Monday, November 12, 2007

Erap wants to be crushed ng bayan

Ex-convict and ex-President Joseph Estrada was right: "Hindi nilalambing ang krimen. Dinudurog. Hindi kinukupkup ang kriminal. Pinaparusahan." (Crime should not be treated gently. It should be crushed. Criminals should not be coddled. They should be punished.). Those were Erap’s words in his 1999 State of the Nation Address (SONA), obviously spoken without the benefit of foresight. Seven years of house arrest, one conviction for plunder and a hasty (by the standards of other convicted-then-pardoned-corrupt-ex-presidents elsewhere) later, what does Erap think should be done to criminals like him?

Time served only made him more incorrigible. Not only does Erap the Corrupt think he can get away with plunder; he wants to keep what he plundered, too. Estrada’s lawyers now argue that the writs of execution served by the court sheriff on their client is void. They claim that the 2 writs (one for the Erap Muslim Youth Foundation and Jose Velarde bank accounts, the other for the Boracay Mansion) "pertain to money awards provided for in Sec. 9 of Rule 39, Rules of Court, which is not applicable to forfeiture proceedings.” In other words, their theory is that a convicted plunderer does not owe the State the monetary value of what he stole and cannot be ordered to liquidate some of his pre-plunder assets to pay for it.

In the deliberately obfuscatory language of Jose Flaminiano, one of Estrada’s lawyers, his client can only be ordered to return “property derived or traceable to the instruments or proceeds of the crime.” Or, if Flaminiano were to be honest about it (and stopped obfuscating like the prosecutor who enforced repressive Marcos dictatorship decrees that he once was), Estrada will not resist the forfeiture of the accounts in Banco de Oro and Equitable-PCIBank (which have since merged) where his jueteng commissions and insider-stock-market trading kickbacks were deposited long before his conviction. The Sandiganbayan can have them.

Is Erap the Corrupt being magnanimous in defeat or what? No, his lawyers are just being disingenuous. First of all, those accounts are either empty or nearly so. Second, Erap and his over-extended family had all of May 1998 to October 2007 to launder not only all that money, but anything else ill-gotten that the Ombudsman has not uncovered (yet). Erap emptied those accounts long before his conviction and transferred them to...who knows? It could be any of his 5 mistresses or the San Juan-sized community of children he has sired. Or to all of them, since there seems to have been enough plundered money to go around. At one point in 1999, impeachment prosecutors found that Estrada’s “Jose Velarde Equitable-PCI account had P3.3 Billion.

Flaminiano even has the gall to blame the court and the prosecutor for not preventing his client from hiding his client’s stolen money: “Beforehand, they …should have protected those accounts subject to this case. They should have anticipated events like this," he said. They did. As early as 2003, records of JV Ejercito’s trust account in Urban Bank were sought by the Ombudsman; the Estradas went to the Supreme Court questioning the subpoenas, but lost the case – in 2006. That gave them plenty of time to fly to Hong Kong, open an account at any of the Swiss private bank branches there, and ask their friends at Equitable-PCI, Banco de Oro and at the Bank of Commerce -- where Erap and his mistresses also maintained accounts -- to wire the loot.

What about the Boracay Mansion? We already know that Estrada’s crony Jose Luis Yulo retained title through St. Peter Holdings, but so what? In accepting his pardon, Estrada admitted the illegal provenance of the property including his use of dummies to acquire it. It might be useful to recall that many of Estrada’s mansions were not only paid for with plundered money; some were built, furnished and paid for by Centech, a company controlled by Ramon Ang, who in turn is controlled by Danding Cojuangco -- the Boss of plunder himself.

(A quick lesson here: crime not only pays, but whatever it paid during the Marcos dictatorship, but was lost to sequestration thereafter, was paid by crime again under the Estrada administration. So what is an old crony to do but re-pay the debt? Danding Cojuangco/Ramon Ang have a lot to repay Estrada. Using various front companies, including mining companies controlled by Ang that didn't own a single shovel, they borrowed close to P3 Billion from sequestered UCPB. Centech even earned on the side: it took commissions from 'managing' the renovations of UCPB's foreclosed buildings. This happened mostly within the short span of Estrada's presidency, all done with the approval of Cojuangco-nominated and Estrada-PCGG-approved bank directors from 1999 to early 2000.

(Years later, who would end up co-owning what assets with whom? San Miguel Corporation, of course, is firmly in Danding's grip, with the help of Banco de Oro's Sy stockholders. Ramon Ang's San Miguel Properties owns a third of Bank of Commerce, which is co-owned by Danding's cousin and co-Marcos-crony Tony Boy Cojuangco. What do these banks have in common? Do I hear the sound of washing machines?)

So here’s what should be said: Estrada’s arguments are not only obfuscatory, they're plain wrong. If the convicted plunderer cannot be ordered to return the value of whatever he plundered, what is the point of the penalty of forfeiture in plunder cases? If the only assets that can be forfeited after a conviction for plunder are the same assets he amassed while plundering, then what should the criminal do to avoid having to return his loot? Spend it, of course.

All Estrada has to do is issue checks to Guia and Laarni. Or buy a Senate seat for Jinggoy. All right, a mayorship for JV, too. (And maybe Chiz? Or did Danding foot the whole bill for that one?). Who is to say he hasn't done all that?
It's a forfeiture of plundered assets, not a debt of money, Erap's lawyers insist. But what exactly is being forfeited here? Bank accounts? Or the money that was once there? Should we take the argument of Estrada's lawyers seriously, then all the People of the Philippines can get back from Estrada is a broken piggy bank.

Sure Flaminiano concedes that the court can still go after
assets "derived or traceable to the instruments or proceeds of the crime." Now what if Estrada and his extended family ate, drank and got merry on all of that money, what do we forfeit now, their inebriated happiness? There is nothing wrong or illegal in compelling Estrada to pay up the value of what he stole; there is no need to wait for him to whisper to us what the Erap Muslim Youth Foundation did with half a billion in jueteng money. Remember, Estrada is not an accused person presumed innocent; he is a convict, pardoned and freed from prison but not from forfeiture.

When the Swiss bank deposits of the Marcoses were ordered forfeited by the Supreme Court in 2003, they were no longer in their original accounts opened between 1965 to 1987. They had been transferred, laundered, hidden and laundered again. Yet, the assets acquired with what the Marcoses stole was found, frozen, and eventually forfeited. Can the government go after anything else the Marcoses claim to own, based on the forfeiture decision? Yes, if the Swiss acounts were not there to satisfy the judgment. (In fact, if the present PCGG only found the political will to do so, it can use the 2003 forfeiture judgment against the Marcoses so that every thing above the Marcoses' legitimate assets -- only US$304,372.43, according to the Supreme Court -- can be confiscated.)

So it should be with Estrada and his plundered -- and now laundered -- money. Which brings me to a question I raised in an earlier post. Is there a crime that Estrada can still be arguably charged with despite his pardon for plunder? His obvious efforts at defeating the execution of the un-pardoned penalty of forfeiture and to hide the proceeds of plunder might in fact be a continuing crime of money laundering -- with plunder as its "predicate offense." So there. As the man said: crush the criminal.


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4 Comments:

Blogger JM Agreda / Mojo Potato said...

blog hopping ...landed here...nice posts...ERAP should be in jail...

6:32 AM  
Blogger viking said...

Ruben,

This post deserves a much wider readership. Please submit to the Inquirer.

Please visit The Philippine Onion
www.philippineonions.wordpress.com

2:54 AM  
Blogger mschumey07 said...

That is what we call justice, Philippine style. Plunderers and launderers abound in this country, the biggest ones are the presidents.

9:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Philippines does not seem to have a monopoly on this problem. - an implication from JP Lehmann's article Business of Corruption.

9:45 AM  

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