Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Palace Also Bribes Reporters

Yesterday, as friends from GMA 7 radio DzBB were discussing about bribery in the Palace, I sent them this text: ``Giving of bribe is nothing new in the Palace, it was done by almost all administrations. The only difference is that now we have a Pampanga Gov. Eddie Panlilio admitting to it. It also helped that many those who received only P200,000 felt insulted enough that they did not receive P500,000 as the others did. The ones who received less then went out to media to settle score with the Palace.’’

Colleagues Arnold Clavio, Ali Sotto and Orly Trinidad were gracious enough to read my text during their radio show at ``Double A Sa Double B’’ and they even made fun out of the fact that someone made ``kapkong’’ or skimmed the P300,000 so that many got only P200,000.

About an hour later, DzBB’s Malaca┼łang reporter Nimfa Ravelo then quoted DENR Secretary Joselito Atienza as admitting that giving of cash gifts amounting to P100,000 to P200,000 in the Palace is a normal thing.

That news brought a smile to my face, content with the thought that I know my Palace well, having covered it during the tumultuous period leading to the ouster of President Estrada and the exciting (or so we thought) days of the new administration under President Arroyo.

My knowledge of the Palace stemmed from the fact that I too was offered bribe in its hallowed halls. This gives me a rather a first-hand and personal experience of the Palace’s bribery machine.

The bribery incident happened in the height of the impeachment trial of ousted President Estrada and the bribe-giver was a former press official and who is now a staff of Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno.

Although the official concerned was not very close to me, I was surprised by his invitation to go to the new Palace Press Office to point out the place I was to occupy. This was around the time that I wrote in the Inquirer that the Estrada Administration was reported to have shelled out around P300 million to the media to paint the former President in a good light.

After inspecting the place, he then handed me a brown envelope saying it contained press material and he then asked me to help give Mr. Estrada good publicity. I said I have been fair to Mr. Estrada and that he did not have to ask that of me. Then he handed me the envelope.

It was good that my exposure to wads of money as a used car dealer with outlets in EDSA, Quezon City and Zamboanga City had thought me to ``feel out’’ bundles of money in envelopes. As the first family in Zamboanga to pioneer the sale of used cars, I have become adept at estimating the amount of money in hundred thousands by looking at the bundles based on the denomination.

So, without opening the envelope, I told the Palace official: ``If this contains money with P1,000 denominations, it would amount to about P15,000 to P20,000, if it contains bills of P500, it would amount to P30-40,000.’’

Surprised, he gave me an impish smile and said: ``Yes, it contains P30,000 and you can have that amount weekly if you tone down your attack on the President (Estrada).’’

But I politely told him that I would have to think things over and returned the whole envelope to him. Later, I realized returning it was a big, big mistake.

After the incident, I immediately called up then Inquirer desk person Stella Gonzalez to break to her the news and you can imagine her shock upon hearing it. I said I planned to get the money back and expose it to show that there was truth in my scoop about the P300-million payola for the media.

Ms Gonzalez said that that was a good thing to do but she would have to call Inquirer Editor-In-Chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc about it. I was later told that Ms. Magsanoc then referred the matter to former Inquirer resident Ombudsman Raul Palabrica to study the implication of the PDI becoming embroiled in the payola controversy.

But calling the PDI by phone was a big mistake. In my excitement about the whole thing, I used the Palace telephone lines even if months before, I have written a story about how the Presidential Security Group was bugging the President.

Before I got a feedback from the Inquirer, the Palace official – visibly irked – called me to say that the deal was off.

So there went my shot to fame and immortality. I was already then imagining my self presenting the money and envelope to then Press Secretary and Palace Spokesperson Ricardo Puno during the regular Palace press conference called in the day. I was imagining myself being hailed a hero as Panlilio is praised for now. I would have also been called to the impeachment trial to say my piece.

It was decided that without the money as a ``body of evidence,’’ there was no use of even writing the payola story. It was also feared that doing so would only open the Inquirer to criticisms that the paper allowed itself to be used by the dirty tricks group of then Vice President Arroyo and the anti-Estrada forces.

But looking back and seeing how the Arroyo Administration turned out to be, I am happy to realize that I did not help put this new administration in power by my bribery scandal expose.

I have not attained fame, but my conscience is clean.

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