Government News Analysis

Liberal spending?

Yet another rats’ nest is being unearthed within the Liberal Party establishment. This one involves alleged bribes of some PHP100 million made to eight prison inmates who had testified against Senator Leila De Lima, the former Department of Justice (DOJ) secretary who last Friday was incarcerated at Camp Crame, the Philippine National Police headquarters, to await trial on charges of profiting from the sale of illegal drugs.

The bribe allegedly had been offered in return for the prisoners changing their testimony before last Saturday, the anniversary of the 1986 People Power Revolution. As it turned out it seems they didn’t need the money and declined the offer – twice.

According to current Justice Secretary, Vitaliano Aguirre, the inducements – if accepted – were expected to provide momentum for rallies on Saturday opposed to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Breaking news that the inmates had retracted submissions they’d made before Congressional hearings last year, it was believed would invigorate the anti-Duterte base which had been struggling to get numbers for the demonstration.

“If there will be [another] People Power revolution the high-profile inmates will be freed from jail. That was their [those offering the bribes] promise,” Aguirre said.

Behind the scheme, said Aguirre, were Liberal Party House of Representatives member and former mayor of Biñan City, Laguna, Marlyn “Len” Alonte-Naguiat, and former senator, Maria Ana Consuelo Abad Santos Madrigal Valade – Jamby Madrigal for short – who’s been a member of the Liberal Party since 2012. He also named Alvin Herrera Lim, head of the Bureau of Corrections’ (BuCor) legal office as part of the plot.

Alonte, who stood unopposed for the newly created Lone District of Biñan, Laguna, is no stranger to controversy. She’s presently being sued – along with her former Biñan City vice mayor, Walfredo Reyes Dimaguila Jr. – by her mother over the purchase of a piece of land which the mother part owned. The case – plunder, violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and breach of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees – is now with the Ombudsman. According to her mother, Alonte and Dimaguila made PHP76.92 million from the deal.

Madrigal had been involved in a similar family-property dispute, though on a considerably larger scale. In 2008, she’d contested the will of her late aunt, billionaire Consuelo “Chito” Madrigal-Collantes which she’d been left out of. The value of the estate, which was left entirely to her husband, former foreign minister, Manuel Collantes, was estimated at PHP26 billion. In 2012, the Court of Appeals dismissed Jamby’s petition.

The third alleged plotter, Lim, was reprimanded by Aguirre recently for engaging in private law-practice work while working for BuCor. In short, he was caught moonlighting. He’d provided his services in a case before the Lucena Regional Trial Court while drawing a government salary. To do private work he would have needed authorisation from his department head – in fact, Aguirre; BuCor is a DOJ agency.

The eight convicts whom it’s claimed were offered the bribes are being held in New Bilibid Prison, the country’s largest penitentiary, and ground zero of the drugs charges that form the case against De Lima. It was from the narcotics trade there that De Lima is said to have profited and used the money to fund her senatorial election campaign.

The inmates had previously testified before a Congressional committee that they’d had dealings with De Lima in connection with the prison’s illegal narcotics enterprise. Among those giving evidence was convicted kidnapper, Noel Martinez, boss of a prison gang, the Genuine Ilocano Group.

He is also the husband of Lalaine Madrigal, cousin of the aforementioned former senator Jamby Madrigal whose abysmal performance as a 2010 presidential candidate – securing just 0.23% of the vote – and her failed bid as Liberal Party senate candidate in 2013 seem to have dampened her appetite for frontline politics.  It’s understood initial contact was made with him and later, Alonte is believed to have been overheard conversing with the inmates on a speaker phone – a compromising call that led to a Justice Department investigation.

Last September, Martinez told the House of Representatives’ Justice Committee that he’d been asked by another high-profile inmate, Jaybee Sebastian, to sell drugs to raise money for De Lima. He said then, “Jaybee Sebastian talked to me so we can collect more funds for the [senatorial] candidacy of De Lima. He told us to sell to the leaders of the different groups so we can make more money”. He also said that he’d seen De Lima visit New Bilibid Prison three or four times and witnessed her visiting Sebastian’s quarters.

If Aguirre’s allegations are upheld this will substantiate mounting claims that members of the Liberal Party are outlaying large sums of cash to undermine and bring down the Duterte government. It’s believed, for example that they’re spending millions on sweetening the media as well as funding anti-Duterte online sites and blogs and putting resources into trying to close down pro-Duterte social media.

It’s an open secret that mega-rich Liberal Party members such as socialite Fil-Am businesswoman, Loida Nicolas-Lewis – who used her cash to support the presidential run of Liberal Party standard bearer, Mar Roxas, last May – have been bankrolling groups opposed to the president.

It’s also been suggested that her money was used to help pay for Saturday’s anti-Duterte demonstrations. We can’t verify that but we do know that, along with her sister, Imelda Nicolas whom former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino appointed to head the Commission of Filipinos Overseas, and other Liberal Party stalwarts – some are named in this article, Secrets of sleeping weasels – she’s been mounting a campaign to replace Duterte with Vice President and Liberal Party chairman, Leni Robredo.

But, all that said, at this stage no evidence has been produced to corroborate Aguirre’s claim which Alonte, who’s now allied with PDP-Laban, Duterte’s party, and Madrigal, who describes herself as a “quiet citizen,” both vehemently deny. The ball is now in Aguirre’s court to present proof of this plot and, if he has a case, to charge the alleged offenders.

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