MANILA, Philippines – “Why are you depriving Delfin Lee of freedom? You should not do that.”
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV questioned the syndicated estafa charges filed against detained businessman Delfin Lee as he backed the property developer's extortion allegations against Vice President Jejomar Binay.
The 17th Senate hearing into corruption allegations against Binay on Monday, April 13, revisited the long-running housing scam involving Lee's Globe Asiatique (GA) but this time with a new twist. Lee said the only reason he is facing trial is that he turned down Binay's demand for money, and not because he defrauded home buyers of their hard-earned money.
Lee made the accusation in an opening statement and an affidavit that his lawyer, Willie Rivera, read on his behalf. Rivera told the Senate blue ribbon sub-committee that Binay's financial adviser and close associate Gerry Limlingan supposedly met Lee twice in Makati to demand money.
Lee's statement read: “I did not give in to the demand for extortion of P200 million by Gerry Limlingan allegedly upon the instructions of VP Binay; and to implicate former Vice President Noli de Castro in this non-existent Pag-IBIG Fund scam, also allegedly upon the direct instructions of VP Binay – all in exchange for my freedom from prosecution and eventual incarceration.”
Binay is the housing czar and chairman of the Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG Fund). He ordered the filing of syndicated estafa charges against Lee and other Globe Asiatique officials over their alleged use of fake documents and ghost borrowers to siphon off almost P7 billion ($160 million) in loans from Pag-IBIG Fund.
Broadcaster-turned-politician De Castro was chairman of the Pag-IBIG Fund when the supposed scam took place.
Rivera said that Limlingan met Lee after Binay won as vice president in 2010 but he could not give the dates of the two meetings.
The lawyer said that Limlingan supposedly told Lee: “Kung may naipakulong na presidente ang presidente, dapat may mapakulong na vice president si Vice President Binay.” (If the President was able to send a president to jail, Vice President Binay should be able to do that, too, with a vice president.)
The statement was a reference to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was arrested and detained over plunder charges under the Aquino presidency.
Yet upon questioning by Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, Rivera admitted that he has no personal knowledge of the supposed meetings between Lee and Limlingan.
Lee was supposed to testify before the Senate but Pampanga Regional Trial Court Judge Amifaith Reyes revoked his permit to appear in the hearing. Lee's camp and Trillanes accuse her of being biased to Binay because she also handles cases in Makati, and allegedly receives an allowance, and uses a car from the city government.
The chairman of the sub-committee, Pimentel said the panel will again try to secure a permit for Lee to testify on the claims he made.
Rivera said that he, too, had an encounter related to the supposed extortion. The lawyer said that he talked to a certain “Tommy,” who supposedly told him, “Alam ko naman walang estafa pero libreng propaganda iyan eh. Bakit 'di namin papatulan?” (I know there is really no estafa but that's free propaganda. Why won't we file that?)
Trillanes said that the “Tommy” Rivera referred to was likely Tomas Lopez, president of the University of Makati and a consultant of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC). Lopez is also identified with Binay.
The Senate hearing covers various corruption allegations against the Binays, evolving from construction projects in Makati, the Vice President's supposed secret estate in Batangas, an allegedly anomalous land deal of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines, and now including the GA scam. Binay rejects the inquiry as a ploy to derail his 2016 presidential bid.
'What double sale? What fraud?'
In attempting to support Lee's story, Trillanes questioned the basis of the charges against Lee, and sympathized with the businessman.
Trillanes asked Lee's lawyer: “Bakit kayo pinag-iinitan? Bakit mainit ang dugo ni VP Binay kay Delfin Lee?” (Why is VP Binay pinning you down? Why is he so against Delfin Lee?)
Rivera then responded that during the 2010 campaign, a “fundraiser” from the Binay camp approached his client to solicit funds but Lee turned down the request, and even cracked a joke about Binay.
Lee supposedly said: “Mahina naman sa survey iyan eh, bakit ako magbibigay?” (That man is low in the surveys, why will I give money?)
Trillanes quipped: “Sa kasamaaang palad ni Delfin Lee, nanalo si VP Binay.” (Unfortunately for Delfin Lee: Binay won as vice president.)
The senator grilled Pag-IBIG Fund President Darlene Berberabe to explain the charges filed against Lee.
Berberabe responded that it was not just Binay, but the entire government, that filed the syndicated estafa charges. She tried to explain that the case was not linked to politics.
“This investigation started in March 2010. VP Binay assumed his post in Pag-IBIG and HUDCC in July. The National Bureau of Investigation found that there was fraud, and passed its findings on to the Department of Justice (DOJ), which prosecutes the case. What I mean is it's not just Pag-IBIG that investigated this,” Berberabe said.
“Who arrested Delfin Lee? It was the police under Secretary Roxas,” Berberabe added in reference to Binay's bitter political rival Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II.
Yet Trillanes remained unconvinced, and questioned several times if there was indeed fraud and a “double sale” of GA units.
The senator said after the hearing that the case against Lee was not “solid.”
“They are trying to make it appear that thousands of overseas Filipino workers were swindled by Delfin Lee but Attorney Berberabe cannot justify why there is a case. So think about it: if VP Binay can do this to a billionaire, he can do it to anyone,” Trillanes said.
'Delfin Lee not a saint'
Binay's allies quickly took exception to Trillanes' statements.
Navotas Representative Toby Tiangco, interim president of Binay's opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), accused Trillanes of lawyering for Lee.
"Kung pakikinggan mo si Trillanes eh parang santo si Delfin Lee. Ito ang tao na sumira sa libu-libong pangarap ng mga ordinaryong manggagawa. Dapat sa kanila siya maawa, hindi kay Delfin Lee," Tiangco said.
(If you listen to Trillanes, it seems like Delfin Lee is a saint. This is a person who destroyed the dreams of thousands of ordinary workers. He should pity them, and not Delfin Lee.)
Trillanes' approach to the GA scam was also a marked difference from how senators handled the issue when the Senate housing committee investigated it last year. Trillanes was absent from those hearings.
Back then, the senators raised several “red flags” in the “special treatment” that GA got from Pag-IBIG Fund.
Unlike Trillanes, Pimentel did not dismiss the billion-peso scam.
Pimentel said: “I know why Pag-IBIG is mad. Because even if you buy back the units, the money that was used to buy these still came from Pag-IBIG. Fraud was employed. You now use the proceeds of P7 billion to seemingly comply with the financial obligations of Pag-IBIG. So parang ginisa siya sa sariling matika.” (So it was like Pag-IBIG was really given a serious roasting). – Rappler.com