Manila, Jan. 17, 2003 (Star) - Opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson remained unfazed yesterday by reports that a US court had ordered him to pay $3 million to a businesswoman over a failed importation deal with the Philippine National Police involving 41,297 pairs of handcuffs.

Lacson said he is not bothered at all by the legalities in the case. "If this is what I get for protecting public interest, then so be it," he said.

The deal was called off after BH Enterprises, the local supplier of Smith and Wesson products owned by Blanquita Pelaez managed to secure a favorable amendment to the contract assigning the payment of importation taxes and duties for the handcuffs to the PNP.

Lacson refused to implement the amendment. He noted that the original contract signed by then PNP chief Recaredo Sarmiento in 1996 did not provide that the PNP should shoulder the taxes and duties for the handcuffs shipped in by BH Enterprises.

The contract provided, among others, that the price for the 41,297 pairs of handcuffs (P15,673,863) shall be inclusive of taxes and duties and the price shall not be affected by the future peso-to-dollar exchange rate.

The amendment requiring the PNP instead of Pelaez's firm to pay for duties and taxes was approved through a resolution signed in 1999 by then Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno and former PNP chief Roberto Lastimoso.

When Lastimoso was sacked and replaced with Lacson, Lacson refused to honor the deal or pay Customs duties on the handcuffs, which are now sitting, unused, in the warehouse of the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

"I stand on firm legal ground that the original contract cannot be amended by a mere resolution," Lacson said.

He said that the amendment, if implemented, would have defrauded the government of millions of pesos.

"I wonder why I am being singled out as a respondent in this case when, in fact, records will show that I merely inherited this problem when I assumed office as PNP chief," he added.

The US court order, dated Jan. 10, seeks the arrest of Lacson if he could not pay the $3 million for the handcuffs.

"Where would I get the $3 million?" Lacson asked.

The arrest order could be implemented only if Lacson sets foot in US territory. The US court decision still has to reach Lacson's office.

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