First ever: US delivers $132K from Ligot house sale
MANILA, Philippines—US Ambassador Harry Thomas Thursday turned over to the Philippine government a check worth $132,000 from a forfeiture sale of a house in Buena Park, California, owned by former military comptroller Jacinto Ligot, who is facing plunder charges.
The check was received by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima at the Department of Justice.
Thomas said that the check was “the first ever return of funds” in the asset forfeiture case and resulted from a 2009 request by then Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo for the property titled under Ligot’s wife Erlinda.
The envoy said the turnover showed the confidence that the United States placed in the Aquino administration. He said the check would be deposited in the Philippine treasury and used for the benefit of Filipinos.
“We know this is the first of several cases that we will be able to cooperate with the Filipino government,” Thomas added.
Thomas and De Lima noted that the forfeiture sale showed the importance of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the two countries.
“It is a proud moment for us to be able to return to the national coffers a part of what has been plundered from it,” De Lima said.
She expressed hope that this “auspicious event” would mark the “beginning of more positive developments.”
Value drastically reduced
The check equivalent to P5.7 million was from the sale of the Ligots’ property at 7102 Stanton Avenue in Buena Park, which was purchased by Ligot’s wife on June 8, 2004, for $599,500.
It was not declared in Ligot’s statements of assets and liabilities net worth (SALN).
The property was subjected to administrative proceedings in the United States, ordered forfeited, and sold for $132,000 in December 2005.
Informed of the forfeiture of the Buena Park property in April 2009, the Office of the Ombudsman requested for the return of the proceeds. Then Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera made a similar request in September.
Asked at the press conference why the value of the property had substantially decreased, De Lima said she would ask a clarification from the US Embassy but added that depreciation could be a factor.
Property values have gone down following the subprime crisis that hit the United States in 2008.
The Buena Park house was among several properties that senators, during a hearing on alleged corruption in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, wanted the Ligot couple to explain. The couple have refused to answer, invoking their right to self-incrimination.
Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said in a statement the US move was a “vote of confidence” and a “significant step” toward the resolution of the case filed against the Ligot couple.
“We are hopeful that this will pave the way for further cooperation between our countries in this field as we step up initiatives to crack down on dirty money and double our efforts to recover ill-gotten wealth,” Ochoa said.
Also Thursday, the Sandiganbayan issued a resolution preventing Ligot and his family from transferring P135.28 million worth of properties in the Philippines while their forfeiture case was pending in the anti-graft court.
The court granted the state lawyers’ plea for a writ of attachment and ordered the sheriff to freeze the Ligots’ real and personal properties acquired from 1993 to 2004 that were not included in his SALN.
Among the assets were condominium units, including one in the upscale Essensa East Forbes Condominium Tower in Taguig City in the name of Ligot’s wife, a unit at Burgundy Plaza in Quezon City purportedly owned by brother-in-law Edgardo Yambao, son Paulo’s unit in Paseo Parkview, and a unit at Building MC 14 at Pamayanang Diego Silang under Ligot’s name.
Also included were tracts of land, bank accounts with the Armed Forces and Police Savings and Loan Association Inc. (AFPSLAI), paid-up capital in Parmil Farm Inc., poultry buildings and a rest house at Malaybalay, Bukidnon.
The court said the order was prompted by the sale of a parcel of land at Sitio Masalat, Sampaloc, Rizal province, indicating that the Ligots were about to dispose of their properties to defraud the government.
Also cited as evidence were the Ligots’ sale of two houses in California worth P66 million and withdrawal of cash investments in the AFPSLAI. With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and Leila B. Salaverria
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