MANILA,  August 26, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva And Rainier Allan Ronda - President Arroyo has ordered the dismissal of a ranking Malacañang official reportedly caught on surveillance camera trying to extort P1 million from Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) officials.

The dismissal came after DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza named former undersecretary Nolan Sison of the Office of Media and Ecclesiastical Affairs as the man who demanded the money in exchange for withdrawing a smear campaign on his pending confirmation by the Commission on Appointments (CA). Mendoza said he is also filing criminal charges with the Department of Justice (DOJ) against Sison as well as several journalists and public relations practitioners.

"We will prosecute them to the end. Maybe they have forgotten that I was once a PNP (Philippine National Police) chief when they tried to extort money from us," Mendoza said. He said a camera surveillance system caught Sison soliciting P1 million from certain DOTC officials. Mendoza said Sison claimed to represent the Philippine Monitoring Group (PMG), a supposed anti-graft watchdog.

The DOTC chief also implicated Richard Rivera, a former newscaster of state-run RPN-9 television who reportedly resigned before the May 10 elections to manage the media group of the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP). The PMG demanded P1 million in exchange for withdrawing a smear campaign against Mendoza to influence his possible confirmation by the CA, the DOTC said.

Sison’s former boss, Secretary Conrado Limcaoco, now head of the Cabinet Office for Provincial Events (COPE), said he was not aware that his former deputy was involved in extortion activities. Limcaoco added that he was also not aware that President Arroyo had fired Sison after he was named by Mendoza in an extortion attempt. "All I know is he (Sison) resigned few weeks ago," Limcaoco told The STAR.

Limcaoco though confirmed Sison was connected with his former office, which was virtually abolished after the President created COPE and he was appointed to head the new office last month. "So his (Sison’s) position was practically no longer existing and as far as I know, he has gone back to the private sector," he said. Limcaoco expressed disbelief that Sison, whom he described as a member of a religious group, would be involved in high-level extortion.

He also vouched for Sison’s being "very helpful" to Mrs. Arroyo during the last campaign. "So I’m genuinely surprised about that report on him (Sison)," Limcaoco said. Limcaoco recalled Sison telling him a couple of weeks earlier of a planned "exposé" against the DOTC.

"He (Sison) was trying to warn me about it. I don’t even know what the exposé was all about. What he did with that, I just don’t know," he said. "I just told him (Sison) to just drop it. Don’t pay attention to it," he quoted himself telling his former deputy. Limcaoco expressed relief that he was not implicated in the allegations. He even provided The STAR the contact number of Sison so that the former official could air his side.

In a statement, the DOTC said Sison and his group have been trying to contact its officials since June. "They (PMG) first threatened to publish alleged anomalies in DOTC during President Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) if we do not settle with them," according to one DOTC official. "We told them to go ahead after all we have nothing to hide," the same official said. PMG failed to make good its threat until Sison managed to arrange a meeting last Aug. 2.

Sison reportedly gave DOTC officials one week to produce the money under threat of launching the demolition job against Mendoza and other DOTC officials. "This time, they made good their threat because they published baseless and unfounded accusation against us in several tabloids last Aug. 20," one official said. An entrapment operation was set last Aug. 23 where a hidden video camera caught Sison entering the premises of the DOTC. Sison was reportedly accompanied by Tim Orbos but this was not shown on video. Orbos is the younger brother of former Pangasinan governor and television host Oscar Orbos.

Sison reportedly told DOTC that PMG is a spin-off of the KNP media group which disbanded after opposition standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. lost the presidential elections last May. Left on their own, the group formed the PMG with the mission to harass government officials under the guise of pursuing a crusade against corruption, the DOTC said. Sison, a former dzRH reporter, reportedly admitted their group has a network of journalists in their employ.

The DOTC said "PMG even falsely used the name of President Arroyo by claiming that the President had authorized the PMG to conduct a lifestyle check among DOTC officials." Malacañang later denied that it authorized the group to conduct lifestyle checks.

Sison: I was just trying to help The Philippine Star 08/26/2004

Former undersecretary Nolan Sison of Malacañang’s defunct Office of Media and Ecclesiastical Affairs claimed yesterday being a victim of his own zeal to help the government in its campaign against graft and corruption. Sison expressed his dismay after being named as an extortionist by Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza and Assistant Secretary Robert Castañares.

Sison was identified as the Palace media official who allegedly tried to collect P1 million in exchange for withdrawing a smear campaign aimed at influencing the pending confirmation of Mendoza by the Commission on Appointments (CA). "I was trying to help the government and look what I got in return," Sison rued.

Sison vehemently denied the charges against him by the DOTC officials yesterday, pointing out that Castañares — chairman of the department’s public bidding and awards committee (PBAC) — called him two weeks ago to sound him off about a supposed exposé.

Sison claimed Castañares apparently got his information from a common friend, former undersecretary Tim Orbos, and that documents coming from the opposition would directly link Malacañang to shady deals of the PBAC. Orbos, younger brother of former Pangasinan governor and television host Oscar Orbos, was the predecessor of Sison at the Office of Media and Ecclesiastical Affairs. "I don’t know anything about the DOTC and I don’t even know that Castañares guy," Sison told The STAR.

Sison disclosed the plan was to leak a supposed document to him by an "asset" working inside the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP). He identified the asset as Richard Rivera, a former newscaster of RPN-9 dismissed by the state-run television station for delinquency and involvement in extortion activities. According to Sison, Rivera then formed and led the Philippine Monitoring Group (PMG).

The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) separately claimed the PMG is "a spin-off of the media group" of the KNP which was disbanded following the defeat of its standard-bearer in the May 10 elections.

The PMG turned into a mercenary group that harassed government officials under the guise of pursuing a crusade against corruption, the DOTC said. "So that’s it. I was really surprised when one day Castañares called me again last Friday and berating me for supposedly leaking the information to the media when he read the same charges at the Pilipino Star that day," Sison said.

The story reported President Arroyo authorized the PMG to conduct "lifestyle checks" on government officials, starting with the DOTC specifically naming Castañares among the supposed targets.

"I told him (Castañares), hindi ako iyan! (I am not the source of the story). I asked my asset and he told me that his group was behind it," Sison said. Before resigning his post last Saturday, Sison claimed trying to alert his former boss, Secretary Conrado Limcaoco of the newly created Cabinet Officer for Provincial Events (COPE).

The President appointed Limcaoco to head COPE last month, virtually abolishing the ecclesiastical office and forcing Sison to resign his post. "But it’s not my job anymore (to inform Limcaoco)," Sison said. He stressed his being out of government service will not put him in financial straits since he has a computer business in Manila apart from managing two radio stations in Urdaneta and Dagupan cities in Pangasinan.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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