About Face

By Solita Collas-Monsod
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:09:00 10/10/2009

THE PRESIDENTIAL Commission on Good Government, apparently obeying the recommendations of Solicitor General (also Justice Secretary) Agnes Devanadera, announced that it had turned down the offer of Mariano Tanenglian to turn state witness against his brother Lucio Tan in exchange for immunity from suit.

The news report on Wednesday, October 7, caught me by surprise, because the day before, I had received a call from PCGG Commissioner Ricardo Abcede, inviting me to lunch with his colleagues so that they could “explain our side.”

I nixed the lunch, but before I agreed to meet them at the PCGG office next week, I asked him categorically whether the PCGG was going to accept Tanenglian’s offer or not. And his answer was a categorical “Yes.” Which was a pleasant surprise, and I even congratulated him on their independence.

I called Commissioner Abcede up on Friday noon and asked him why the about-face in his answer to me. He replied that he didn’t think that he answered me in the affirmative.

Now I have my senior moments, but I don’t think that I would have congratulated him if he had said the PCGG was accepting Devanadera’s recommendation. I wonder what he thought I was congratulating him about.

In any case, the Inquirer news report quoted Abcede as saying that the conditions set by Tanenglian, particularly his request for immunity from suit, were “disadvantageous to the government”; “If he wants to testify, he should not set any conditions”; and “They are brothers. What if he suddenly changes his mind and turns his back on us? What then?”

And finally, just in case those arguments weren’t convincing enough, Abcede stated that Tanenglian’s offer “might already be too late” because the Sandiganbayan had already decided it would no longer hear testimony from government witnesses.

My column last week made short shrift of the “disadvantageous to government” argument (ridiculous -- the Office of the Solicitor General had itself said, before Devanadera got into the picture, that Tanenglian’s testimony would fortify the government’s case); and that the what-if-he-changes-his-mind-and-turns-his-back-on-us argument (draft agreement --paragraph 5) provided that in such a situation, the agreement would be deemed revoked. So what about the other two statements of Abcede?

“If he wants to testify, he should not set any conditions.” Excuse me. Does anyone in his right mind expect that Tanenglian, or anyone else for that matter, will give self-incriminatory testimony without the protection of immunity from suit? That is precisely what a grant of immunity is all about.

Moreover, the draft immunity agreement that was discussed by Tanenglian’s lawyers and the OSG/PCGG is almost a replica of the immunity agreement that was entered into between Placido Mapa Jr. and the PCGG -- an agreement that was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Tanenglian wasn’t asking for any more than was granted to Mapa.

And while we are clearing the air, it should also be stated that Tanenglian’s lawyers claim that it was the OSG/PCGG which had initially approached Tanenglian about his turning state witness -- this because of the much-publicized and evidently acrimonious breakup between the brothers Lucio and Mariano.

I tend to believe this claim because, sometime in May, I called up Solicitor Mauricia Dinopol, and in the course of our conversation, asked her point blank whether the OSG was making any move to get Tanenglian to be a state witness, and she answered in the affirmative, saying that they were trying to set up an appointment with his lawyers. Which is why I held off writing about the case.

And indeed, discussions took place: On June 1 at the Makati office of the OSG (with Solicitors Dinopol, Lim, Madamba, whose sincerity I have as yet no reason to doubt) where the offer of immunity was made in exchange for Tanenglian’s testimony; again on July 8 with the OSG and a representative of the PCGG, where Tanenglian, through his lawyers, agreed to testify in exchange for the immunity offer (the reaction to that offer on the part of the government representatives was described as “ecstatic” and “euphoric,” and again one can understand why); and finally on July 13, this time with the PCGG commissioners in full force (Chair Sabio, Abcede, Javier and Nario) and with Lim and Madamba for the OSG.

At that July 13 meeting where the mood was described as “exhilarated” and “elated,” the draft immunity agreement (modeled after the Mapa agreement) was presented and reached in principle, subject only to the official opinion of the OSG. Everyone also agreed that time was of the essence.

Does that sound as if anyone thought that the government would be disadvantaged? Please. And yet, after it reached Devanadera’s desk, there was this long, unexplained wait -- until her recommendation came out: reject the offer.

And then the PCGG comes out and also rejects the offer. I feel for the professionals at the OSG and PCGG who worked so hard to get Tanenglian on their side.

Finally, Abcede’s excuse/justification that anyway, it may be “too late” because the Sandiganbayan already closed the door to additional testimony, is the lamest of all. That court order came about sometime in April.

So if it were “too late,” why did any of the discussions with the Tanenglian camp take place at all? It means that the professionals in the OSG and the PCGG must have thought that they could handle that obstacle. Until their higher-ups intervened.

Again, I ask: What is President Macapagal-Arroyo going to do about this?


Anonymous said...

The party apparently broke up shortly past 2:00 am of January 1, and the First Family was seeing its guests to the door. Who would appear but Lucio Tan with a tipsy President Joseph Estrada whom Cohen overheard telling the tycoon: “Pare, don’t worry about your problems. This year will be better.”

Cohen had no idea what those problems were and probably couldn’t care less. For moments later, his thoughts were on trying to get out of the place fast. The president had seen Cohen and his camera crew recording the whole thing. Estrada’s amiable countenance changed, recalls Cohen, and after Tan left, the visibly furious president demanded that they turn over the tape to him at once. “He was really upset,” says Cohen. “My only thought was on getting out of there alive. What if he hit me?”

Estrada reached down to yank the tape out of the camera himself, and he may be the only one who knows what Cohen and his crew caught on camera that New Year’s morning. But it sent yet another message to media: taipan Tan’s clout goes all the way to the top.

Anonymous said...

when Korina Sanchez read aloud that Lucio Tan was a tax evader in 1996, Fortune Tobacco executives immediately pulled their ads out of her program. Sanchez can only call it “pure blackmail and harassment.”

Unlike other networks, the giant ABS-CBN could probably afford to let go of the Tan account because several others are waiting in line to fill its slot.

Anonymous said...

Malacañang spokesperson Anthony Golez said flood victims who stole from and vandalized the school that served as their evacuation center would be disciplined.

Who will discipline those thieves and vandals?

What if they say, “We’re no different from you”?

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately for Tan, the good press didn’t seem to do him much good. A survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) last year found Lucio Tan to be infamous—four out of five adult Filipinos know him, but he is more distrusted than trusted by the public. Wrote SWS director Mahar Mangahas: “From this it would seem that the media persons recently named by labor leader Filemon ‘Popoy’ Lagman as being on Lucio Tan’s payroll have been ineffective—though another possibility is that those in the so-called envelopmental media have at least kept Mr. Tan’s trust rating from getting even worse.”

Anonymous said...

He is considered the richest industrialist in the Philippines, with a personal net worth of at least US$1.5 billion. Earlier controversies about his fortune as a result of tax evasion practices has been proven false by the Supreme Court [citation needed]. Majority of Filipinos, however, many of whom had worked under the Marcos administration, have proofs that Lucio Tan had agreements with the former corrupt president to establish monopolies in the liquor, tobacco and other industries, with promises of sharing profits from many business ventures protected by the government. Associates and families of Lucio Tan and the Marcoses had funneled the ill-gotten wealth outside the country, primarily in Swiss bank accounts.

In 2007, Lucio Tan dropped to the 2nd richest person in the Philippines with a net worth of US$2.3 Billion, according to Forbes magazine.

Lucio Tan is well-known to give speeches proclaiming unfounded stories about how he evolved from rags to riches. Many people who know him since his teens have different versions of stories about his success story. Many claim that he was a bootlegger, who made his fortune from all kinds of illicit activities, primarily through political bribery, extortion, and tax evasion.

Anonymous said...

may nagbigay na ba para sa mga biktima ng bagyo?