November 10, 2000, The Philippine Star, Estrada admits aide got P200 M from Chavit, by Marichu Villanueva,
For the first time since the jueteng scandal broke out, President Estrada admitted yesterday that one of his aides received P200 million skimmed from tobacco taxes and delivered by his estranged friend, Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson. The President asserted, however, that he never touched the money which his aide, lawyer Edward Serapio, deposited in a bank ostensibly for a Muslim youth foundation. Mr. Estrada said this will be used as evidence to clear his name in his impending impeachment trial. Serapio now serves as legal counsel of the President's family.
Singson has accused Mr. Estrada of pocketing more than P400 million in bribes from big-time jueteng operators over a period of 21 months. He also said the President asked for the P200 million as a commission from tobacco taxes in exchange for the release of funds for Ilocos Sur.
The accusations have triggered a deluge of calls for the President to step down, as well as the worst political crisis that sent the financial market into a tailspin. Mr. Estrada, a 63-year-old former town mayor and movie actor, has denied Singson's charges and vowed to defend himself in an impeachment trial before the Senate.
The President explained that when Singson tried to give the P200 million to him as a bribe from the jueteng operators, "I would not touch it because since I was mayor, I would not touch (illegal gambling) money, more so now that I am president."
"I said I will not accept that. The money accumulated and he (Singson) deposited it in several places. I learned about it only lately," he said. Mr. Estrada said Singson insisted on delivering the money and asked controversial accountant Yolando Ricaforte to deliver it to Serapio, who was then undersecretary for political affairs.
He ordered Yolly (Ricarforte) to go to Attorney Serapio who is the corporate secretary of the Muslim Youth Scholarship Foundation, and there deposited the money and that money is still intact, not one cent has been spent," Mr. Estrada said. The President denied earlier having personally known Ricaforte. He said Singson then arranged to have the money deposited in the account of a "Muslim youth scholarship fund."
"That money is intact in the bank. None of it has been touched," Mr. Estrada said. Critics of the President insisted, however, that the Muslim youth scholarship foundation was a front used by the Chief Executive to cover up payoffs. The President pointed out that the money would be used as evidence to clear his name of Singson's charges in the forthcoming impeachment trial. He reiterated his claim of innocence, adding he would not resign despite a growing clamor for him to relinquish his post.
Mr. Estrada claimed he did not immediately react to Singson's allegations on the advice of his lawyers, but added he is now ready with his defense and will personally appear at the impeachment proceedings. "There will be time for truth and judgment," the President stressed. He branded as "lies and disinformation" allegations by Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. that Malacañang has allotted P1 billion to influence senators into voting down his impeachment.
The President also laughed off reports that his aides were trying to negotiate a graceful exit for him. "I will make my graceful exit in 2004" when his term ends, he said. Mr. Estrada said the opposition has offered not to pursue any charges against him if he resigned, but declined the offer.
"Why should I accept that when there is nothing that they can charge me with? I am not at fault." He said the offer was relayed through a close friend, lawyer Manny Zamora. The President also vehemently belied Singson's allegations that they played high-stake mah-jongg aboard the presidential yacht RPS Ang Pangulo with actresses entertaining them "for a fee." "There is no truth to that... there is no truth to that," the President blurted out.
Chavit says Estrada can't save himself
"No amount of money can save President Estrada from being impeached," Singson said yesterday. Singson was reacting to reports that Malacañang has earmarked P1 billion to influence senators into tossing out the impeachment case against him. "Even if he buys all the senators, he can't be off the hook because of the strong evidence against him," Singson said.
He said he still has in his possession several pieces of evidence that could pin down the President. The government said his charges of graft and corruption against Mr. Estrada were just "the tip of the iceberg." He cited as example allocations of sugar and rice where the Chief Executive allegedly raked in millions of pesos.
He claimed a property in Tagaytay City bought for P3 million was mortgaged to the Philippine National Bank for P500 million. Singson also alleged that Mr. Estrada could have amassed an estimated P2 billion over a two-year-period of his presidency. He hinted that the President would rather talk to his Chinese cronies such as Dante Tan and Lucio Co than meet with his Cabinet.
On the other hand, Mr. Estrada vowed to send Singson to jail for alleged plunder of the coffers of his province to the tune of P2 billion. He branded the governor as the "biggest liar" for leveling the jueteng charges against him. Mr. Estrada claimed Singson befriended him after he assumed the presidency in 1998, then started asking for so many favors, and tried to bribe him with the jueteng payoff.
Meanwhile, the united opposition was reportedly wooing some ranking police officials to join their movement to oust Mr. Estrada. Reliable sources in the intelligence community said these officers held a caucus recently to discuss the possibility of supporting the political opposition's attempts to unseat the President.
The sources identified some of the officers as Director Hermogenes Ebdane of the Philippine National Police's (PNP) Human Resource and Development, former Intelligence Group directors Chief Superintendents Victor Signey, Arturo Lomibao, former chief of Directorate for Intelligence Clyde Fernandez and Western Police District chief Avelino Razon.
Razon said he got the invitation but declined it because he wanted to remain "apolitical." Chief Superintendent Florencio Fianza reportedly met with other police officials at a hotel in Manila to map out their plans in case the situation called for it. However, Fianza vehemently denied the report, indicating it was part of a continuing harassment against him. "I do not know where the reports came from. I am not a politician, so why would I do that?"
Ranking police officials perceived the move as a possible threat to the leadership of PNP chief Director General Panfilo Lacson. Former PNP chief Director Roberto Lastimoso reportedly met with certain leaders of the Rebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabansa on Saturday following the huge prayer-rally at the EDSA Shrine in Mandaluyong City to press Mr. Estrada's resignation.
"They are a bunch of disgruntled officers who have an ax to grind against the PNP," Lacson said. Attempting to instill loyalty among the present crop of PNP officials, Lacson issued a one-page memorandum enjoining them to remain non-partisan and focused on their sworn duties.–With Christina Mendez, Eva de Leon, wire services