Manila, Feb. 12, 2003 (Tribune) -- Resigned Justice Secretary Hernando Perez may not be able to wiggle out of the legal opinion on the controversial $470-million Industrias Metalurgicas Pescarmona Sociedad Anonima (Impsa) contract, granting the independent power producer the country's sovereign guarantee, alleged to have been performed for a bribe fee of $14 million, with an alleged $2 million for him, $4 million for the presidential couple and $1 million “for the boys.”

A witness testified before the Senate that Perez's legal opinion was a concession for the provisions sought by lenders who wanted to insert the sovereign guarantee clause.

This was pointed out yesterday by Sen. John Osmeña after one of the counsels of the Caliraya-Botocan-Kalayaan (CBK) project admitted that New York-based laywers of Impsa's lenders had requested the insertion of the direct guarantee.

During yesterday's hearing of the Senate committee on government corporation and public enterprises, Osmeña said that with the “admission” of CBK lawyer Andy Santamaria, their panel would now have to summon Perez to answer questions on why that provision had been included in his legal opinion issued on Jan. 24, 2001, only four days after Mrs. Arroyo assumed the presidency.

According to Osmeña, Santamaria, of the Sycip, Salazar law office, first went to former assistant secretary Juan Jose Rodom Fetiza to discuss the request of the foreign lenders but had been turned down.

Fetiza had reportedly informed Santamaria that any amendments to the government acknowledgment and consent agreement (GACA) would have to be approved by the finance chief, then Jose Pardo, who was authorized to act on the Impsa deal.

The CBK counsel reportedly then approached the justice department after he had learned the Department of Finance wanted a legal opinion on the issue.

“I was liaisoning with the lenders in behalf of the CBK” Santamaria said.

“The request came from the lenders. This particular language came from the lenders, which I communicated to, initially, the DoF through Atty. Fetiza. Then to the DoJ through Atty. (Teresa Tam) Yap (of the Asian Insights paralegal consulting firm),” he added.

Given Santamaria’s testimony, Osmeña said his panel sees the need for Perez to be summoned and for him to explain the insertion of the controversial legal opinion, which has reportedly been drafted by State Counsel Claro Flores and later signed by Perez.

Perez needs to fully explain the insertion of that questionable provision which had already been refused by the Department of Finance, Osmeña stressed.

“The next thing we will do here is to again call the people in the DoJ. There are still loose ends that need to be explained,” he added. “Perez will have to answer for this,” the senator said.

The lawmaker also pointed out they have no jurisdiction over the lenders since most are offshore banking units based outside the country. At least one of the lenders had reportedly refused to accept the subpoena claiming it is merely an agent of the international bank’s lending unit.

Meanwhile, Impsa officials yesterday denied the allegations hurled by Osmeña that company lawyers sought the insertion of onerous provisions.

In a statement, Impsa officials said “Our lawyers had nothing to do with inserting any provision in the CBK contract pertaining to the so-called direct state guarantee. There is no direct guarantee to speak of in the first place.

“Sen. Osmeña’s allegations are not only inaccurate, they are also malicious,” the statement further said.

In a related development, lawmakers looking into alleged irregularities in the multi-billion peso contract also said they will push through with plans to have extradited Manila Rep. Mark Jimenez bare all he knows about alleged bribery which took place at the justice department. “We will be sending him (Jimenez) written interrogatories,” Osmeña said.

“Our plan to go to Miami, Florida, will not push through. Mr. Jimenez is still having problems with authorities there. I don’t think they will let him go (to see us),” he added.

Jimenez, a self-proclaimed former Presidential Adviser for Latin American affairs during the time of deposed President Joseph Estrada, had accused Perez of receiving $2 million in bribes and extortion apparently for the DoJ to rule favorably to questions about the legality of the contract with Argentine firm Impsa.

The Manila lawmaker had claimed that $14 million had been involved for the approval of the Impsa build-repair-operate-transfer (BROT) contract.

Of the bribe money, $2 million allegedly was given to to Perez, $1 million was alloted for the “Malacañang boys” and another $4 million supposedly to the First Couple. The remaining $7 million has yet to be accounted for. (Benjamin B. Pulta)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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