LBP SCAM: NO APOLOGIES TO WHISTLE-BLOWER
Malacanang, August 8, 2002 (STAR) No apologies. Not yet, anyway.
Malacañang deferred issuing a public apology to a Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) cashier who was presented to media by President Arroyo, which gave the impression that the bank employee was the prime suspect in a P205-million scam she herself had exposed.
The Palace said the incident was "unfortunate" and was ordering a probe on the case of Land Bank cashier Acsa Ramirez.
Unapologetic officials of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said yesterday Ramirez was not the whistle-blower and in fact could still be considered a suspect in the tax scam.
Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Ramirez "should be cleared or charged, as soon as possible, as the evidence warrants."
He said the President has ordered the NBI to speed up its investigation, and "let the evidence settle this controversy."
The LBP, on the other hand, suggested yesterday that a presidential citation be given to Ramirez for uncovering an irregular deposit amounting to P205 million that was funneled to four fictitious individual accounts at the LBP branch in Binangonan, Rizal.
Justice Secretary Hernando Perez said "no apologies will be made" and that there was no reason why Malacañang should apologize.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the President should apologize to Ramirez to restore her dignity and that NBI Director Reynaldo Wycoco should be held accountable for "the mistake."
On Tuesday, Ramirez demanded a public apology and emphatically said she was assisting in the investigation of the banking scam.
The incident involving Ramirez has dramatized the potential pitfalls of the new presidential policy of publicly parading arrested crime suspects at Malacañang in a bid to boost Mrs. Arroyo’s get-tough image.
Bunye said Malacañang has ordered Perez to investigate the Ramirez incident. He said they had also asked LBP president Margarito Teves to give his "version" of the incident because he was present during the presentation of the case at the NBI office.
Bunye dodged questions whether a formal apology would be given to Ramirez, who had received strong support from the LBP union in her attempt to correct the misimpression that has affected her family.
Bunye said the Department of Justice (DOJ) would have to investigate the case of Ramirez because the NBI operates under it.
The Ramirez incident is the second time that the NBI, under Wycoco, has been put under bad light because of its release of false or misleading information or kuryente in Filipino journalistic parlance.
On July 26, Wycoco had reportedly alerted the President while she was in Sarangani that alleged Pentagon gang leader Faizal Marohombsar was already in government custody. Wycoco’s information immediately prompted Mrs. Arroyo to announce the fall of Marohombsar, which was later proven to be incorrect.
Marohombsar denied Wycoco’s claims in a radio interview.
In a written report to Bunye, Wycoco insisted that Ramirez was indeed invited at the NBI office for questioning on the P205-million scam because she was implicated by the principal accused Artemio San Juan, the LBP Binangonan, Rizal branch manager.
San Juan faulted Ramirez for "opening of the Bonsalagen account because her reporting to the management of the suspicious P26-billion check deposit was merely an ‘afterthought’ of her signing (approval) of the check’s clearing," according to the report.
Wycoco claimed that San Juan had also implicated Ramirez in the approval of the account.
Ramirez could still be held liable for not reporting the P26-billion transaction, as required by the Anti-Monetary Laundering Law which stipulates that transactions amounting to P4 million or more should be reported to the Anti-Money Laundering Council.
On the other hand, Teves said that he had requested the NBI that if they need to interrogate Ramirez again, it must be done at the LBP office and that she will be accompanied by a lawyer for the LBP.
Teves said management has already suspended at least three bank personnel in connection with the case. "The suspects must undergo proper investigations with the authorities. But Land Bank is also conducting its own investigation on the case," he said.
Perez said that while Ramirez was not among the suspects, Wycoco "confirmed" to him that she was "under investigation for possible violation of the Anti-Money Laundering Law (R.A. 9160)."
"There is no violation of any human rights whenever a person accused is being presented. If he is being accused of a crime, it is important for the public to know what the government is doing in its efforts to fight criminality," Perez said.
He said the DOJ was amenable to protecting the rights of suspects only if the cases they were involved in were already filed in court.
Perez said suspects whose cases will have to undergo further investigation "perhaps are entitled to some degree or protection."
Critics, including human rights advocates, have warned Mrs. Arroyo that the publicity stunt could result in a virtual pre-judgment of criminal cases while hurting the dignity of the presidential office. — With reports from Marichu Villanueva, Delon Porcalla, Cecille Suerte Felipe, PNA
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
2002 by PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS
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