PING, POE WARNED OF POSSIBLE SUIT VS FORGERY IN AUNOR CHECK CASE

MANILA,  May 5, 2004
 
(STAR)
By Marvin Sy  -  Malacañang warned the opposition yesterday of possible legal action if they insist on using forged documents to accuse the administration of paying millions of pesos for singer-actress Nora Aunor’s services in the political campaign.

"We are glad to have exposed their (opposition’s) capability of doing black propaganda. But if they persist, they can be liable under the Revised Penal Code, specifically Section 2, Article 172 of the Revised Penal Code, penalizing the use of forged documents," Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.

Both the camps of Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. and independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson had accused Malacañang of paying Aunor P6.2 million for her support in President Arroyo’s campaign sorties.

Aunor, Nora Villamayor in real life, has denied receiving the amount. She claimed receiving a much lesser amount of P620,000 as "consultancy fees" last year.

The actress found an unlikely ally in Poe, himself a major showbiz personality.

Poe said Aunor "was merely doing her job in endorsing the President and appeared to be not involved in any irregularity with regards to her acceptance of payment."

"Para kay Guy (Aunor’s nickname), trabaho lang ‘yun (For Guy, it’s just another job for her)," Poe told reporters during a rally in Urdaneta, Pangasinan yesterday.

Poe called for an impartial investigation into allegations that public funds were used to pay Aunor, whom he described as a "fellow artist."

Lacson, on the other hand, said Malacañang effectively admitted its guilt when it clarified Aunor was paid the lesser amount.

"Whether it is P62, P620,000 or P6.2 million, it is still government money. The Aunor payment proves that President Arroyo is spending public funds indiscriminately for her campaign," Lacson said.

"The Palace clarification is an admission of guilt, and this should make people think twice about voting for Mrs. Arroyo on Monday," Lacson told reporters during a break in his campaign in Biñan, Laguna.

Bunye, on the other hand, claimed there is an attempt by the opposition to "misinform the public" by presenting forged documents to support their accusations.

Both opposition camps showed photocopies of a Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) check (0000422544-80) and disbursement voucher (045-035639) from the Office of the President covering the amount of P6.2 million as payment to Aunor.

The check and disbursement vouchers showed the date March 4, 2004.

Bunye pointed out the check issued to Aunor was actually for P620,000 and dated Sept. 4, 2003.

Aunor had also pointed out the discrepancies in the amount and the supposed date of issuance of the checks, hinting the documents might have been forged.

Bunye said they are willing to show the original check as proof of the actual payment to Aunor.

"But the public, anybody who is interested can take a look at the original returned check and the actual figure can be seen there," he said. ‘Livelihood’

Fellow showbiz personality, Sen. Vicente Sotto III also defended Aunor yesterday.

Sotto, along with actor Eddie Garcia, said Aunor should not be blamed for accepting the amount claiming it was her " livelihood."

"There’s nothing wrong with that (accepting talent fee)," Sotto said. "We don’t see anything irregular since she didn’t (know) where it came from and she’s just campaigning and being paid for services rendered."

Sotto said what can be considered irregular and illegal is the source of the payment for Aunor.

He claimed public funds have been used to pay the actress for her services.

Garcia, Poe’s campaign mainstay, said Aunor was just being "professional" and she rightfully needs to be compensated for her services if that was the arrangement.

"She did her job and was compensated for it, that’s all," Garcia said.

Lacson continued his attacks maintaining the photo copies of the check and the documents showed a P6.2-million payment to Aunor.

"Mrs. Arroyo is spending taxpayers’ money like there is no tomorrow. The nation will feel the adverse effects of the indiscriminate and wanton spending after the elections," Lacson stressed.

Lacson’s lone senatorial candidate, Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla said it is possible that the P620,000 the Office of the President admitted paying Aunor is separate from the P6.2 million payment.

"The Palace admitted paying Ms. Aunor P620,000 in September last year. Our documents show that the P6.2 million payment was made last March 3. So these are two separate payments," Padilla said.

He pointed out to the statement made by Malacañang that the P620,000 came from funds of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), while the P6.2 million came from the general fund of the Office of the President as clearly shown in the check.

"If it is true that the P620,000 came from DSWD funds, what entitled Ms. Aunor to the money? She is not an indigent. As far as I know, DSWD funds are for indigents," he added.

In a statement, DSWD Secretary Corazon Soliman clarified there was no contract or memorandum of agreement for services from Aunor.

"Ms. Aunor does not have a consultancy with the DSWD," Soliman emphasized.

Soliman said Aunor is undertaking social welfare projects for Mrs. Arroyo "on her own."

She said Aunor was "specifically" helping out in the alleviation program of the government through various outreach activities.

But Aunor’s outreach work, Soliman said, is not being paid for by the DSWD.

"Ms. Aunor was paid P620,000 by the Office of the President for services and reimbursements incurred over a period of one year," Soliman said. "The money did not come from the DSWD." Desperate Moves

Administration lawmakers said the latest accusations are a "last-ditch black-propaganda" campaign by the opposition camp.

Lawmakers warned the accusations will leave key personalities in the opposition facing criminal prosecution if Mrs. Arroyo gets her six-year mandate in the May 10 elections.

Isabela Rep. Edwin Uy and Antique Rep. Exequiel Javier, who are both lawyers, pointed out opposition leaders could be liable for criminal prosecution for using forged evidence to support their accusations against Mrs. Arroyo and Aunor.

"The Aunor voucher and check can easily be verified from appropriate agencies. The opposition had the temerity to forge these documents because they know this is their last chance to bring down the emerging winner who is the President," Javier said.

Uy noted that Aunor herself pointed to the alleged discrepancies between the vouchers and the check presented by the opposition against her own copy.

"The records will bear out Ms. Aunor. A movie icon like her would not stake her name and reputation by coming out with lies," Uy said.

Uy said the opposition know they cannot win by the ballot so they have to heighten their black propaganda against Mrs. Arroyo.

Campaign spokesman Michael Defensor said he was aware of the penchant of the opposition to engage in what he termed "bastusan" (hitting below the belt), with less than a week before election day.

Defensor maintained the amount paid to Aunor was aboveboard for services she rendered for the government’s anti-poverty program under the Office of the President.

"Very clearly, this payment to Ms. Aunor was not for campaigns. Anyway, there is an auditing and I’m very confident it would be audited by the Commission on Audit," Defensor said. - With Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz, Marichu Villanueva


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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