Manila, Jan. 18, 2003 (Malaya) - Sen. John Osmeņa yesterday accused administration senators of deliberately obstructing the ratification of an agreement with Hong Kong in a bid to block the opening of a Coutts Bank account allegedly belonging to resigned Justice Secretary Hernando Perez.

Senate President Franklin Drilon belied this.

Osmeņa, chairman of the Senate committee on government corporations and public enterprises, lamented the Senate leadership has been sitting on approval of Senate Resolution No. 62, which was approved by the Senate foreign relations committee on May 29, 2002.

The resolution endorses ratification of the Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal Matters.

Osmeņa noted that Perez himself signed the agreement in Hong Kong on Feb. 23, 2001. It was submitted by President Arroyo to the Senate only in February 2002 or a year after its signing.

Perez was said to have pocketed $2 million of a $14 million alleged bribe in connection with a government contract with an Argentine firm. Rep. Mark Jimenez said Perez extorted $2 million from him last year, and the money went to the Coutts account which was under the names of Perez' brother-in-law Ramon Arceo and private banker Ernest Escaler. Perez has belied the allegations.

Osmeņa's committee is investigating the $14 million bribery. The IMPSA deal was approved by President Arroyo four days after she assumed the presidency and after Perez was named justice secretary.

"The majority in the Senate (has been) impounding the ratification (of the resolution) to deny access by the committee to the records of the (Coutts) bank (account)," Osmeņa said.

He added: "This record now becomes very important in the light of the revelation by Congressman Mark Jimenez that the $2 million paid to Justice Secretary Nani Perez was deposited in the Coutts Bank in Hong Kong."

Osmeņa said if the agreement had been ratified, it would be easier for his committee to get Hong Kong's cooperation in its bid to review the account.

He explained that under the agreement, Hong Kong is obliged to help the Philippines run after laundered or illegally obtained money deposited in their banks.

Osmeņa last month asked on the Senate floor for the consideration of the report and was promised by Senate President Franklin Drilon it would be taken up the soonest time possible.

Drilon, in a press briefing, said the majority bloc is not blocking the ratification of the agreement.

"I myself inquired about that before we adjourned last December ... noting that as early as May last year, there was already a report submitted by the committee on foreign relations," he said.

Osmeņa has filed a resolution calling on majority leader Loren Legarda to schedule consideration of the agreement.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye described as baseless the suspicion of opposition Senators Luisa Ejercito Estrada and Panfilo Lacson that the administration is tying to cover up the alleged bribe try by opposing Osmeņa's plan to take the deposition of Jimenez.

Jimenez, detained in Florida for fraud charges, was the source of the information on the alleged bribe.

Bunye said there is nothing to hide and the alleged $14 million bribe, $4 million of which reportedly went to "the couple in Malacaņang," is hearsay.

Malacaņang also turned down Estrada's challenge that government charge him for his alleged participation in the IMPSA deal.

Estrada signed the contract as a witness.

Bunye said the IMPSA contract was legal and binding and they see no reason to charge Estrada.

He added the IMPSA contract became controversial only after Estrada alleged that there was bribery involved.

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