,000 inmates in maximum security alone, was just the latest venture in a wide-ranging rehabilitation program that aims not only to reform inmates but also to cultivate their skills and prepare them for a possible return to the work force.
"Our ultimate goal is for the inmates to be productive while in prison," said Chief Superintendent Richard Schwarzkopf.
"That's what we want to give them. So that when the time for their freedom comes, they can be of benefit to society."
The densely populated prison has seen its share of gang violence and drug use, but Schwarzkopf said the environment has vastly changed due to a well-rounded reform program.
Inmates at New Bilibid prison get to paint, create handicrafts, play tennis, attend church, and now exercise their gourmet talents.
Convicted for crimes ranging from murder and rape to drug peddling and illegal recruitment, the inmates are serving sentences of a few years to life imprisonment. The latest prison population figures are unavailable, but estimated around 17,000.
No strangers to the kitchen, most of the cookoff participants had worked in restaurants and catering businesses before entering prison, and were glad to put their kitchen skills to use.
Maximo Delmo, who worked as a cook in Japan and as chief steward of a cargo ship, is serving multiple life sentences for murder. He hopes his time can be reduced for good behavior.
"Even if we're here inside, we can use our skills and prepare ourselves. Maybe, if no one will give us jobs, we can open up our own business," he said.
The event also aimed to encourage camaraderie between rival gangs. Other inmates watched the cookoff, and even got to taste the finished products.
After closely watched judging, Delmo's team tied with Diaz's for first place. They wowed judges with dishes like roast beef in marinara sauce, squash nuggets with fresh fruits, and Chinese-style steamed tilapia.
One of the judges, executive chef Mark Crisologo of All Seasons Resort in Katherine, Australia, was impressed.
"I was very surprised with the dishes that they created, with the limited time and the limited resources," he said.
The contestants were delighted with the day, both with their gourmet creations and cash prizes. The top winning team received 15,000 pesos while runners-up got 5,000 pesos.
But the best rewards were intangible.
"This is a big deal, it helps and encourages our fellow inmates who have lost hope," said Rommel Chua, a former restaurant cook serving a three-year sentence for illegally recruiting workers for overseas jobs.
"Even if you're behind bars, you can still do what you want to do."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Maguindanao massacre trial resumes with 5 not guilty pleas

The Maguindanao massacre trial resumed Thursday from a two-week  holiday break with five suspects pleading not guilty to 57 counts of murder.  

Those arraigned were Senior Police Officer 1 Oscar Donato, Police Officer 3 Abibudin Abdulgani, Police Officer 2 Hamad Nana, and Police Officers 1 Abdullah Baguadatu and Esmael Guialal.  

The arraignment was held in a makeshift courtroom, just below the suspects’ prison cells inside the Quezon City Jail Annex Building at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.  

Including prominent members of the Ampatuan clan, 196 suspects are facing multiple murder charges for the killing of 57 people, including  32 journalists, in Maguindanao on Nov. 23, 2009.   Also implicated in the killings were hundreds of members of the clan's private army and members of the local police.  

More than two years after the killings, only 96 or less than half of all suspects have been so far arrested with around 30 still to be arraigned.  

Of the eight prominent Ampatuans charged with the crime, only two have been so far arraigned —patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his son and namesake Andal Jr.  

Senior Police Officer 4 Raymundo Oquendo, the brother of victim and lawyer Cynthia Oquendo-Ayon, testified during Thursday's hearing.

He told Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes that he learned of his sister's death in a text message.   Apart from her sister, Raymundo's father Catalino was also killed the massacre dubbed as the worst single, election-related violence in Philippine history.  

Raymundo told the court he was still able to read the series of text messages from his sister Cynthia, indicating that her life was in danger.  

Raymundo said one of the messages from his sister read: "Advise client Ampatuan tama na please. We might get killed. Please tell Tom."  

Tom refers to Tomas Falgue III, a legal counsel for the Ampatuans, Oquendo noted.  

The text messages were first sent by Cynthia to her law firm associate Arnold Oclarit, who in turn forwarded the message to Raymundo.  

Another text was in Visayan and read: "There were many dead. We're next. Tell Tom."  

The prosecution also presented in court the damaged mobile phone of Cynthia recovered from the crime scene in Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town.  

The phone was given to Raymundo at a funeral parlor in Maguindanao. — VS, GMA News

Philippines doubles bounty on fugitive ex-general

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government has doubled to 1 million pesos ($23,200) the reward for the capture of a former army general accused of kidnapping two left-wing student activists.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Thursday the bounty will be given to anyone with "significant information" that will lead to the arrest of former Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan.
Palparan is charged with kidnapping Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan in 2006. They remain missing. Palparan has retired and has denied involvement in their disappearance.
A fact-finding commission that investigated extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations has named Palparan as one of the military commanders who could be held responsible. Palparan has called the allegations communist propaganda.

Janelle to file charges vs Ramgen’s siblings

Janelle Manahan, girlfriend of slain actor Ramgen Revilla, plans to file another case against her late boyfriend’s siblings for allegedly spreading online, a private video that shows her intimate moments with Ramgen.

Lawyer Luke Espiritu, Janelle’s legal counsel said in an interview on TV Patrol on Tuesday, January 3, that Ramgen’s siblings have an access to his belongings, even as Genelyn Magsaysay, the slain actor’s mother, denies responsibility for the leaked video.

“They have access to all of Ramgen’s personal effects, including laptop computers. They have the motive because the effect of this sex video is precisely in order to harass Janelle Manahan,” Espiritu said.

The Anti-Voyeurism Act of 2009, co-authored by Ramgen’s half-brother Sen. Bong Revilla, prohibits the creation, copying, selling and publishing of photos or videos of persons performing a sexual act or any similar activity without the consent of the persons involved.

Genelyn explained that she cannot do something that would harm her son.

“Kung makita man namin iyon, mas lalo naming itatabi. Di namin ilalabas iyon dahil kawawa naman ang bata. Patay na ang anak ko, nasisira pa,” she said on “TV Patrol” on the same day.

‘Sick people’

Paranaque City Police also denied spreading the video, saying that the camera used in the said clip is not in their possession.

“Definitely, wala pong gagawa nito sa aming side. Whoever did this sa tingin namin are the same sick people,” Senior Superintendent Billy Beltran said.

'CJ has ill-gotten wealth'

MANILA, Philippines - A key member of President Aquino’s Cabinet said yesterday the government has evidence to prove that Chief Justice Renato Corona has ill-gotten wealth that could not have been acquired with his salary in the judiciary, and the evidence would be presented by the House prosecution team in the impeachment trial.
“The House prosecution panel obtained documents that would show that Corona may have amassed ill-gotten wealth, including at least four multimillion-peso real estate properties,” Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Ronald Llamas said in a statement.
Corona, who was appointed to the Supreme Court (SC) in 2001 and promoted to chief justice in May 2010, “could not have paid for (the properties) out of his salary and allowances as an associate justice and chief justice of the SC,” Llamas declared.
Llamas believes that the government’s case is “very strong” and that all of the pieces of evidence – including documents on a P14.5-million penthouse unit at the Bellagio condominium in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig – could withstand “the most rigorous scrutiny” by the senator-judges in Corona’s trial.
Corona said yesterday that his acquisition of the Bellagio unit was aboveboard.
Llamas said the impeachment complaint “is the product of thorough research and inputs submitted by concerned citizens who could no longer stand the willful and deliberate trampling of the Constitution and the rule of law by Corona,” Llamas said.
“The impeachment complaint is not the complaint of 188 representatives of the people against Corona. It is the complaint of the overwhelming majority of Filipinos who want Corona removed because they want a clean, honest and impartial judiciary,” Llamas said.
“Corona sits in the High Tribunal on the basis of an illegal appointment by disgraced former President Arroyo who now faces serious charges of electoral sabotage and plunder during her nine years of misrule,” Llamas said.
He said that apart from being a midnight appointee as chief justice, “Corona has shown obvious partiality and bias for Arroyo in 19 cases brought before the Supreme Court.”
Llamas was reacting to the recent statement of court administrator and spokesman Midas Marquez that his (Llamas’) admission that Corona’s likely acquittal by the Senate sitting as an impeachment court was an indication that the cases against him are weak.
The Cabinet member said he was merely talking of likely outcomes in the trial, and “an acquittal is a possibility, just as a conviction is also a distinct - and very real - possibility.”
“For the SC spokesman to speculate that the senator-judges would dismiss the complaint because it is weak is very unseemly, and preempts the decision of the Senate. He has no authority to spread rumors about how the senator-judges would vote,” Llamas said.
Zeroing in on Corona’s SALN
Meanwhile, the House prosecution panel will ask the Senate impeachment court to subpoena Corona’s statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for 2010.
“They are refusing to release the SALN despite our repeated appeal. We have no option but to ask the impeachment court to subpoena it during the trial,” panel spokesman Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo told a news conference.
Quimbo said prosecutors want to find out if Corona made a “proper declaration” of the 300-square-meter penthouse unit at the Bellagio Tower in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig, which the Chief Justice and his wife acquired in 2009 for P14.5 million.
“We want to ask him how they purchased the property, if they had the legal means to acquire it. We will prove that they did not have such means,” he said.
Quimbo said under the law on forfeiture, an asset is deemed ill-gotten if its owner does not have the legal resources to own it.
He said they would also ask the impeachment court to subpoena sales documents and witnesses from Megaworld Corp., owner of the Bellagio condominium complex.
“We want to find out if P14.5 million was the correct selling price for the Coronas’ penthouse. The unit is now worth at least P30 million. We do not think it was worth only P14.5 million two years ago. The difference between the selling price for the Coronas and prevailing market prices could have been a gift to the Chief Justice and his wife,” he said.
In his answer to the impeachment complaint, the Chief Justice acknowledged declaring a 300-square-meter property in his SALN but gave no other details.
Two other panel members, Reps. Erin Tañada of Quezon and Juan Edgardo Angara of Aurora, said they did not believe that two to three congressmen would testify for Corona’s defense.
“Good luck to them, if they do testify,” Angara said.
They also took exception to statements from some senators that they are violating the sub-judice rule of the Senate in revealing the Coronas’ Bellagio penthouse.
“This is a case of the people versus the Chief Justice. The people have a right to know,” Tañada said.
Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., who heads the prosecution panel, said he and his colleagues did not touch on the merits of the impeachment charges in revealing the Bellagio penthouse.
“We only stated a fact as alleged in the complaint. Further, the people have the right to know the facts in an impeachment proceeding, which is actually the power of the sovereign people,” he said.
Tañada also said they would agree to a pre-trial conference but not to Corona’s proposal for a preliminary hearing on how the House impeached him.
“That motion is clearly intended to delay the trial proper,” he said.
He said a pre-trial conference could expedite the trial as the prosecution and the defense could agree on issues that no longer have to be proven. - With Jess Diaz - By Delon Porcalla (Philstar News Service, 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Gloria Arroyo, 3 others barred from travel on graft charges

The Sandiganbayan 4th Division has issued a hold departure order (HDO) against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her husband Jose Miguel,  and two former officials of her administration in connection with  graft charges filed against them.  Former Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza, and former Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos were also nemed in the HDO, GMA News TV's "Balitanghali" reported Tuesday. 

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Sandiganbayan Fourth Division executive clerk of court Atty. Joffre Gil Zapata told GMA News Online the one-page HDO was issued Monday afternoon by  Associate Justices Gregory Ong, Jose Hernandez, and Maria Cristina Cornejo.   Mrs. Arroyo, now a congresswoman, is facing two counts of violating Republic Act 3019 or the  Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and one count of violating RA 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees before the Sandiganbayan in connection with the botched $329-million national broadband network (NBN) deal with the Chinese firm ZTE Corp.   She is currently under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in connection with electoral sabotage case filed against her by the Commission on Elections on Dec. 7. Mr. Arroyo, Mendoza, and Abalos are also facing one count each of violating RA 3019 in connection with the NBN deal.

Skybridge, toll eyed to decongest EDSA

MANILA, Philippines - The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and a party-list group are proposing two schemes to decongest EDSA, one of the metropolis’ major roads.
The MMDA said the “Skybridge,” an alternate highway that would link Makati and Quezon City, is already on the drawing board. The United Transport Koalisyon (1-UTAK), on the other hand, proposed that EDSA be converted into a tollway and motorists driving through it during peak hours would be charged extra.
In an interview over ANC Mornings, MMDA chairman Francis Tolentino said the proposed 8.3-kilometer Skybridge will start at E. Rodriguez Avenue in Quezon City and end near the former Sta. Ana race track in Makati.
Tolentino did not reveal the full description of the plan, saying the MMDA will still pass the design to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for approval.
“In compliance with our urban planning mandate, we will be unveiling a plan which we will be passing to NEDA and the DPWH before the end of the month. We intend to create a new highway that would bypass EDSA,” he said.
Tolentino said the design of the Skybridge would utilize “our current esteros and transform them into a thoroughfare. With it, travel time from Quezon City to Makati would just be around 15 to 20 minutes.”
Charging extra
Melenco Vargas, president of 1-UTAK, said the conversion of EDSA into a tollway would be similar to a scheme practiced in Singapore, wherein motorists are charged upon entering a designated zone in business districts during peak hours.
He said the proceeds of the toll should be used to maintain EDSA, upgrade the Metro Rail Transit and perhaps for the construction of a “second level” of the highway.
Vargas said there should also be a parallel effort to develop alternate routes for those who do not want to pay the toll.
At least 322,936 vehicles pass through EDSA’s 24 kilometers each day, and this number increases by 40,000 during the runup to Christmas. Vargas noted that public utility buses are being blamed for traffic jams along EDSA, though only about 4,000 buses ply this route. He said this figure is not even five percent of the total number of vehicles using EDSA.
“It is but right that those using EDSA should pay for its use and for its maintenance and upgrade,” Vargas said. “Here we will find out also who is really the cause of the traffic as there will be a toll that will record everything.” - By Mike Frialde and Rainier Allan Ronda (Philstar News Service, 

Revilla enraged by Ram-Janelle sex vid

Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. has sought the help of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in identifying the people behind the leaked sex video between his deceased brother, Ramgen, and his girlfriend Janelle Manahan.

"Sobrang pambababoy ang ginagawa nila sa kapatid ko. Karumal-dumal na nga ang pagkamatay ni Ramgen, sinisira pa nila ang pagkatao," Revilla said in a statement Tuesday.

"Mas grabe pa ang pambababoy na ginagawa nila kay Janelle. Grabe na ang kanyang pinagdaanan, at pilit pa nilang niyuyurakan ang pagkababae nito ngayon," he added.

According to reports, Manahan’s lawyer, Argee Guevarra, claimed that the video, which circulated via social networking sites last week, showing Ramgen having intercourse with his girlfriend in a restroom is authentic.

“This video represents the second assassination of Ramgen and second frustrated murder of Janelle orchestrated and masterminded by the Bautista household,” Guevarra said in an ABS-CBN report.

Leaked video 'against the law'

The senator asked the NBI to conduct an investigation and prosecute the culprits under the Anti-Voyeurism Law of 2009 (RA 9995).  It prohibits any person from taking photos or shooting videos of a person or group of persons performing sexual acts or capturing the image of the private area of a person/s such as the naked or undergarment-clad genitals, buttocks or female breast without the consent of the person/s involved.

It also prohibits anyone from copying the photo or video by any means.

"This means that every person who downloads, copies and sends the video is guilty of committing the offense, regardless if they were the original uploaders," Revilla said.

The law provides a penalty of  imprisonment  of not less than three years but not more than seven years and a fine of not less than P100,000 but not more than P500,000, or both.

Ramgen's siblings blackmailing Janelle?

Ramgen was stabbed to death in October last year inside his residence in Parañaque City while his girlfriend, who was shot, survived.

Manahan is the lone witness against Ramgen siblings Ramon Joseph and Ramona, who have been charged in their brother’s  murder.

Manahan’s lawyer revealed that Ramgen's siblings were able to get hold of the slain actor's belongings, including a laptop that contained the videos. He further noted that his client has been receiving blackmail messages from one of the younger siblings of Ramgen.

On the other hand, Ramgen’s mother, Genelyn Magsaysay, vehemently denied that she or any of Ramgen's siblings uploaded the sex video and that her family no longer has access to any of his personal gadgets and belongings after his murder.