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Estrada sues tycoon, PDI

Ive done nothing unlawful or criminal

By Beverly T. Natividad
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:55:00 09/18/2009

Filed Under: Media, Joseph Estrada, Graft & Corruption, Inquirer Politics

MANILA, Philippines ? Joseph Estrada Thursday filed a libel suit against tycoon Alfonso Yuchengco and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, singling out the newspaper for its report about the businessman confirming a senator?s expos that the deposed President had bullied Yuchengco into selling his stake in a firm that controlled Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT).

Yuchengco?s sale in 1998 of his stake in Philippine Telecommunications Investment Corp. (PTIC), the biggest shareholder in PLDT, allowed Manuel V. Pangilinan?s group, the Hong Kong-based First Pacific Co., to gain control of the country?s biggest telecommunications firm.

Flanked by his son, San Juan Mayor Joseph Victor ?JV? Ejercito, and his lawyers, Estrada, who was ousted in January 2001, filed the libel suit against Yuchengco, Inquirer publisher Isagani Yambot, editor in chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, and reporters Daxim Lucas, Christine Avendao and Doris Dumlao.

The former President filed the case at the office of San Juan City Prosecutor Tomas T. Ricalde.

In his complaint, Estrada cited the Inquirer?s Sept. 16 banner story, ?Erap bullied me, says Yuchengco?Taipan confirms coercion in PLDT deal,? which carried Yuchengco?s statement confirming how the then president threatened and intimidated him into selling his holdings in PTIC to First Pacific.

Estrada said Yuchengco?s statements against him were mere ?fabrications.?

?I vehemently deny having committed any unlawful or criminal act against respondent Yuchengco or the members of his family in relation to the sale made by respondent Yuchengco of his PTIC/PLDT shares in favor of First Pacific,? the complaint said.

Yuchengco statement

The Inquirer report partly read: ?In a statement disseminated via e-mail on Sept. 15, Yuchengco, chair of the Yuchengco group of companies, attested to the accuracy of Sen. Panfilo Lacson?s statements on the circumstances surrounding the controversial takeover of PLDT in 1998 by First Pacific.

?I confirm the statements made by Sen. Panfilo Lacson in his privilege speech relating to my 7.75-percent PTIC holdings, equivalent to 2,017,650 PLDT common shares,? the newspaper quoted Yuchengco as saying in his press statement.

?These shares were taken from me in 1998 through sheer intimidation and serious threat to my businesses, myself and my family,? Yuchengco?s statement added.

PTIC at the time held the biggest single block at 21 percent of the telephone giant.

Yuchengco also claimed in the book ?To Leave a Good Name: The Legacy of Alfonso T. Yuchengco? (2005) that Albert del Rosario, the Philippine ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2006, visited him in 1998, along with 10 men armed with rifles, to threaten him so he would give up his stake in PTIC.


?Confusion initially attended the dissemination of the statement as it was released by lawyers of a firm who said they represented Yuchengco in this particular issue,? the Inquirer report said.

?No direct confirmation could be obtained from the taipan himself to validate the statement attributed to him, but a ranking official of the Yuchengco group who requested anonymity confirmed that the statement had indeed been authorized and issued by the group?s chair.

?In a privilege speech, Lacson said on Monday that PLDT was taken over by the group of Pangilinan?who managed First Pacific of Indonesia?s Salim family?with the help of Estrada?s shakedown of Yuchengco, who then controlled a small but important block of PLDT shares.

Trumped-up drug charges

?Lacson said Estrada had used the Philippine National Police without his knowledge to harass Yuchengco?s son Tito ?with threat of arrest on some trumped-up drug charges to force his father, Mr. Yuchengco, to sell,?? the Inquirer report said.

??In August 1998, in the early part of Mr. Estrada?s abbreviated presidency, Mr. Alfonso Yuchengco was pressured to sign the conveyance of his 7.75-percent PTIC holdings, equivalent to 18,720 shares to Metro Pacific, represented by Manuel Pangilinan,? Lacson said.

?He said these PTIC holdings corresponded to 2,017,650 PLDT common shares.

?Before the deal with Yuchengco, First Pacific had finalized the sales agreement for 47 percent of PTIC?44 percent from the Cojuangco family and 3 percent from Antonio Meer.

?First Pacific could not touch the balance of 46 percent of PTIC because it was owned by Prime Holdings Inc., a shell company owned by the Marcoses, which was being recovered by the government. PTIC owns 26 percent of PLDT?s outstanding common shares.

?Pressed to sign?

?In his privilege speech, Lacson said he learned later that Yuchengco was ?pressed to sign a waiver of his right of first refusal over the PTIC shares of the Cojuangco-Meer group,?? the Inquirer report said.

?Yuchengco earlier reportedly offered to match or top the First Pacific offer to buy the 9.6-percent stake of Antonio ?Tonyboy? Cojuangco, then PLDT president.

?Had Yuchengco not sold his stake and exercised his right of first refusal, First Pacific could not have controlled PLDT.

?First Pacific announced in November 1998 that it had taken over the management of PLDT after acquiring a 17.2-percent stake in the telephone giant for P29.7 billion. Three months later, Pangilinan said he had just invested $750 million in PLDT for that stake.?

$50-million commission

The Inquirer also reported that Estrada had called businessman Mark Jimenez a ?corporate genius? for brokering First Pacific?s takeover of PLDT. Jimenez has denied reports that he received $50 million in commission.

Thursday, this newspaper reported that Perfecto Yasay, former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, had revived allegations that Estrada received a large portion of a P3-billion ?commission? that was paid out as part of the takeover of PLDT.

The deal was consummated, while Yasay was suspended by Estrada.

Yasay testified during Estrada?s impeachment trial in January 2001, relating how the then President helped Pangilinan?s group take over PLDT.

A P20-million check that Pangilinan supposedly paid as bribe to Estrada was one of the checks deposited in the latter?s Jose Velarde bank account.

The Sandiganbayan found Estrada guilty of plunder and sentenced him to life in September 2007, but President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo pardoned him the following month.

Delayed assertions

Estrada said the criminal acts that he was being accused of happened in 1998 and the delayed assertions of Yuchengco cast doubts on his personal credibility and the veracity of his statements.

The former President also assailed Inquirer?s publication of Yuchengco?s claims, saying that the paper came out with the story without first validating it.

?On the other hand, respondents Yambot, et al. ... in causing the printing, publication and circulation of respondent Yuchengco?s statements did so with actual malice, that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not,? he said in his complaint.

Inquirer confirmed statement

The Inquirer had sought and got confirmation that the statement came from Yuchengco.

At a press conference held in the office of Mayor Ejercito after he filed the suit, Estrada reiterated that he ?never bullied or pressured anybody? in relation to the PTIC/PLDT deal.

He said the accusations hurled against him were meant to humiliate and deter him from seeking the presidency again in 2010.

?They are maliciously saying false statements to publicly humiliate me and damage my reputation, especially since they know I?m planning to run,? Estrada said.

More determined to run

Estrada said the imputations against him were just making him more determined to run.

?They thought they could scare me with these,? he added.

Since he was elected mayor of San Juan until his two-and-a-half-year stint as president, he had never coerced anyone for any kind of transaction, Estrada said.

Estrada did not quote any amount for the damages he was seeking in the libel case. He said he wanted first to vindicate his name.

If ever, he said, he was looking at seeking P10 million to P20 million in damages.

Should he win the case, Estrada said he would donate the amount to plan holders of the Yuchengco-owned Pacific Plans, who, he said, were victimized by the businessman and are now unable to send their children to school. The Yuchengcos have sold Pacific Plans.

Other media outlets

The Estrada camp filed libel charges only against the Inquirer although Yuchengco?s statement was also quoted by other media outlets.

Estrada?s lawyer Jose Flaminiano said it was the prerogative of the Estrada camp to file the charges only against the Inquirer, but he said the complaint would not bar the camp from filing another libel case against other media outfits.

The libel suit was not the first action Estrada had taken against the Inquirer. In 1999, the then President organized an advertising boycott against the newspaper that lasted for five months.

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