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Thursday, March 20, 2014

The ‘Porsche’ reason why FOI won’t be passed

Rigoberto Tiglao
by RIGOBERTO D. TIGLAO
It may seem a petty, even preposterous, reason. But given the paranoia of this President, it could be the reason why President Aquino—for all his blah-blahs about transparency in government—doesn’t want the Freedom of Information bill to get enacted.
As soon as FOI bill becomes law, one of the first demands for information could be for certain government documents, which seem on the surface so trivial, but which could be politically disastrous for Aquino.

These documents are the deeds of sale and Land Transportation Office’s certificates of registration for his Porsche 911 Turbo. Aquino claimed he bought it after several months in office in 2010 and then sold it in July after media outrage erupted over his display of arrogance and wealth.

It was a display of arrogance of power for Aquino to ignore media’s demand for him to disclose the documents—the deeds of sale and the LTO papers—to prove conclusively that it wasn’t a gift from a crony.

He was confident he could be adamant in that controversy and it would just go away since at that time he was still the adored Son of the Saint of Democracy and had high approval ratings.
The seriousness of that “Porsche” issue could be better appreciated with the fact that it involves the third definition of prohibited acts specified in the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices law.

One of the many collages critical of his Porsche that spread in social media in 2011.
One of the many collages critical of his Porsche that spread in social media in 2011.

“Receiving any gift” includes the act of accepting directly or indirectly a gift from a person other than a member of the public officer’s immediate family, in behalf of himself or of any member of his family or relative within the fourth civil degree, either by consanguinity or affinity, even on the occasion of a family celebration or national festivity like Christmas, if the value of the gift is under the circumstances “manifestly excessive.”

Second-hand?
Aquino in effect had stammered in trying to explain how he got the Porsche.


He said it was a second-hand one, that it cost P4.5 million, that he sold his BMW to buy it. However, the talk among sports-car aficionados—who make up a tiny group in the country—was that of course it was a second-hand one, driven to Malacañang. They say Aquino obviously didn’t even know how much was the Porsche he bought: No Porsche 711 Turbo could cost P4.5 million; it was at least P7 million. Or did Aquino not pay the 200 percent duty on such cars?

There was talk that despite the tremendous pressure to remove his old Tarlac friend Virginia Torres from the LTO for inefficiency, Aquino couldn’t (until two years later) since she herself issued the LTO’s Certificate of Registration (CR) of the President’s Porsche, and kept it in her safe. The head of the LTO office that has the exclusive authority to issue such CRs told me in 2011 that Aquino’s car registration “did not pass through this office.”

Reportedly scolded by his sisters over his expensive toy, Aquino told media in July that he sold it, claiming that it made the job of the Presidential Security Group harder as the Porsche made him extremely conspicuous. (Believe it or not, that’s a verbatim quote, translated form Pilipino: “Masyado nyo nang in-expose. Para bang it was an advertisement na ‘Oy, andito ako.”) But that time, he seemed to have forgotten what he said several months before what its price was and just blurted out when he was asked by a reporter: “I sold it exactly [for] the same price I bought it.”

Could the President please provide us with a copy of the deed of sale of the Porsche and BMW and their LTO registrations, a reporter had asked. He turned his back and ended his press briefing.

Vanished
The Porsche 911 after that seemed to have vanished into thin air, and nobody bragged about buying such a unique luxury sports car, the only one ever owned by a Philippine president.

Several names—mostly of Chinese ethnicity—circulated in the grapevine as to who were supposedly the sellers and/or buyers of Aquino’s Porsche.

The first “suspect” was businessmen Robert Coyiuto, since his company PGA Cars was the exclusive Porsche distributor in the country and he was known to be a big Aquino supporter. But Coyiuto has denied any connection to Aquino’s Porsche.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported in April last year, based on interviews with Bureau of Customs (BOC) head Rufino Biazon, that the BOC was investigating PGA Cars for not paying the correct duties for its luxury car importations. The newspaper quoted Biazon: “Our suspicion is that they undervalued their cars, “ and that the amount involved could be P1 billion. PGA cars denied the allegation.

Biazon was pushed out of the BOC by December that year.

Another is tycoon Gregorio Yu, who owns CATS Motors, the exclusive distributor of Mercedes-Benz automobiles as well as top-of-the-line Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep SUV’s.

Aquino indeed seems to be so close—or for some reason, so grateful—to Yu that he appointed him a member of the Board of Trustees in the Government Service Insurance Commission. Aquino didn’t mind the risk in appointing such a tycoon into the government’s pension fund, who had never been in government, and who risked a conflict-of-interest situation, as he was also a banker and a stockbroker. Yu’s probably once-a-month work in board meetings was quite lucrative, as he was paid P8 million from 2011-2013 as a GSIS trustee. Yu joined Aquino’s sisters in bankrolling the 2013 electoral bid of Aquino’s rent-an-NGO, Akbayan, donating P5 million.

If it is ever proven that Yu or whoever, gifted the Porsche to Aquino, or sold it to him at a give-away price, that would be a clear instance of corruption, one of the most serious basis for impeachment, certainly a graver one than filing an inaccurate Statement of Assets and Liabilities. It would burst the balloon he keeps holding proclaiming there’s not a single charge of corruption against him.

It’s so easy to prove or disprove that when the FOI bill becomes law somebody would invoke that law for government to disclose the Deeds of Sale and LTO documents involving Aquino’s Porsche and BMW.

Do you think Aquino would risk having a Freedom-of-Information Law passed?


tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.net
www.trigger.ph and www.rigobertotiglao.com

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