In 2001, an impeachment complaint for the alleged betrayal of public trust, bribery, and violation of the constitution was filed against former Ombudsman Aniano Desierto. This complaint was later on turned down by the House of Representatives committee with an overwhelming vote of 35-5. According to the committee, there is a “lack of substance” as it failed to link the Ombudsman to bribery.
Ernesto B. Francisco Jr., the plaintiff who was the former lawyer of businessman and real estate mogul Luke Roxas, accused the latter of bribing the Ombudsman with P500,000 in cash and P273,372 worth of video equipment in order to inhibit an investigation on a bank he owned – the Bank of Southeast Asia (BSA) – as it was purportedly involved in a bank fraud.
Francisco’s evidence came in the form of a recorded conversation between him and his ex-client Roxas in 1997 wherein they allegedly discussed the bribe for Desierto. In it, the Ombudsman’s name was never mentioned.
Via his new lawyers Mark Averilla and Jose Vicente Salazar, Roxas submitted a statement that renounced the recording, adding that it was wholly unauthorized. According to them it even went so far as to violate the Anti-Wiretapping law; this is further exacerbated by the fact that the surveillance was conducted by a lawyer on his client, thus violating the confidentiality between them.
Furthermore, Roxas also disallowed Francisco from filing the impeachment complaint against Desierto at the House of Representatives on his behalf.
The root cause
In December 1995 and March 1996, Petron Corp. issued four checks that were meant to be payment for customs duties and wharfage dues on oil products it had imported; the checks were endorsed by BSA.
The “bank fraud” issue began when it was found that there was a syndicate that managed to divert and encash checks meant for the Bureau of Customs and the Philippine Ports Authority. According to Francisco in a notrized affidavit, Roxas was “already anticipating a possible backlash on BSA if word leaked out that the bank got defrauded and that some of its personnel were involved.” Thus he employed the help of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Office of the Ombudsman, and even the President then – Fidel V. Ramos – among others.
Roxas had wanted to quietly restore the sum lost, the entirety of it reaching P538,900,971. However there were information leaks, and soon enough people began calling in to confirm the rumours. In order to quell the masses, he paid Petron Corp. the full amount.
All this eventually led to the supposed bribery to convince Desierto to keep the whole situation under wraps for a few months as making the stuation public would lead people to distrust ASB and therefore cause a bank run.
Roxas defended himself in an affidavit to the House and denied Francisco’s denunciation. “I never gave money to Ombudsman Desierto, and I never authorized anyone to do so. Neither did I ever spend, or cause the spending of, any sum for anything for him or his benefit or any other government official.”