Manila, Jan. 24, 2003 - Senate President Franklin Drilon yesterday berated Justice Secretary Simeon Datumanong for prematurely clearing his predecessor, Hernando Perez, of any liability in the alleged $14 million bribery in connection with a $450 million power deal.

Testimonies gathered by the Senate committee on government corporations and public enterprises pointed to Perez as the recipient of $2 million out of the $14 million in exchange for the approval of the contract between the National Power Corp. and Impresas Metalurgicas Pescarmonas SA (Impsa) of Argentina.

Datumanong on Wednesday said "Perez was only doing his job" when he issued the legal opinion that gave Impsa a government guarantee on its loans, which were used in the rehabilitation of the Caliraya-Botocan-Kalayaan power com-plex in Batangas.

"It was an error for Secretary Datumanong to clear former Secretary Perez. I believe that the opinion is misplaced," Drilon said.

He said that since Datumanong has review authority over prosecutors, then the "prosecutors are left with no choice but to follow the opinion of the secretary and, therefore, would no longer have any discretion to review the facts and the law" once a case is filed.

"Mali iyon. He should not have preempted the prosecutors," Drilon said.

Sen. John Osmeņa, committee chairman, said it was not up to Datumanong to decide the fate of Perez since the case would likely be referred to the Office of the Ombudsman and not the justice department.

Osmeņa also said Datu-manong's statement was ex-pected especially since he was a colleague of Perez in the Arroyo Cabinet.

"Alangan naman na magkasama sila sa Cabinet, kasama sila sa administration, you are asking too much naman kung gustuhin nating diinin ni Datumanong si Perez," Osmeņa said.

Osmeņa said his committee would exhaust all efforts to get the cooperation of the Hong Kong government to obtain bank documents related not only to the $2 million allegedly given to Perez but to the $12 million that allegedly went to other top officials of the Arroyo government.

Osmeņa said he would tap other methods in his investigation because the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) with the Hong Kong government has not been ratified by the Senate and is still with the foreign relations panel chaired by Sen. Manuel Villar.

"Iniikutan ko siya (Villar). Dumiretso na nga ako sa Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC)," Osmeņa said.

Drilon said MLAT ratification was included in the Senate's calendar of special orders and that the chamber was only waiting for Villar's sponsorship.(Malaya)

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