Follow the Money…and his Women

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

For Bikol and the World
“Follow the money.” This was Deep Throat’s most famous tip to Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward in exposing the Watergate cover-up that led to U.S. President Nixon’s resignation.

The money involved was US$25,000 paid in check from Nixon’s re-election campaign funds to one of the two burglars caught in the botched break-in

Follow the money—and his women—was also the trail that the Sandiganbayan pursued in pinning down former President “Erap” Estrada’s plunder acts involving P545 million in “jueteng” payolas and P189.7 million in commission from the purchase of Belle shares by GSIS and SSS.

Immediately after the reading of the court’s verdict on September 12, Erap and his defenders attacked his conviction on jueteng. Plunder is about raiding the national treasury and payolas are not public funds, they argued.

But, their contention is misplaced, if not deceptive. It applies to para. 1 of sec. 1(d) of the Anti-Plunder Law: “1) Through misappropriation, conversation, mis-use, or malversation of public funds or raids on the public treasury….”

The Sandiganbayan convicted Erap under para. 2 of sec. 1(d) of the Anti-Plunder Law, thus: “2) By receiving, directly or indirectly, any commission, gift, share, percentage, kickbacks or any other form of pecuniary benefit from any person and/ or entity in connection with any government contract or project or by reason of the office or position of the public officer concerned…”

Nangotong. Thus, guilty!

Next, the court painstakingly traced how Erap schemed to make money from our GSIS or SSS monthly contributions deducted from our hard-earned paychecks.

Former GSIS president Federico Pascual and then SSS president Carlos Arellano testified that they caused GSIS and SSS to buy Belle shares using a combined amount of P1,887,516,757.50 upon Erap’s “bilisan nyo” orders. Then, Erap fleeced a whopping 10% commission of P189.7 million—way over the usual 3-5% broker’s fee at that!

Payment was channeled first to Erap’s associate Jaime Dichaves. Dichaves then remitted it by check to a Baby Ortaliza, Erap’s trusted aide. Ortaliza then deposited that second check in the infamous Jose Velarde account.

Erap claimed Dichaves actually owns this Jose Velarde account. But the evidence exposed it as guileful cover-up.

Clarissa Ocampo testified she saw Erap sign “Jose Velarde.” Erap himself confessed signing as “Jose Velarde.”

Ortaliza regularly transacted for the personal bank accounts of Erap and his family, the personal account of Loi Estrada, and the Jose Velarde account.

P142 million from the Jose Velarde account was also used to buy the Boracay Mansion— with a “Pres. J. Estrada” carpet tag—that housed Erap’s Laarni Enriquez and their son.

The Jose Velarde account even received a total deposit of P182.7 million from the Urban Bank account of Erap’s son, JV Ejercito.

Finally, the “Jose” signatures were similar to Erap’s customary signatures as “Jose” in other documents.

Nangomisyon. Thus, guilty!

In fine, the Sandiganbayan did a great job and did the right thing.

Next president…case, please
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