Monday, December 01, 2008

The Truth Behind the the "Tell the Truth" Incident at the Senate

Sometime on November 9, 2008, I dropped by for lunch at the Department of Agriculture ("DA") to greet Secretary Arthur C. Yap a "Happy Birthday". Art, is known to his stakeholders at the DA as "SACY" and known to me and my employees as "ACY". We have been working together on various capacities many years before he became Secretary of Agriculture. He has been a good friend. In November this year on his birthday, he told me to help out the Regional Directors of the DA, as JocJoc Bolante has arrived and the Senate is bound to call them for the continuation of the Fertilizer Scam Investigation.

Art's request was simple, "Retain lawyers to help the directors." Fee arrangements could be discussed but should not be an obstacle. I told him I was ready to help.

The directors present on that occasion asked me only one question, "Are you Bolante's lawyer too?" My response is of course, "No." We exchanged phone numbers and promised to call each other before the Senate investigation.

Thereafter, weeks before the Senate hearing, I signed up Atty. Gabby Enriquez, a veteran lawyer and my law partner, Atty. Sonny Avila, former Dean of Araullo Uoversity School of Law. Both worked together at Manalo Puno Law office and were members of the Sigma Rho Fraternity. They didn't ask about fees. When I mentioned the nature of the engagement, they said they were in, without asking for anything.

We didn't know how the Senate investigation would end up, but the clear strategy was make the directors comfortable and let them come up with the truth. The speculation was the directors were going to be involved in a cover-up. That is a stupid thing to do because the Commission on Audit (COA) had all the goods on Bolante and all the participants in this affair. Any attempt to cover up will only end up in a charge for "Perjury" or "Falsification".

During the Senate hearing, Senators Chiz Escudero, Alan Cayetano and Dick Gordon ganged up on Director Ric Oblena midway in the hearing. "Who ordered the change of the fund allocation for Kalibo, Aklan to an NGO?".

The manner of questioning was atrocious! It's the modern day Grand Inquisition with the Senators acting both as judge and inquisitor. In between questions, the Senators interjected threats, wisecracks, and other bullying tactics. The lawyers were helpless.

If this were a court hearing, I would have stood up to object, they were badgering the witness. But that was prohibited by the Senate rules. Then I looked at Dir. Oblena and wondered, the question appeared to be harmless. Why was he having a hard time?

I told Gabby to slip a note to remind Dir. Oblena it was pointless to withhold things. At first, Gabby didn't want to. I told him just do it. So Gabby took his business card and borrowed a pen from Dir. Roger Chio who was sitting in front. Gabby looked at me and I told him , "Tell the truth." On cue, Gabby scribbled the note, stood up, and gave it to Dir. Oblena.

Senator Gordon saw what happened and got irritated, a bit over-acting I suppose. He asked Gabby who he was. Who engaged him? He pointed to Sonny. We weren't prepared that our presence would be questioned, so I told Sonny to call me. I stood up and introduced myself.

Sen. Gordon asked who I worked for, "I'm a consultant of Secretary Yap."

"Who is paying you?"

"Nobody." I was thinking the Directors should be paying me, but I'm not billing them. But the truth is I don't care.

"That's weird" he said.

I told Senator Gordon, "I am from Ateneo, sir." He said he didn't care if I was from La Salle.

"Well, I mentioned that sir because it matters to me. My school taught me that money is not the be all and end all of my being a lawyer."

At this point, Senator Gordon said something like, "I will deal with you guys later. Let's see what's in the note."

Dir. Oblena, read the note -- a little increase in the pitch in his voice helped put some drama in the scene -- "Tell the truth."

"That's amazing!" Mister Senator Grand Inquisitor Gordon had nothing else to say.

At the end of the session, ABS-CBN gave a sinister slant to the incident by saying that Jocjoc Bolante were being primed up by the directors. "Nilalaglag na raw si Bolante." Sen. Pia Cayetano, who wasn't even there, said the directors were being told to do so in order to protect higher officials of the DA.

Another story is that at flip side of the card were the words, "Do not..." That one made me laugh.

I don't care what you guys say. But for the record, this is the true story behind the "Tell the Truth" incident.

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