Senators Wednesday supported the enactment of a stronger legislation aimed against Internet sex videos after a Filipino actress sought the help of the Senate in pursuing filing criminal charges against a celebrity doctor.
Actress Katrina Halili Wednesday arrived at the Senate to ask Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for assistance in filing a case against celebrity doctor Hayden Kho for allegedly circulating in the internet their “sex video.”
Halili, accompanied by her lawyers Mamyrlito Tan and Raymond Palad, went to Revilla’s office at around 2 p.m. Members of Revilla’s staff said she started to cry the moment the media men were asked to leave the room.
Dressed in green halter blouse and gray skinny jeans, Halili merely shook her head when asked for any statement regarding her intention to file charges against Kho.
But behind closed doors, Revilla and Halili briefly discussed the circumstances that the actress would encounter regarding her impending legal action against Kho. Afterwards, the senator accompanied the actress to the NBI to file appropriate charges against the doctor.
“Sinimulan ko ito, tatapusin ko,” Revilla told reporters in an interview.
When asked what specific case they would be filing against Kho, Revilla said: “Titingnan pa natin. Abangan n’yo na lang kung ano ang maaari nating isampang kaso laban kay Dr. Kho at sa mga kasabwat niya. Sisikapin natin na mapigilan pa ang pagkalat nito (sex video).”
Revilla said he has assured Halili that he will help her in achieving justice over Kho’s videotaping and presumed spreading of the video.
“I will make sure that Halili will get justice,” he said adding that “The case would be an eye-opener to the country on the proliferation of the so-called sex-scandal videos that is already alarming and not entertaining at all.”
Revilla, in a privilege speech last Tuesday, demanded the Professional Regulation Commission to revoke Kho’s medical license. The NBI has also vowed to conduct a thorough investigation into Kho’s “sex videos.”
“I already talked to NBI Chief Nestor Mantaring over the phone after my privilege speech and he assured me that the NBI will probe the matter,” he said. Revilla also praised Halili for her courage and determination in seeking justice against Kho.
“I really admire Katrina for refusing to be a victim forever. This is no longer Katrina’s fight alone but the fight of all Filipinas against harassment and exploitation,” he said.
Revilla acknowledged the women’s rights group Gabriela and Halili’s lawyers for rallying behind the actress’ cause for justice.
He cited Section 24 of the Republic Act No. 2382 or the Medical Act of 1959 whereby immoral or dishonorable conduct and even insanity are among the grounds for reprimand, suspension or revocation of a doctor’s certificate of registration.
Revilla also pushed for the passage of his Anti- Pornography Bill which seeks to slap stiffer penalties against those who publish, broadcast and exhibit pornographic materials through the use of traditional media, internet, the “cyberspace,” cellular phones and other forms of media.
Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago also agreed that Halili’s case now raises the need to start a national debate on the free expression and censorship.
“This is a problem that faces Internet providers and users all over the world. Even in the United States they cannot simply prevent predators from preying on very young girls, some of whom have ended up dead. We can actually do it technologically, but we will have to spend a lot of money, and then there would be a great national debate on free expression and censorship,” Santiago said.
Sen. Pilar Juliana Cayetano, meanwhile, called on other women victims of sex scandal videos circulating in the Internet and being peddled like pirated DVD movies in public to file court cases against their violators for causing them emotional and psychological anguish and violation of privacy.
“It is not difficult to understand why most of them decide to remain silent or retreat to ignominy instead of thinking of fighting it out in court because the pain and humiliation they have to go through is unthinkable,” she said.
Updated April 30, 2009 12:00 AM
Rodolfo Lozada Jr. can surely afford to post the minimal bail bond needed in a criminal case filed against him. But Lozada’s refusal to post bail drives home one point: there are many individuals who should be behind bars or at least on trial in connection with the broadband network deal between the government and China’s ZTE Corp. So who gets a warrant of arrest first? The whistle-blower.
Lozada was arrested yesterday on orders of the Manila Regional Trial Court. The warrant stems from a perjury case filed by Michael Defensor, President Arroyo’s former chief of staff, who was implicated by Lozada in what he described as an effort to stop him from testifying before the Senate on the ZTE deal.
The fate of the other players in that incident explains Lozada’s refusal to post bail. The Malacañang official directly implicated in the effort to keep Lozada quiet, Manuel Gaite, has been promoted from deputy executive secretary to commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission, replacing an official at the heart of the Legacy Group scandal. The security escorts who “greeted” Lozada upon his arrival at the NAIA from Hong Kong have disappeared, their reported ties to the Presidential Security Group swept under the rug. Other officials mentioned by Lozada in the attempt to keep him away from the Senate are still with the government.
Beyond that incident upon his arrival, which Lozada suspected was a kidnapping attempt or worse, no one has been prosecuted in connection with the ZTE broadband scandal. Benjamin Abalos, though forced to quit shortly before the end of his tenure as chairman of the Commission on Elections, is enjoying his retirement. Leandro Mendoza, who signed the deal with ZTE executives in Boao, China in the presence of President Arroyo, still has his job. And Romulo Neri, the former director general of the National Economic and Development Authority who initially disclosed a P200-million bribe allegedly offered by Abalos, now manages billions of pesos of the private sector’s pension fund after he invoked executive privilege and learned to keep his mouth shut.
Only one man is being punished in connection with a $329-million deal that the government was forced to scrap: Rodolfo Lozada Jr. Michael Defensor is well within his right to want to clear his name, but Lozada’s prosecution is rubbing salt on a festering wound. It is a good example of the selective justice that has come to be associated with this administration.
The impending arrest of Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada is not just another of the continuing moves to harass a witness who blew the whistle on the corruption surrounding the $329-million deal for a national broadband network between China’s ZTE Corp. and the Philippine government. It is also intended as a warning to would-be whistle-blowers on other anomalous transactions entered into by the Arroyo administration, perceived by the people to be the most corrupt in the history of the Philippines.
The perjury charge filed by Michael “Mike” Defensor, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s former chief of staff, is just one of 16 cases filed against Lozada, ranging from dishonesty, perjury to theft. Lozada and his family also said they have received death threats as a result of his exposé. For the past year or so, Lozada and his family have been living in seclusion at the La Salle Green Hills, with security provided by nuns.
Contrast this with the freedom that former Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos and former Socioeconomic Secretary Romulo Neri are enjoying. Abalos purportedly said, “Sec, may 200 ka dito.” (This has been interpreted as meaning that there was P200 million for Neri in the deal.) Neri acknowledged that he heard the offer but recommended the approval of the deal anyway. There was a bribery attempt, but the bribe offeror was not charged. Neri, instead of being dismissed for not reporting the bribery attempt, was transferred to another government position.
The courts and the law enforcement agencies are continuously being used to harass Lozada, his wife and other family members. The Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines said that the government’s latest move— the order for the arrest of Lozada—“is a warning to other people both inside and outside the government who have knowledge of important information related to the practice of corruption of people in power to shut up—or else.”
The continuing harassment of Lozada and his family is not going unnoticed by civil society. Former President Corazon Aquino has thrown her support behind Lozada and has urged those “who support the truth” to speak out against his impending arrest on the perjury charge. Former President Joseph Estrada has joined Aquino’s call. Estrada said, “It is not a democracy where those who speak the truth are imprisoned or threatened to be imprisoned while those who abuse the people run free.” Some senators have also spoken out in support of Lozada. The wonder is that the case has not sparked a bigger public outrage. Probably the people are waiting for the actual arrest of Lozada before they speak out and stage protests? Or probably they consider a perjury charge too small a case to get exercised about?
Lozada has said that he is not going to post bail and would not resist arrest as a sign of protest against what he called the government’s continuing harassment through a number of cases filed against him and his wife.
We hope this latest government move is not just a ploy to further isolate Lozada. We hope that the case will be tried soon, so that the people will know the truth about the NBN-ZTE deal, for whose signing Ms Arroyo, according to a Malacañang press release, “left like a thief in the night,” leaving the bedside of her husband who was at that time recovering from a life-threatening operation.
If the trial court will be fair and just, the administration may not get the result that it wants in causing the filing of the perjury charge against Lozada. The case, Lozada said, might provide the starting point for a full-blown court hearing on the alleged irregularities in the NBN-ZTE deal. That would be ironic justice, because it would result in the disclosure of the truth and the exposure of things that the administration would like to stay hidden.
Updated March 12, 2009 12:00 AM
From street lamps in Cebu for the ASEAN summit to bidding for a World Bank-funded road project and now to funds for road repairs, corruption scandals hound the Department of Public Works and Highways.
A 2007 report prepared by the Commission on Audit confirmed allegations hurled by some congressmen that about P50 billion collected as road user’s tax or the Motor Vehicles User’s Charge, paid by the public when a vehicle is registered, has been misused. The tax is administered by the Road Users’ Tax Board, which is headed by the DPWH chief and is under the Office of the President. Yesterday Malacañang said there were inaccuracies in the COA report.
But congressmen and the COA were not the only ones to question the utilization of the road tax. Way back in July 2007, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago had filed a resolution, directing the DPWH and the Road Board to account for the road user’s tax. Under Republic Act 8794, the road tax should be used exclusively for road maintenance and improvement of road drainage, the installation of traffic lights and road safety devices, and air pollution control. The resolution declared: “Since its implementation in 2001, this fund has degenerated into a pork-barrel item, far from its original intention…” The Senate has not tackled the points Santiago raised in her resolution.
The Road Board also includes the secretaries of finance, budget and management, and transportation and communications. The board’s executive director said it is the Land Transportation Office that collects the road tax and remits it to the treasury. All the offices involved in supervising, collecting or utilizing this tax should not conduct an investigation of the alleged fund misuse, especially because the amount involved could warrant an indictment for plunder.
With Malacañang already calling the COA report inaccurate, it looks unlikely that anyone will be found culpable and punished for the alleged anomaly before June 2010. But the COA detailed the possible ways by which the road tax was misused, and the auditors’ work must not go to waste. Those opportunities for fund misuse must be plugged, through the passage of legislation and new administrative rules.
Updated March 15, 2009 12:00 AM
Enforcement police of the Securities and Exchange Commission raided the other day the office buildings of the Legacy Group. Numerous criminal charges have also been filed against Legacy owner Celso de los Angeles, who could face life in prison if convicted of the offenses. Meanwhile, victims of the collapse of the rural banks and pre-need firms of the Legacy Group await relief from their woes, however limited, that can be provided by the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp.
SEC Commissioner Jesus Marti-nez was forced to go on leave a day before his retirement after witnesses said he received lavish gifts including a house and lot from De los Angeles. Martinez is under investigation for corruption, and authorities are trying to determine if other SEC officials were involved in the scam.
Now what about the lawmaker who, according to the same witnesses who pinned down Martinez, received P100,000 a month from De los Angeles as consultancy fee? The House of Representatives, not surprisingly, has refused to touch Parañaque Rep. Eduardo Zialcita, who denied acting as Legacy consultant and claimed that all he accepted from De los Angeles were “donations” for his impoverished constituents. It is probably too much to expect that the House would approve rules prohibiting congressmen from accepting such “consultancy fees.” Speaker Prospero Nograles, who by De los Angeles’ accounting lost P18 million in the Legacy scam, prefers to leave the fate of Zialcita to the witnesses and Legacy victims.
Apart from Legacy bank depositors and pre-need plan holders, there are other victims in this scandal: responsible, legitimate rural bankers. Rural banks serve a need in communities that have not been reached or are not adequately covered by the big players in the banking industry. Public confidence is indispensable in banking, and with the Legacy mess, that confidence in rural banks is eroding. If regulators do not want more problems in their hands, they should look at the concerns of the rural banks affected by the Legacy scandal.
When the Legacy mess is finally cleaned up, those directly responsible should be behind bars and the coddlers punished. New measures must also be in place to ensure the soundness of the country’s banking system and regulatory environment.
Nearly five years after agricultural funds meant for fertilizer were allegedly misused, the Senate Blue Ribbon committee has come up with its findings. The committee headed by Sen. Richard Gordon recommended yesterday the filing of charges against former agriculture under-secretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante, his purported runner Marites Aytona, alleged bagman Jaime Paule and six others for plunder, technical malversation, money laundering, tax evasion and perjury. A 10th individual, Joselito Flordeliza, who headed the foundation used in the alleged P728-million scam, may face prosecution for money laundering.
There are three things that must be done to ensure that the Blue Ribbon probe does not go to waste. The most immediate task is to prevent any of the individuals recommended for criminal prosecution from leaving the country. If there is no legal basis to prevent their departure, the government should at least keep track of their whereabouts. Under the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, signatory states are duty-bound to extradite individuals wanted for corruption.
The second task is to effectively prosecute and punish the guilty. This scandal has dragged on long enough. Gordon said his committee has enough evidence to build an airtight case against the people recommended for prosecution. There is no reason to delay their indictment.
The third task is to implement measures to prevent a repeat of the fertilizer scam or any other diversion of public funds to private war chests, especially with general elections approaching. The Blue Ribbon committee is seeking amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act, the Bank Secrecy Act and the Procurement Act as well as the Senate’s rules of procedure on direct contempt.
Amending those three laws can also help prevent a repeat of other anomalies such as the rigging of bids for infrastructure projects and the collection of fat commissions for brokering deals with the government. Congress can get to work immediately on those amendments for approval before lawmakers become too busy with their election campaigns. Even if government prosecutors drag their feet on this case, something positive should come out of this scandal.