Manila, Feb. 5, 2003 -- The Court of Appeals stopped yesterday the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) from continuing its investigation of former Justice Secretary Hernando Perez for alleged obstruction of justice.

The inquiry stemmed from Perez's issuing an order prohibiting the disclosure of the travel details of some government officials, including himself.

The CA's eighth division issued a 60-day temporary restraining order (TRO) directing PAGC Chairman Dario Rama to stop its ongoing investigation and explain within 10 days why it should continue its probe on Perez.

Perez had earlier asked CA Justices Elvi John Asuncion, Conrado Vasquez Jr. and Sergio Pestano to issue the TRO on the probe, which the PAGC initiated last year when Perez was still justice secretary.

The PAGC had claimed that Perez obstructed justice when he ordered the Bureau of Immigration not to release the travel details of President Arroyo, Vice President Teofisto Guingona, Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. and himself.

Perez issued the order in response to a request by Bulacan Rep. Willie Villarama that such travel details be released to determine whether Perez had indeed gone to Hong Kong in 2001 to "collect" a bribe from Manila Rep. Mark Jimenez, who has since been extradited to the United States to face a string of criminal charges.

Jimenez, who was then fighting extradition to the US, claimed he paid Perez some $2 million in exchange for a favorable action on the then-pending extradition request.

Jimenez then sought the support of his colleagues in the House of Representatives, like Villarama.

Perez, who denied Jimenez's and Villarama's charges, later filed cases of libel against Villarama in courts in Manila and Batangas but, during the preliminary hearing at the Manila Regional Trial Court yesterday, Perez' lawyers walked out of the proceedings.

In a statement, Villarama said Perez's lawyers walked out after Manila RTC Judge Rustico Panganiban granted his petition to compel the prosecutor handling the libel case to issue several subpoenas that he has requested.

He said the lawyers, who had asked the judge to dismiss his petition, apparently did not like his decision.

As part of his defense, Villarama asked the prosecutor to summon banker Ernest Escaler, the alleged conduit of the $2 million and in whose Coutts Bank account in Hong Kong Jimenez claimed to have wired the money from his bank in Uruguay.

He also petitioned him to subpoena the travel records of Perez, Escaler and Ramon Arceo, a brother-in-law of Perez.

He had earlier revealed documents indicating that Escaler and Perez traveled to Hong Kong together in February 2001.

Perez sued Villarama for libel in connection with public accusations that Perez was the "Million-Dollar Man" who had allegedly received $2 million from Jimenez.

Jimenez later claimed Perez extorted the huge amount from him, an accusation that the former justice department boss has consistently denied.

Jimenez had claimed that Perez and the alleged conduit were in Hong Kong on Feb. 23, 2001 when he wired the $2 million to Coutts Bank as pre-arranged with the two.

The prosecution rejected all of Villarama's requests, prompting the congressmen to elevate the matter to the Manila RTC. (Delon Porcalla, Star)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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