SENATORS AMONG PYRAMID QUEEN’S VICTIMS?

Manila, March 16, 2003. -- Pyramid scam suspect Rosario Baladjay revealed yesterday that some senators were among the thousands of people who had fallen for her investment scheme.

Baladjay did not name the senators.

She made the revelation in a hearing conducted by the Senate trade and industry committee chaired by Sen. Robert Jaworski on various pyramid schemers who are believed to have robbed at least two million Filipinos of their money.

Scores of police officers who were enticed into such get-rich-quick schemes reportedly invested money earned from jueteng and other illegal activities, and even intelligence funds that are not strictly audited and accounted for.

These officers are reportedly afraid to come out in the open for fear that they would be investigated for ill-gotten wealth or misuse of funds.

Baladjay made the revelation about the senators in answer to a question from Sen. Robert Barbers.

"To be sure, meron po, meron po. Meron po akong dokumento…" she said without finishing her statement.

Barbers cut her short, declaring that he had such information and that he just wanted to get a confirmation.

When asked by committee members to produce the document she referred to, Baladjay had nothing to support her claim.

This prompted Jaworski to protest that it was unfair of the suspect to include senators among her alleged victims when she could not support her allegation.

Baladjay is believed to have amassed billions of pesos from thousands of unsuspecting investors.

Responding to questions from senators, she claimed she invested most of the money in Europe. She could not, however, say where in Europe.

She claimed that she has partners, including one Conrado Arriola, whom authorities could not locate. She refused to identify the others because, she said, they have an "agreement of non-disclosure." She could not present a copy of such agreement.

Her alleged victims, who filled the hearing room and lined the only street leading to the Senate holding placards with messages demanding their money be returned, said she offered them from five percent to 13 percent a month in interest, or 60 percent to 156 percent a year.

Some of them said they saw endorsements by Senators Edgardo Angara and Loren Legarda in printed materials the suspects and her "investment counselors" gave them.

Angara promptly issued a statement saying he had sent Baladjay a congratulatory message in one of her company’s celebrations.

"Congratulatory messages are always solicited from public officials and are routinely given in good faith. Ms. Rosario Baladjay, president of Multitel, used my message to promote her business and attract investors. It was done without my knowledge, and this is very irregular," he said.

He said investors have the right to get their money back.

Legarda had also sent Multitel a similar message in good faith but claimed that she had no inkling it would be used to dupe investors.

"If some scheming people would use such congratulatory messages in their devious operations, they are not only victimizing the public but also the people who, in good faith, wished them well," she said.

She said she was the first government official who had called for Baladjay’s investigation.

Any insinuation that she knew about the suspect’s alleged illegal activities is unfair and baseless, she added.

Policemen waited yesterday for Baladjay to finish her testimony because they wanted to serve a warrant for her arrest in connection with several cases she is facing in Makati courts.

But Senate President Franklin Drilon ordered the continued detention in the Senate of the suspect until he and his colleagues are satisfied with her answers. The next hearing is scheduled on Wednesday.

In a related development, Rep. Prospero Pichay Jr. (Lakas, Surigao del Sur) criticized senators for their decision to continue with their inquiry into pyramiding scams and to keep holding Baladjay.

Pichay told radio station dzBB that there is also a bill ready for President Arroyo’s signature that would punish such fraudulent investment schemes as pyramiding.

"So how could this inquiry be in aid of legislation? Maybe, it is in aid of reelection," he said.

As for their decision to keep Baladjay detained in the Senate, Pichay said senators could be obstructing justice by preventing the police from taking custody of her and presenting her to a Makati court where she is facing numerous cases.

"Maybe, they are protecting her," he added. (By Jess Diaz, Star)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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