Los Angeles, California, Feb. 3, 2003 - Filipinos from waiters to physicians have decided to help Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson raise money for legal fees in a court battle in Alameda County.

Ed Azcuna, president of the more than 1,000-strong Cavite Association of Los Angeles, who is from Lacson's hometown of Imus, Cavite, said that ordinary workers and professionals alike have assured him of financial help for Imus' favorite son when they learned that the senator will need money for the services of a San Francisco lawyer he has commissioned to overturn an Alameda County court ruling ordering Lacson to pay $3 million to Blanquita Pelaez over a controversial handcuffs deal.

After Filipino nurses working in hospitals in New York City learned about the need for funds, they immediately passed the hat around for contributions.

Xinia Divinagracia, a nurse from Iloilo working in Beth Israel Hospital, and Leticia Duller, also a nurse in the operating room of the Veterans Hospital in Manhattan, pledged modest contributions.

Dr. Domingo Santos and his nurse-wife, Carmen, both practicing in St. Louis, Missouri, told me by telephone conversation that "we will do our share."

My aunt, Mrs. Luz Perez Alerta, a retired nurse from Mother Cabrini hospital, sent me $100 when I told her about the problem. Her daughter Lea, who was at work when I called from Los Angeles, told her mother she will also chip in. Her Chinese husband is also supporting the fund drive.

The "mistahs" or PMA graduates who have retired and are now working in many parts of the United States are even more active.

A retired colonel of PMA Class 1969, married to a nurse working in a hospital here and a compadre of mine, said he will inform other retired PMAers about Lacson's need for money for legal cases.

Azcuna said that coordinating groups, one each in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, New Jersey and Chicago are being organized so that special accounts can be created in banks where contributions may be deposited.

"We are amazed at how the Filipinos all over the US who learned about the problems of Lacson have expressed willingness to support the former PNP chief," Azcuna said.

Lacson was greeted wildly at the meeting of the Cavite Association last Wednesday after coming from Las Vegas where he was a wedding sponsor.

"We need the money, yes, but we are more gratified at how Filipinos here look up to Lacson as a leader," Azcuna said.

Asked whether or not more money will come Lacson's way for his presidential campaign, Azcuna said "we will talk about that at the proper time."

He explained that Lacson might be charged with politicking since the campaign period has not begun.

Lacson would need money for the legal fees for Michael V. Cardozo, the San Francisco lawyer he hired to get the superior court of Alameda county to reverse a decision awarding Pelaez $3 million in damages.

Ms. Pelaez alleged through her Filipino lawyer Rodil Rodis that the PNP refused to pay the company she represents, Smith & Wesson, more than P15 million for around 40,000 pairs of handcuffs contracted by the PNP long before Lacson's brief tenure as PNP chief.

Lacson said that 80 percent of the value of the contract has been paid to Smith & Wesson but he ordered the balance of 20 percent withheld because Pelaez' company refused to pay the taxes and duties specified under the original contract.

Pelaez claimed that the price does not include taxes under a supplemental agreement which the National Police Commission, on Lacson's representation, invalidated.

Lacson's Filipino lawyer, Sig Fortun, refused to comment on word going around in Filipino circles that he would file a counter damage suit against Pelaez and disbarment proceedings against Rodis.

"We will do this step by step," Fortun said. "Our first objective is to lift the order awarding Ms. Pelaez $3 million in damages."

He explained to Cardozo that there might be a question of jurisdiction because the Alameda court rendered a judgment on a conflict over a contract signed in the Philippines.

A judgment in default was made against Lacson without him or Fortun getting information about the case.

He added that the charges against Lacson for libel are baseless because he was in Las Vegas when Pelaez alleged through Rodis that he described her as a "smuggler" in Oakland and in Contra Costa before a group of Filipinos. (Amado Macasaet, Malaya)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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