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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

If the Basa-Guidote family quarrel were a telenovela, type-casting CJ Corona as a violent man barging into court hearings with his armed goons is stretching the imagination too much. Senate admits CJ bank records as evidence, but the Filipino people hope JPE would get to bottom of “conspiracy” theory on how these docus were leaked.

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As CJ Renato Corona’s defense team prepares to take center stage next Monday, after the prosecution last week abandoned five Articles of Impeachment and concentrated its ammo only on three Articles, the media have raked up the Basa-Guidote family controversy that involves Cristina Roco-Corona. The family squabble, common in the Philippine setting, makes colorful enough copy for a telenovela or block-buster movie, but there’s a part that’s not easy to believe. 


If this were a movie, the type-casting is not too credible about how a violent Renato Corona, then a Malacanang functionary in FVR’s administration, had allegedly threatened to “blow away” the face of the Basa family’s property caretaker.  There’s also the detail in the caretaker’s affidavit, said to have been executed soon after that incident, where the latter alleges that Corona, still a Palace functionary then, would barge into court hearings with his bodyguards and even into the chambers of presiding judges, allegedly seeking to influence the courts to his wife’s side of the controversy.

Anyone who has dealt with CJ through the years would find those blustering details difficult to believe, knowing how mild-mannered he is and how he would move around with the least security even as the 5th highest official of the land. Definitely some details in this story that merited such huge billing in the media are far harder to believe than the others.

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Earlier today the senators in caucus decided to admit as evidence the bank records of Chief Justice Renato Corona, even though they were obtained illegally, i.e., through a obvious leak in the banking system. The Corona defense team had filed a motion with the impeachment court to dismiss these bank records owing to this illegal recourse to the CJ’s docus, through what has been termed incredible “fairy tales” woven by the prosecution about a “little lady” and an envelope left in a solon’s gate on a rainy night. But then, few perhaps even in the defense panel actually expected that the senators would dismiss these pieces of evidence submitted by the prosecution in their final presentation last week.
  
BUT WHAT THE PUBLIC EXPECTS is that Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile would make good his pledge to get to the bottom of the leakage. JPE was heard in various interviews a few days ago asserting that he suspects that the unauthorized disclosure came, not from the Philippine Savings Bank (PSB) branch where Corona keeps accounts, but from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas/Anti-Money Laundering Council (BSP/Amlac). JPE got even more upset over reports that the BSP is not doing anything to investigate the leak. which both the BSP and Amlac have denied as coming from them (nobody expects these two agencies to admit leaking it out, do we?). 


Enrile, in fact, asserted that the Senate would sit on the House bill that seeks to amend the Anti Money Laundering Act (Amla) presumably to tighten its provisions in accordance with stiffer demands of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force. The House has passed it on second reading but JPE refuses to act on it in his chamber, arguing that such amendment would be useless if the Corona documents leakage is not solved.


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Let’s hope for the sake of the Philippine banking system that JPE makes good his word on this, as the documents leakage has sent a chilling effect on both the banks and their clients. This writer heard a member of the House asserting two weeks ago that the local banks are experiencing capital flight to Singapore after the said leakage surfaced at CJ’s trial (Singapore is said to now have one of the stiffest secrecy laws on foreign currency deposits and is in fact termed the “new Switzerland”).

Sen. Joker Arroyo has warned about the perception that bank records deemed by law as absolutely confidential could be used by the Palace against its enemies. On the other hand, Sen. Manny Villar, whom his colleagues always listen to in the rare times he speaks out at the Senate trial, has warned about the dire effects on the economy of a possible capital flight, considering that the local banks now hold about US$31 billion or P1.33 trillion in foreign deposits, which are of great assist in importation of raw materials and equipment, etc. 
 
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At the Senate JPE asserted that his main suspect was not BSP branch manager Annabelle Tiongson nor BSP President Pascual Garcia III, but the Amlac official who went with the BSP audit team that dug into Corona’s records; JPE's suspicion apparently was reinforced after the Senate committee on banks’ hearing last week revealed that the request for CJ’s records was merely added to the list of those being investigated “as politically exposed persons” between September and November of 2010.


JPE was quoted as decrying that such investigation can only be justified by a court order, which, in turn, could be handed down only if there was a “predicate crime.” But at that time that Corona’s bank records were being looked into, there was not no accusation whatsoever of wrong-doing on CJ’s part.  In fact, at the outset of President Aquino’s term it was already well-publicized that he did not like the way CJ’s barber cut his hair, but no one could have predicted that P-Noy’s antagonism would lead to the impeachment express by the House last Dec. 12, 2011.

On second thought, however, it now appears that CJ's ouster was planned from Day One of this administration.


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Let's assume that as JPE has asserted, BSP investigator Jerry Leal, the Amlac’s designated officer in that bank audit to whom CJ’s bank documents were turned over, had photocopied them and subsequently leaked them to the prosecutors more than a year later. But HE COULD NOT HAVE ACTED ON HIS OWN. Curiously, Malacanang’s spokesperson Abigail Valte was quick to dismiss Senate allegations that BSP/Amlac was the source of CJ’s confidential records (how did Valte know this for a fact?).

Until the Senate digs into the leakage, anyone looking at the issue has to begin with a cursory look at the personalities involved in BSP-Amlac that had authorized the audit of Corona’s bank records.  Such exercise yields some interesting relationships among P-Noy’s closest allies that could encourage the theory of conspiracy in this issue. Yet there are also career officials who have been in office since GMA’s time, on whom this theory won't stick, AT LEAST NOT THAT EASILY.  


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There's the BSP deputy governor for the supervision and examination sector, Nestor A. Espenilla, Jr. , a graduate of the UP School of Economics and holder of a master’s degree in policy science from the Graduate Institute of Policy Science in Tokyo, who has been with BSP since 1981. There's also  the executive director of the Amla secretariat, Vicente C. Aquino, who is a kabalen of P-Noy from Tarlac, whom P-Noy handily re-appointed to the Amla  secretariat when he assumed the presidency.

Aquino Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, the pillar of Hyatt 10, joined the Monetary Board, the BSP’s seven-member policy-making body, to represent the Cabinet. Purisima is credited with plotting the downfall of GMA in July 2005, together with Sen. Franklin Drilon.  Did Drilon, who’s P-Noy's fierce lieutenant in the Senate, and anti-GMA plotter Purisima have a hand in  orchestrating the bank leakage?  Then too, given the various mischiefs that have lately been alleged to "The Firm," it's interesting to factor in that this super-sikat law firm is the legal counsel of BSP. 

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The Amlac is headed by BSP Govenor Amando M. Tetangco Jr., a GMA appointee who was reappointed by P-Noy, but he is deemed too professional to give his okay to a BSP/Amlac illegal leakage. Working with Tetangco in Amlac are two members. One is Atty. Teresita J. Herbosa, chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a former senior partner at ACCRA law office where she worked under the tutelage of then Atty. Drilon. It was Sen. Drilon who recommended her to P-Noy for the SEC.  

The other member of Amlac under Tetangco is Insurance Commission Chair Emmanuel F. Dooc. I was actually curious about this official as I had never heard of him before; assiduously seeking to check up his public and personal records I found only the thinnest entry possible---that he is a Bedan, Law ’79---nothing else in the Insurance Commission website nor in the Bedan alumni directory.  


Unlike in the case of Atty. Herbosa who comes with laudable credentials to SEC (UP bachelor of arts and bachelor of laws, cum laude, and master’s of comparative law degree from University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the alma mater too of Senators Edgardo Angara and Miriam Defensor Santiago) plus Drilon's backing, one is led to query just what qualifications Chair Dooc had possessed that led to his appointment to the Insurance Commission?


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