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Aquino Sona claims a life

It was the rush by President Aquino’s officials to include in his State of the Nation Address last July 25 what they thought would be a spectacular “exposé” of an alleged Marcos-style “behest loan” during the past administration that led to the suicide of 43-year-old Development Bank of the Philippines lawyer Benjamin Pinpin.

A despondent Pinpin took his life on Aug. 2, and in the suicide notes he left to his wife and mother, he regretted the false statements he made in an affidavit he signed on July 27, reportedly after weeks of pressure by the DBP board. The affidavit was to be among the evidence the DBP board would submit in its graft case to be filed at the Office of the Ombudsman alleging that 25 DBP officials connived to extend an anomalous loan to tycoon Roberto Ongpin, described in the suit as a “Marcos crony.”

The DBP board had to resort to intimidating Pinpin and other DPB officials to provide evidence for the graft case because of the tight schedule for its planned inclusion in Mr. Aquino’s Sona.

One headline-grabbing allegation in that speech, which was also so hurried that it proved to be such an embarrassing boo-boo for Mr. Aquino because of its inanity and inaccurate data, was the claim that the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s watch paid P1-billion for coffee given to the casino players.

However, the bigger media “bombshell” that was to be detonated in the Sona was the loan to Ongpin. After all, the coffee yarn was “small-time” as it accused people whom most Filipinos don’t know.

In contrast, the DBP loan to Ongpin would involve certainly well-known personalities. The headline Aquino’s officials wanted: “Midnight behest loan: Arroyo DBP, at FG’s behest, gives half-a-billion peso loan to Marcos crony.” The storyline would be that a P660 million loan was rushed in the closing months of President Arroyo’s term for Marcos crony Ongpin that gave him billions of pesos in windfall profits.

It would have been perfect for the administration’s obsession to demonize the past administration. The term “behest loan” (referring to government loans given to Marcos cronies during his dictatorship, at his behest) had become synonymous to corruption in the minds of the present opinion-making generation of Filipinos. Mr. Aquino would be mythicized as the avenging angel going not only against the evil Arroyos but even against the cronies of another evil leader, Marcos, whom his mother deposed.

A May 25 article in the Internet edition of the Lopezes’ ABS-CBN Network started the media “air cover” for the Sona “exposé” on the Ongpin loan. The article, obviously designed and given materials by the DBP board, not only claimed that Ongpin “was close to the husband of former President Gloria Arroyo” but also that “he fronts for the investments of the Arroyos.”

It is not clear whether the “bombshell” that proved to be a dud was the brainchild of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, who supervises government financial institutions, or if Mr. Aquino ordered it pursued. Several DBP officials however pointed to Purisima as pressuring the bank’s board of directors to get the evidence needed to prove the allegation of a “behest loan.” DBP president Francisco del Rosario told this writer that it was Purisima who ordered the board to probe the loan. (Purisima did not reply to this writer’s requests, channeled through his office and through his PR man, to respond to these claims.)

“Pepo’s (Nunez) career has been as a man of the Zamora family that has been one of Erap’s biggest financiers, so you get my drift,” a DBP official said. “He’s not into this ‘tuwid-na-daan’ thing, but he follows orders like a Doberman. When I asked him why he is so zealous in investigating this Ongpin loan, he said: ‘Order sa taas. Pang-Sona daw.”’

The board was put on a tight deadline, as Purisima reportedly promised Mr. Aquino in April that evidence would be available for him to confidently hurl the “explosive” allegations in his July 25 Sona, and for the case—for dramatic effect—to be filed at the Ombudsman the very next day. The board asked some two dozen DBP officials to “spill the beans,” reportedly telling them in so many words that they could forget their banking careers if they did not cooperate.

By mid-May though, the DBP officials were unanimous in reporting that nothing was wrong with and that it even generated profits for the bank. To pressure them to say otherwise, Nunez issued on May 2 “show cause” letters to 25 DBP officials, including Pinpin and even low-ranking officers, which warned them to explain why they should not be charged in connection with the “anomalous Ongpin loan.” Pinpin apparently buckled under the intensified pressure, signed affidavits confirming the DBP board’s allegations—and regretted it so much later that he took his life.

Up to the last minute, Mr. Aquino was waiting for Purisima to give the go-signal to make the “behest loan” a highlight in his Sona. But obviously to deny Purisima and the DBP board the pleasure of pleasing Mr. Aquino, Pinpin signed the affidavits against the DBP officials two days after the Sona.

In a display of utter cold-heartedness, the DBP board filed the charges against the DBP officials the Monday right after Pinpin’s burial Saturday.

“Benjie (Pinpin) did not kill himself, they did,” his supervisor lawyer Benilda Tejada said, referring to the members of the DBP board. As lynch mobs have demonstrated throughout history, from the Inquisition to the Salem witch-hunts to the Soviet, Chinese and Filipino communist purges, very deadly is a fanatic ruling elite’s group-think that it has a monopoly of righteousness and morality.
From the Philippine Daily Inquirer