Manila, August 19, 2003 (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva and Paolo Romero  - First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo said yesterday he is willing to appear at the Senate and confront the "lies" against him peddled by opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

Senior members of the House of Representatives, at the same time, urged Lacson to file a case against Mr. Arroyo or else be accused of political grandstanding.

Lacson accused Mr. Arroyo of laundering more than P100 million through several secret and dummy bank accounts.

He said Mr. Arroyo is keeping a bank account using an assumed name, Jose Pidal, in the Union Bank branch on Perea street in Legaspi Village, Makati City, not far from the Arroyos’ LTA building where President Arroyo’s husband holds office.

Lacson said Mr. Arroyo transferred funds from anomalous contracts and from supporters to the Pidal account.

He said high government officials, including two Supreme Court justices, and media personalities report regularly to the President’s husband in his LTA office.

STAR columnist Alex Magno, one of the media personalities tagged by Lacson to be regularly reporting to Mr. Arroyo’s LTA office, said the senator "makes sweeping accusations and libelous statements from behind the screen of parliamentary immunity."

"His sweeping accusations strike me as an attempt to intimidate opinion makers critical of the irresponsible politicking he is disposed to. He is trying to weave conspiracy theories out of casual acquaintances," Magno said.

He challenged Lacson to produce proof or be "nothing more than a merchant of unscrupulous intrigue."

Another STAR columnist, Jarius Bondoc, said Lacson’s allegation regarding his wife Marissa "only confirms our strong suspicions that he not only has put us under surveillance but also is responsible for death threats we have been getting."

Bondoc said Lacson attributed his investigative columns on narcopoliticians to Marissa’s supposed visits to the LTA building in Makati.

The LTA building is where their long-time personal, corporate and libel lawyers hold office, according to Bondoc, who added that he and his wife visit the lawyers to get various documents or seek legal counsel.

The threats reached fever-pitch in June to September 2001, the same time as the Senate inquiry on narcopolitics, and continues to this day, Bondoc said.

He added that a media handler of Lacson promised to arrange a meeting with the senator last July, but this never came to pass.

"Now we know why. All this time Lacson has been having my wife tailed. I can only attribute this to a desire by (Lacson) to intimidate me, especially at a time when the Senate is about to deliberate on the floor the tri-committee report on his criminal activities," Bondoc said.

He said he is consulting with his lawyers to determine what legal action to take against Lacson.

The First Gentleman, for his part, denied Lacson’s accusations, saying these "are nothing but lies and no truth at all."

Mr. Arroyo noted that Lacson should not have used his position as a senator "for politicking and muckraking." He said Lacson made his privilege speech under the mantle of parliamentary immunity and thus cannot be sued for libel or other charges.

"I challenge him (Lacson) to hurl these accusations against me outside the halls of the Senate so that it would be a fair fight," Mr. Arroyo said.

In a prepared statement read yesterday by his official spokeswoman Patricia Bunye-Roxas, Mr. Arroyo debunked Lacson’s allegations.

"It should be noted that in Lacson’s speech, there was no complainant, no victim, no public funds used, no public official involved. What graft and corruption is he talking about?" Mr. Arroyo said.

Roxas also told ANC Live in an interview that the First Gentleman has "denied knowing" the people Lacson said were "supporters and favor seekers" who allegedly gave he and his wife, Mrs. Arroyo, "at least P321 million" in contributions.

She said Lacson’s "timing" is questionable. The senator, according to Roxas, has been "threatening" to make the expose because of the impending release of a joint report of three Senate committees that investigated him for drug-trafficking and other serious crimes.

Malacañang denounced Lacson’s accusations against the First Couple saying he has "resorted to comic-book phrases and theatrics by his creative writers to grab headlines."

"Ping Lacson’s (allegations are a) dud of a bombshell as the wheels of justice accelerate... so the truth will come out regarding the Kuratong Baleleng massacre and narcopolitics," Tiglao said in a text message to The STAR.

In his privileged speech, Lacson called the First Gentleman "The Hulk," a popular monster-hero character of Marvel Comics.

Lacson, for his part, said he made his expose against the First Couple just now because "only recently" has he "completed" all the information and documents he has to prove his accusation.

In an interview with dzMM radio, Lacson said the First Gentleman should be made to face the Senate for his alleged corrupt acts.

Roxas said the Mr. Arroyo will answer Lacson’s allegations "in due time."

In a joint statement, Reps. Prospero Pichay (Surigao del Sur), Eduardo Veloso (Leyte), Prospero Nograles (Davao City) and Willie Villarama (Bulacan) said Lacson should file a case before the court or with the Office of the Ombudsman if there is indeed strong evidence Mr. Arroyo had committed an illegal act.

If not, he could be accused of resorting to political grandstanding with his speech.

The lawmakers said they believe Lacson’s accusations are political in nature. The expose, while long in theatrics, was short on criminal acts for which Mr. Arroyo could be held liable, they said.

"The way I see it, the First Gentleman is a civilian, no public funds were involved and there is no case of bribery," Pichay said.

Lifestyle Check For Lacson

Chief Superintendent Reynaldo Berroya of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Civil Security Group said Lacson should be the first to be subjected to a lifestyle check because his assets suddenly increased after he became close with then Vice President Joseph Estrada, who was later elected president.

"Kung siya pa rin ang PNP chief e dapat siya ang unang-una na isailalim sa lifestyle check. Leaps and bounds talaga ang nangyari diyan," he said.

Lacson served as the PNP chief during the term of then President Estrada.

Recalling their days at the defunct Metrocom Intelligence and Security Group, Berroya said Lacson did not have a car and was only using recovered or seized vehicles.

"When he became associated with Estrada, I was surprised that his finances soared. Aside from owning a Lexus, he also had several luxury cars," Berroya said in a statement.

He also said Lacson owned several parcels of land, particularly along Quezon Avenue where posh nightclubs are located.

"The nightclubs are on a long-term lease with him," Berroya said.

He added that Lacson allegedly owned a franchise of Jollibee, a popular fastfood restaurant chain, in Sucat, Parañaque. — With Ann Corvera

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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