Palace won't use executive privilege to hinder Moscow cash scandal probe

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 22 2008 12:54 AM | Updated as of Oct 22 2008 09:04 AM

The Office of the President vowed not to use its constitutional right to executive privilege to stop Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno and other officials of the executive branch from testifying in the Senate on Thursday on the P7 million cash scandal in Russia.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said it will not exercise its right to executive privilege on any public official who will be invited by the Senate when it investigates the P7 million cash scandal of the so-called "euro generals" of the PNP led by retired PNP comptroller Eliseo dela Paz.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said it is the PNP who should face the Senate. He said the Office of the President will help ferret out the truth on the undeclared cash advance for the 8-man PNP delegation's participation at the October 7 to 10 Interpol assembly in Russia.

Meanwhile, Senate Sgt.-at-Arms Jess Tabancura failed to serve the Senate's subpoena on dela Paz in Camp Crame Tuesday night.

The subpoena was not received by the PNP office of the director for comptrollership since dela Paz has just recently retired from the police service.

Tabangcura failed to get dela Paz's home address since his records have already been pulled out.

Subpoenas for other police officials were also not served since their offices were already closed.

Earlier on Tuesday, the subpoena for dela Paz to appear before the Senate on Thursday was faxed to his office.

Miriam's disbelief

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, meanwhile, expressed disbelief over the statements of dela Paz insisting that the 105,000 euros (P6.9 million) of undeclared cash found by Russian customs authorities last October 11 was legitimate cash advance.

In response to dela Paz's press statements made Tuesday after he returned from Moscow, Santiago said dela Paz not only has to explain why he failed to declare the excessive cash advance but also why he failed to declare it when he left the Philippines for the Interpol assembly in Russia.

The government requires passengers carrying more than $10,000 to declare the money before leaving the country.

Santiago said dela Paz may have passed through the VIP room when he left Manila for Russia for the October 7 to 10 Interpol assembly, which is why his handcarried bag was most likely not checked at the international airport.
 
Santiago said it was not only "embarrassing" that a Filipino policeman would be caught with 105,000 euros but also "scandalous" considering that dela Paz represented a poor country.

No contingency fund

She said the Commission on Audit (COA) would surely say that a "contingency fund" for foreign travel of public officials is not allowed.

In all of her official travels, Santiago said she has never been granted "contingency fund."

On dela Paz's defense that the money was legitimate cash advance for foreign travel, Santiago said cash advance is usually given to pay for hotel and transportation expenses. In the case of the 8-man PNP delegation, their hotel and transportation expenses had already been paid.

She also noted that Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno had already said that he only authorized the release of P2.3 million for the 8-man delegation's trip to Russia.

On PNP officials' claim that it was contingency funds in case any of those in the delegation needed medical treatment, Santiago said the police officials didn't have to bring such a big amount since they could have asked for the help of the Philippine embassy in Moscow if they had gotten sick in Russia.

Saving their skin?

Santiago said higher-ranking officials of the PNP are washing their hands of the scandal "to save their skin."

She said PNP Chief Jesus Versoza cannot claim ignorance of the cash advance since he is the approving authority.

Santiago said a case of malversation of public funds can be filed against Versoza and dela Paz, including other violations of the anti-graft and corrupt practices act.

Santiago said he once attended an Interpol assembly when he was immmigration commissioner during the Aquino administration, and she found it was a "waste of time" and just "a free junket."

"That's why I never went to an Interpol assembly again," she said.

Puno: I didn't clear P7M

Meanwhile, Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno on Tuesday acknowledged that the P6.9 million alleged cash advance of  dela Paz was "not covered by the authority" he issued for the travel expenses and allowances of the PNP delegation.

"It's large so I don't know what contingencies they were anticipating," he told ANC's Top Story Tuesday. "It was not covered by the authority I issued, which was for per diem and travel cost."

Puno said he only authorized the release of P2.3 million for the 8-man PNP delegation's participation in the October 7 to 10 Interpol assembly in Russia.

However, since dela Paz was the PNP comptroller, Puno said he was "entitled to a cash advance" within a certain limit, but this should have been authorized.

Puno said an internal investigation will be conducted by the National Police Commission (Napolcom) to determine if the "cash advances have any basis, who authorized the cash advance, what contingencies were anticipated."

Puno also defended the presence of dela Paz at the Interpol assembly even if he would already have retired from service during his scheduled return to the Philippines on October 11. 

"The Interpol meeting was on financial and program plans. Since he was comptroller, there was reason for him to go," he said.

Wired to special account

Puno said the 105,000 euros have been wired directly to the PNP "instead of giving it back to dela Paz, which he was entitled to."

"The PNP is going to open a special account to receive the funds that will be wired back from Russia. It will be a trust liability account to determine which account it will go back to but officially accredited as a PNP account," he said.

Puno said dela Paz will be probed by the Ombudsman for "criminal liability" while the Senate will investigate the incident for purposes of legislation.

He said dela Paz is "still accountable to the PNP and has not been cleared", and "his retirement pay is still hanging."

"Nobody is ever exempt from criminal liability...we will study and see what his liabilities are," Puno said.

'International embarrassment'

Meanwhile, PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Nicanor Bartolome said it was clear from dela Paz's explanation that the P6.9 million came from the PNP directorate for comptrollership's P10 million bond.

He said the only problem is dela Paz's failure to declare the amount when he entered Russia.

Dela Paz on Tuesday apologized for the "international embarrassment" he caused for failing to his failure to report the money on his way out of Russia.

“I offer no excuse for that lapse, and can only say that I regret having been remiss in my obligations as a departing visitor in Russia in inadvertently failing to report to airport authorities the amount of cash in my possession,” dela Paz said. “I take full responsibility for this lapse."

PNP Region 9 Director Chief Supt. Jaime Caringal, who was with dela Paz and the rest of the delegation, said he had "nothing more to add" to what dela Paz has said. -- with reports from NADIA TRINIDAD, JOEY VILLARAMA, GUS ABELGAS, RON GAGALAC, ABS-CBN News