Manila, May 21, 2002 (STAR) A bank teller testified yesterday that Jose Velarde, through a representative, deposited 16 checks totaling P175.9 million in a span of just four days.

The witness, Joanne Genevive Mok, a teller of PCI Equitable Bank branch in Greenhills, San Juan, said she personally processed the inter-branch deposits made by an unnamed representative of Velarde, an alias allegedly used by deposed President Estrada to conceal bribes from illegal gambling operators.

Taking the witness stand during the resumption of the Sandiganbayan hearing of the plunder case against Estrada, Mok said their branch manager, Theresa Barcelona, handed to her the information slips on the Estrada account already accomplished.

She said when she entered the account number in the computer, the name Jose Velarde appeared as the holder.

Court-appointed defense lawyer Prospero Crescini tried to demolish Mok’s testimony during the cross-examination, but the witness did not show any signs of being intimidated.

The lawyer asked Mok if it was common practice for the bank not to demand endorsement signatures from account holders, and if she has committed mistakes in encoding deposits.

Ombudsman Aniano Desierto objected to Crescini’s attempts to confuse the witness, but the defense lawyer argued that he was merely testing her credibility.

"The lives of several men hang in the balance depending on the testimony of the witnesses of the prosecution. This is a plunder case," Crescini added.

Mok told the anti-graft court that she clearly remembered the Velarde transactions "because it has a lot of money."

"I just assumed that he is a valued client because the deposit was made through our branch manager," Mok said.

But she admitted that she could not remember having processed deposits on Velarde’s accounts from Jaime Dichaves, an ally of the fallen leader who was believed to have opened the Velarde accounts for Estrada.

Crescini told reporters after the hearing that the prosecution did not make a dent in the defense, having failed to present strong testimonial or documentary evidence linking his client to Velarde.

He pointed out that while Estrada has admitted having signed bank documents as Jose Velarde, he merely did it to compel his friend William Gatchalian to pay his debt to Dichaves.

Meanwhile, Desierto said he has sought the help of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look for Lucena "Baby" Ortaliza, a former staff of Estrada who could provide evidence linking Estrada to the Velarde accounts at the Equitable PCI Bank.

Desierto said Ortaliza worked for Estrada while the respondent was still Vice President in 1996 up to 1998 when he assumed the presidency.

"We are still collating data about Ortaliza. All authorities such as the PNP and the NBI had been asked to help us locate her," Desierto said.

He said Ortaliza has the option to turn state witness or be cited as a co-respondent.

"Initial information that we gathered also showed that Ortaliza had been involved in movie production. If there is probable cause, she would be included in the plunder case. Her being a witness depends on her testimony," Desierto said.

He added that two other prosecution witnesses –Theresa Barcelona and Glyselyn Bejec, former manager and teller, respectively, of Equitable PCI Bank branch in Greenhills –have identified Ortaliza as having deposited more than P867 million to Velarde account number 0160-62501-5.

Another witness, Salvador Serrano, senior vice president of Security Bank and Trust Co. branch in San Juan also tagged Ortaliza as having deposited over P12 million to three investment savings accounts of Estrada.

Meanwhile, Justice Minita Chico-Nazario, head of the Sandiganbayan special division trying the plunder case against Estrada, allowed his son former San Juan Mayor Jinggoy Estrada to stay at the Makati Medical Center where he is currently confined after complaining of difficulty in breathing.

Nazario also ordered Jinggoy’s cardiologist, Dr. Roberto Anastacio, to submit his report on the patient’s health every three days. – Jose Rodel Clapano

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved