In response to my article “The calamitous appointment of Czar Lacson”, some readers commented “Lacson may be a killer but at least he’s honest.” A number even asserted that Lacson is “incorruptible”. As proof, they cite former Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s refusal to seek pork barrel allotments during his 12 years in the Philippine Senate. But is that really the best way to assess the honesty and integrity of a government official?
Almost 11 years ago, on January 21, 2003, I appeared in a Manila TV talk show, “Strictly Politics”, hosted by Pia Hontiveros, together with Sen. Lacson and his Philippine lawyer, Sigfried Fortun. The topic that evening was the civil judgment I had obtained against Lacson in the Alameda County Superior Court. Just before the show went on, I personally served Lacson with an Order of Examination (OEX) requiring him to appear in an Oakland courtroom on March 15, 2003 to answer creditor questions about his assets in the United States.
Pia Hontiveros asked Lacson if he intended to appear in court on the OEX. Lacson hesitated and then smiled and said that he would willingly do so as it would provide him the opportunity to clear his name. I did not believe him for a minute but that was the usual politician’s response I expected. What was unexpected was when he turned to me and said “Atty. Rodis, if you find any bank account in my name in the US, you can have it.”
I responded, as the videotape of that TV show will confirm, “No, Senator. If I find your bank accounts, I won’t keep them; I’ll see that they’re returned to the Filipino people where they belong.”
Lacson stared at me, visibly angered, and asked: “Are you insinuating that I stole that money?”
I responded “You don’t expect me to believe that you earned all that money honestly, do you?”
At the conclusion of the TV show, Lacson refused to shake my hands as he quickly departed the studio. Two days later, Lacson flew to San Francisco and retained famed attorney Michael Cardoza to set aside the default judgment I had obtained against him. According to his website, Cardoza is “a former major crimes prosecutor and nationally-known trial advocate with over 35 years of litigation experience and over 400 cases tried to verdict.”
Lacson got his money’s worth as Cardoza succeeded in setting aside the punitive damages portion of the civil judgment. But despite numerous court hearings and appeals all the way up to the California Court of Appeals, Cardoza failed to set aside the compensatory damages of approximately $38,000 against Lacson.
After my judgment was confirmed by the California appellate court, I obtained another Order of Examination against Lacson which required him to appear in court on August 17, 2005 to answer my questions about his assets.
But Lacson did not appear in court as required. Instead, his lawyer, Tiffany Dunlap from the Cardoza Law Offices, appeared to inform the court that Lacson had “parliamentary immunity” and was not required to honor the court’s order. Judge Barbara Miller dismissed Dunlap’s argument and ordered the issuance of a bench warrant against Lacson if he did not appear at the next OEX hearing which was set for September 7. If Lacson did not personally appear in court on that day, she said, then a warrant for his arrest would be issued.
The following week, on August 22, 2005, I wrote an article in my weekly column that recited the questions I would pose to Sen. Lacson if he appeared in court on Sept. 7.
These were among the questions:
1. Sen. Lacson, when you purchased your home at 1011 Laguna Seca Loop in Chula Vista, California on March 1, 1996, where did you get the money to buy it? When you sold it on July 20, 1999, where did you deposit the sale proceeds? Did you use it to buy your property at 2305 Sea Island Place in Chula Vista? What other real properties did you purchase in the United States?
2. Your April 22, 1996 Bank of America bank statement listed two bank accounts in your name at a BofA branch in Rancho Cordova, California . One was an interest-bearing checking account (17471-00188) and another was a regular savings account (17478-00046), together totaling $104,793.26. Your October 23, 1996 BofA bank statement showed that your two accounts had increased to $178,544.88. In 1996, you were chief of the Task Force Habagat of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission. What was your salary then? After you closed your two BofA bank accounts, where did you transfer your funds to?
3. On November 13, 2000, the records show that you remitted $100,000 to your wife (Alice Lacson) at her Bank of America Woodman Sherman branch account in Van Nuys , California through the Bank of New York. Two days later, on November 15, the amount of $49,980 was sent by “Teresita Go” to the same Bank of America account through the HSBC Bank in New York . On November 27, another $149,980 was remitted to the same account also through the HSBC Bank in New York. On December 26, another $144,339.62 was remitted to the same account through the Bank of New York. Where did all this money come from and what happened to the money?
4. On January 8, 2001, your wife had two Bank of America accounts (24306-01369 and 24301-01390) in her name totaling $356,464.54. Where did all this money come from?
5. About 4 months later, on May 8, 2001, these same accounts had $251,174.25 left. On June 5, 2001, your wife withdrew $246,199.25 from these two accounts. Where was the money transferred to?
6. From that Bank of America account, your wife wrote two checks to purchase two Toyota Sequoia SUVs from Longo Toyota in Sacramento , one on December 3, 2000 for $50,000, and another on December 27,2000, also for $50,000. Where are these SUVs now?
7. On December 27, 2000, your wife formed a California limited liability company called “Orient Light, LLC” on January 8, 2001. On March 16, 2001, your wife made two checks to “Orient Light Freight Intl, Inc.”(Nos. 106 and 107), each in the amount of $50,000. On April 6, 2001, she filed a “statement of information” with the Secretary of State in Sacramento, California on “Orient Light, LLC” as “President/CEO” of the limited liability company. What is your interest in your wife’s companies?
8. On March 14, 2001, your wife withdrew $100,000 from her Bank of America account no. 24301 -01390. Where was this money transferred to?
9. On March 8, 2001, a Wells Fargo Bank account(Account no. 201-8575365) was opened in the name of “Orient Light, LLC” with the account signatories listed as Robert Co, president, and Alice Lacson, vice-president. On April 17, 2001, the monthly statement of this bank account showed an ending balance of $200,098. What happened to the assets of this LLC? Is this LLC still operating?
After my article appeared on August 22, 2005, I received a call from Michael Cardoza asking me for the precise amount Lacson owed on the judgment, down to the last penny. Two days before Lacson was required to appear in court on September 7, 2005, I received a cashier’s check from Cardoza in the amount owed by Lacson to my client.
I was unable to secure the answers to my questions but that was not the end of it.
A few months later, I received a phone call from Karl Buch, a deputy US attorney from New Jersey in the office of New Jersey US Attorney Christopher Christie. He said that his office was prosecuting the criminal case against Lacson’s military aide, Michael Ray Aquino, and that he would be leaving for Manila to depose Sen. Lacson, an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the criminal case.
Buch said that he had Googled Lacson’s name and came across my article about the questions I wanted to pose to Lacson at his OEX.
Buch requested me to send him the documents I had intended to present to Lacson. I promptly mailed the documents to the US Attorney’s Office in New Jersey. Two weeks later, Buch called me to confirm that he had received all my documents and to inform me that he would not be leaving for Manila to depose Lacson after all.
Michael Ray Aquino had just agreed to plead guilty to the criminal charges against him with the understanding that the Manila deposition of Lacson would be called off. The US Attorney’s Office accepted the plea deal.
Michael Ray Aquino had agreed to “fall on the sword for his emperor”. He pled guilty and was sentenced to six years in a federal penitentiary. After serving four years, Aquino was released and extradited to the Philippines.
Sen. Lacson never did get to answer any of my questions despite his professed claim to Pia Hontiveros on national TV that he wanted to clear his name. He could clear his name if he truthfully answered the questions I posed and a few more like:
10. Sen. Lacson, where did you get the $38,000 to pay off the civil judgment against you? The legal bills charged by the Cardoza Law Offices for representing you over a two year period amounted to at least $100,000. Where did you get the funds to pay your attorneys fees?
11. Did you pay for the legal fees of the lawyers defending Michael Ray Aquino in the criminal case filed against him by the US Attorney’s Office in New Jersey? The legal costs must have amounted to more than $100,000. Where did you get the funds to pay for it?
These are questions that no one has been able to ask Lacson and so he has never had to answer them. If he was not receiving pork barrel kick backs, at least while he was a senator, where did he get all his personal funds?
Rehab Czar Lacson has asked for P200 billion pesos in rehabilitation funds. Don’t the Filipino people deserve to know if he can be trusted with these government funds and with the decision to pick the private contractors to receive these funds?
(Send comments to Rodel50@aol.com or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call 415.334.7800).