Manuel Morato reaches out with apology to Marge Juico

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Chastened by his failing health and hospital detention, former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) chair Manuel “Manoling” Morato is reaching out to his nemesis, Marge Juico.

Morato has sent a letter of apology to the former appointments secretary of the late President Cory Aquino, who has accused him of plunder when he served as director of the PCSO during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The Inquirer tried to reach Juico through text messages and phone calls but received no response.

In a brief, handwritten note to Juico dated June 6, Morato wrote: “Dear Chairman Juico, I take the courage to write you regarding some unfortunate differences that happened between the two of us in the past. I sincerely feel sorry and deeply lament that infamous incident.”

Both Morato and Juico have exchanged harsh words and accusations in the media in the last few years but Morato refused to specify what confrontation he was referring to.

“I assure you it will never happen again as I hold no grudge or anger in my heart. In fact, your mother Doña Nena is very dear to me. This letter carries with it my assurance to you, likewise to my friends Ike Gutierrez and General Bobby Calinisan, that nothing unpleasant will ever happen again. Ike and Bobby can vouch for me and likewise in my behalf, they can guarantee the sincerity of my statement. Hence, I hope you will accept my heartfelt apologies,” Morato wrote.

Gutierrez is a veteran public relations man while Calinisan was a former police officer. Both belong to the inner circle of former President Joseph Estrada.

Morato was reportedly inspired to write an apology after Gutierrez recalled in his tabloid column last May 30 how then President Estrada forgave Morato on the day of the latter’s arraignment for multiple libel charges 15 years ago. Morato made vicious attacks against Estrada when he was still Vice President.

Morato’s letter of apology came a day before the Sandiganbayan granted him temporary liberty after eight months in hospital detention.

Morato, 79, was among three former PCSO officials allowed to post bail by the Sandiganbayan First Division, which found as insufficient the evidence presented against them by state prosecutors who accused them of conspiring to divert intelligence funds of the PCSO worth P366 million between January 2008 and June 2010.

Morato and former PCSO board chair Sergio O. Valencia were allowed to post a P500,000 bail bond for their release while former board director Raymundo T. Roquero was made to pay a higher bond of P700,000 because he gave himself up three months after his arrest warrant was released in October last year.

Their codefendants in the plunder case who also sought bail—Arroyo and former PCSO budgets and accounts manager Benigno B. Aguas—were not covered by the ruling.

In a resolution penned by Associate Justice Rafael R. Lagos and signed by Associate Justices Efren N. de la Cruz and Rodolfo A. Ponferrada, the evidence presented and testimony made by state witness Aleta Tolentino during the bail proceedings were not “evident proof of plunder” against Valencia, Morato and Roquero.

“An evaluation of the prosecution’s evidence … shows no great presumption of guilt against these three directors. This court finds that the evidence presented against them at this point and stage of the proceedings do not show evident proof of their guilt. They can therefore be allowed to post bail,” the Sandiganbayan said.

Not passing judgment

But the magistrates stressed: “The above-stated ruling and pronouncements of this court must not be construed to mean that we are passing judgment as to the final result or outcome of this case with respect to the bail petitioners or the other accused who did not take part in the bail petitions.”

The graft court zeroed in on former PCSO general manager Rosario C. Uriarte as the main culprit in the plunder case for amassing the confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) through withdrawals and cash advances authorized by Arroyo.

“These flagrant violations of the rules on the use of CIF funds evidently characterize the series of withdrawals by and releases to Uriarte as ‘raids’ on the PCSO coffers, which are part of the public treasury. These were, in every sense, [acts of] ‘pillage,’ as Uriarte looted government funds and appears to have not been able to account for it. The encashment of the checks, which named her as the payee, gave Uriarte material possession of the CIF funds which she disposed of at will,” the court said.

Uriarte and three other defendants in the case—former PCSO board directors Jose R. Taruc V and Ma. Fatima A. S. Valdes and former Commission on Audit (COA) Chair Reynaldo A. Villar—have remained at large.

Another defendant in the case, former COA-Intelligence Fund Unit head Nilda B. Plaras, had earlier been awarded a court injunction from the Supreme Court after she challenged the validity of the Ombudsman’s charges.

Checking out

Eight months after undergoing a heart bypass surgery, Morato on Friday said he was “OK” and about to check out of St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City, where he has been under hospital arrest since

Oct. 4, 2012.

“I’m conferring with my doctors regarding my maintenance medicines,” he told the Inquirer by phone.

He said he was required to return to the hospital three times a week as an outpatient for his checkups.

“But I’ll have to rest for at least a week to adjust to my new environment … After several months of confinement here at St. Luke’s, I’m very happy to be back home,” he said.

Late last year, Morato was diagnosed with cardiac dysrhythmia, valvular heart disease, aortic stenosis, hypertension and chronic pulmonary disease.

His cardiologist, Dr. Ma. Adelaida Iboleon-Dy, said Morato had been admitted several times in the past to  St. Luke’s for symptoms related to these problems.

“Although his valvular heart disease is not uncommon for a 79-year-old, his aortic valve area is in the moderate-to-severe stage with evidence of cardiac enlargement and increased pressure gradients, which, considering his arrhythmia, may potentially be fatal if left untreated,”  Dy said.

Morato also learned that he had a severe case of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which was blamed on his being a smoker.

Earlier, he told the Inquirer his condition was partly controlled three years ago, but it deteriorated because of the stress he was going through.

“All these medical problems were exacerbated by the tremendous stress that the current PCSO board has made me and my former colleagues undergo.

“I mean, all those lies they flaunted to the public against us, the doctored documents they presented to the Ombudsman to destroy us and make it appear that I was among the most corrupt in the history of Philippine government service,” he said.

After his bypass surgery, Morato was advised to stay in the hospital while undergoing further treatment and close observation and monitoring.

Asked about his open letter to Juico, Morato said, “I’ve said it all.”

“Please treat it as it is … It’s a reconciliatory letter. So be it,” he added.

 First posted 12:25 am | Saturday, June 8th, 2013

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