Department of Transportation

[Vantage Point] Conclusion | DOTr: Jaime Bautista’s cross

Val A. Villanueva

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[Vantage Point] Conclusion | DOTr: Jaime Bautista’s cross
Incumbent DOTr Secretary Jaime Bautista inherited an agency which, through the years, has been discombobulated by design. He has taken up the challenge to institute drastic reforms which do not sit well with those who immensely profit from their illicit exercises.

READ: Part 1 and Part 2

In August 2018, the LTO promised to issue about 11 million license plates which had been paid for by vehicle owners from as far back as 2013. Records show that the backlog in license plates from February 2014 to June 30, 2016, totals 8.3 million for cars, trucks, and motorcycles. That number has increased by the thousands since then.

The reason?

The Ortigas branch of Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) has frozen the bank account of LTO contractor OMI-JKG (previously PPI-JKG) on the petition of Christian Calalang, who owns – as updated records show – only one share of OMI-JKG worth P100 at par value. Calalang’s own company PPI-JKG used to be the LTO supplier for license plates until the company was bought by Annabelle Arcilla-Margaroli’s OMI-JKG. OMI-JKG is now hard-pressed to pay its foreign and local suppliers, throwing a monkey wrench into the issuance of motor vehicle plates.

In a text message to Vantage Point, Calalang refrained from commenting on the case, upon the advice of his lawyers. Doing so, he said, could affect the cases still pending before the courts. But in his letter to the Land Bank, he claimed majority control of the company, submitting as proof a General Information Sheet (GIS) he filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Dean Israelito Torreon, whose law firm represents OMI-JKG, told Rappler: “It behooves us that Land Bank Ortigas through its Branch Manager Nenita Camposano refuses to release the funds needed to pay off my client’s local and foreign suppliers on the basis of a mere letter of request [from Calalang, which has been] attached with a falsified General Information Sheet [GIS].”

The bank, for its part, filed an interpleader: “…[i]n view of the apparent conflicting requests or instructions received from the defendants Calalang and Margaroli relative to the subject checking account maintained with the LBP Branch, and in the exercise of the highest and extraordinary diligence required of banks…. As both defendants presented conflicting documents to prove their respective authority to the LBP Branch, the latter is in a quandary and thus, uncertain as to whom or to which Party to recognize as having valid authority to withdraw from or transact business on the subject account of PPI-JKG; hence, this interpleader to compel both defendants to litigate among themselves…”

It should be noted that Calalang sent the same letter to the other banks where Arcilla- Margaroli has opened accounts: Asia United Bank, Security Bank and Trust Co., and Union Bank. These banks, however, did not heed Calalang’s request. In their response letter to a subpoena from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the three banks manifested that Calalang was not even a signatory to the account, and that there were no court orders nor sufficient documents submitted to bolster his claims.

I find it puzzling why Land Bank Ortigas would resort to such a legal move. For one, the frozen funds are going to be used for a vital government project. The resolution of an interpleader usually takes years, which means that the vehicles bought by motorists from 2013 to 2018 would continue depreciating and still be without their respective and prepaid license plates.

Torreon told Rappler that“Calalang also used the same tactic when he tried to collect from LTO using an invoice endorsed by a Cabinet secretary whose office has nothing to do with the LTO operations.”

NBI’s findings

The NBI stepped in, he pointed out, to sort out the differences between the former and new shareholders, since Calalang claimed that his signature on the Deeds of Assignment was forged.

“However, after the handwriting examination was conducted by both the PNP and NBI, it was discovered that the documents submitted by Arcilla-Margaroli and Calalang’s camps were found to be written by one and the same person,” Torreon stated, “confirming the fact that the Deeds were not fake and the Certificate of the Notary Public to NBI was true that indeed Ms. Arcilla-Margaroli, Christian Calalang, and Ceasar Zamoranos were all present at the Notary Public’s office when the Deed of Assignment was executed.”

Calalang headed PPI, which partnered with JKG, a Dutch firm that manufactures license plates. JKG oversaw the project at the onset of their partnership until sometime in 2019, when Calalang sold his company’s shares to Arcilla-Margaroli, who then became the new company’s [OMI-JKG] major shareholder.

The sale transaction was covered by a Deed of Assignment between Arcilla-Margaroli and Calalang’s Powerplates Development Concepts. Per this Deed of Assignment, Arcilla-Margaroli acquired 63,750 shares, which represent 51% equity in PPI-JKG. In another Deed of Assignment, she also acquired additional 29,998 common shares or 25% shareholding of PPI-JKG from Ceasar Zamoranos, who earlier acquired his shares from Calalang’s company. Calalang was then left with one common share with a par value of P100, while Arcilla-Margaroli became the major shareholder controlling 75% equity of the company.

Based on records obtained by Rappler, an NBI investigation revealed that the GIS Calalang submitted to the SEC was found to be falsified. The NBI said that the 25% ownership that Calalang claims to be his is still owned by the Dutch firm JKG.

Torreon said that the LTO was fully apprised of the sale and transfer of ownership and management from Calalang’s company to OMI-JKG. “In fact, Annabelle Arcilla-Margaroli of OMI-JKG was even endorsed by Calalang to the LTO. He even admitted to have used all of the P477-million mobilization fee he got for the project awarded to his company in 2014.”

A letter of authority, supposedly signed by both Calalang and Arcilla-Margaroli, proved that the latter is the real owner of the LBP account where the payments for the deliveries were directly deposited. However, LTO did not inform the LBP about the account owner’s identity. Instead, LTO Executive Director Romeo Vera Cruz endorsed to then-chief assistant secretary Edgar Galvante the filing of an interpleader similar to what Landbank did. 

They accepted all the delivered motorcycle (MC) plates but did not pay anymore in the same manner they used to just because of a mere letter from Calalang which had been proven by several fiscals to be falsified and illegal. Calalang has now been issued at least eight warrants of arrest and has been arraigned for criminal cases, along with Ceasar Zamoranos and Ivan Calalang. 

Galvante has filed his affidavit of admission in court stating that Arcilla-Margaroli is the real owner of the company, so that the deposited P180 million can be released to her and the supplier of the CSV (comma-separated values) files. Apparently, LTO had lost money from at least 500,000 pairs of plates that remain in its warehouse. Its foreign supplier is willing to allow the agency to regain access to the secured CSV files being sent online by JKG to LTO’s plant so that the corresponding plate numbers can be embossed on the delivered blank plates. 

Even after Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 90 Judge Zorayda Tuazon had already declared Calalang in default, the lawyer assigned to the case by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) still opted to file a mandatory injunction to compel the LTO’s unpaid suppliers OMI-JKG under Arcilla-Margaroli to submit the CSV files. 

Did LTO drop the ball?

If the LTO further knew that it is indeed the party of Arcilla-Margaroli who can provide all the corresponding requirements for the delivered license plates, why has the previous DOTr not made any move to solve the license plate debacle and release the payment due to OMI-JKG? Why does it seem like Assistant Solicitor General James Cundangan is more interested in protecting Calalang instead of prioritizing public interest?

All of OMI-JKG’s accounts in banks, including LBP, Torreon added, were opened by Arcilla-Margolli with funds from her own company. “Calalang never gave her [Arcilla-Margolli] even a single centavo of the mobilization fee he got from the DOTr in 2014.“

She took over the company bringing her own people, funding resources, and management expertise, after its previous directors – namely, Daniel Calalang, Patrick Penachos, and corporate secretary Joseph Ivan Calalang – were made to resign. Only Christian Calalang and Marinus Harinck, the foreign representative and manufacturer of plates, remained as directors, while Arcilla-Margoli was elected president and Board chair.

Indeed, incumbent DOTr Secretary Jaime Bautista inherited an agency which, through the years, has been discombobulated by design. As a result, it now suffers from age-old and systemic corruption and malfeasance. He has taken up the challenge to institute drastic reforms which do not sit well with those who immensely profit from their illicit exercises.

Bautista’s detractors have been orchestrating ouster moves through political and media initiatives with the end view of shaking President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s confidence in him. He’s holding fast and doesn’t seem to be affected by the negative optics his critics have been painting. As a friend, I could only wish that the weight of the cross he carries is light enough for him to stick to his conviction to keep doing the right thing. –

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