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Prosecutors linked to Hacienda’s law firms

/ 12:55 AM February 02, 2012

Rep. Niel Tupas, lead prosecutor in Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment trial, and his wife Yvonne Angeli, as well as three private prosecutors, have been very closely linked with the law firms representing the Cojuangcos in their Hacienda Luisita quagmire.

Their association with these law firms bolsters the accusation that President Aquino wants Corona out as Supreme Court chief justice as the necessary first step for his clan’s strategy to reverse the tribunal’s decision on the Hacienda Luisita case, which if implemented would mean the Cojuangcos’ bankruptcy. The clan wants the Court to rule that it should be paid P10 billion as compensation for the lands to be turned over to farmers, and not just P196 million which the tribunal directed in its Nov. 22, 2011 resolution.

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Hacienda Luisita Inc.’s law firm has been the Belo Gozon Elma Parel Asuncion & Lucila Law Offices. Niel and his wife joined the firm straight from law school in 1999, becoming junior partners in a few years. “As lawyers, Niel and his wife are creations of that firm,” a law-school classmate of his said.

While Tupas officially left the firm when he was elected congressman in 2007, it is widely known in Congress that it is still “his Firm,” on whose staff he has continued to rely for his legal research and advice.

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His wife, on the other hand, is prominently listed as a junior partner in the firm’s website, although there is an inconspicuous note there that she and another junior partner are “on leave.” Sources however claimed that Mrs. Tupas—also the congressman’s chief of staff—shuttles between her Congress workplace and the firm’s headquarters at Sagittarius Building in Makati, where she has maintained her office since 1999.

Tupas’ law firm has been for decades the Cojuangcos’ main counsel. One of the firm’s senior partners is Gener Asuncion, who has been Hacienda Luisita’s lead lawyer appearing in court hearings, as well as its de facto spokesman, interviewed often in GMA7 Network, whose chairman Felipe L. Gozon is also a senior partner. A junior partner, Regino A. Moreno, started—or perhaps jump-started—his career as a legal assistant in the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudications Board from 1988-1989, when it approved the Hacienda’s sham land reform through stock distribution. (The agrarian reform secretary then was Philip Juico, whose wife Margie Juico is Aquino’s Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office chairman.)

Three private prosecutors are with the Poblador, Bautista and Reyes firm, lawyers for the Cojuangco-affiliated Luisita Industrial Park Inc., which could topple over in the wake of the tribunal’s ruling. Mario Bautista is the firm’s managing partner, whom Sen. Franklin Drilon had to rescue from his ineptness in the trial’s Jan. 19 session. Perhaps developing stage-fright after his humiliation, Bautista has since ordered to the trial two of his protégés: partner Jose Hernandez and senior associate Joseph Joemer Perez, who had his day of fame one day, but in the next quite idiotically but unwittingly helped the defense in his handling of the Megaworld executive.

Tupas is not only closely linked to Hacienda Luisita, but to the President himself, who has showered his family with his largesse. His father former governor Niel Sr. was appointed to the lucrative post of director of PNOC Exploration Co. last Nov. 24, on the eve of Aquino’s blitz to impeach Corona. That was despite the fact that the Supreme Court has not yet ruled on whether the graft case against him should be pursued. His only sister, shoe businesswoman Niellete Tupas-Belleza, was given a special post as “national consultant” of PCSO.

I wrote here last Jan. 19 that Mr. Aquino could quickly refute allegations on his motive for taking Corona out as chief justice simply by declaring that his Cojuangco clan, whatever the outcome of the trial, would strictly abide by the Court’s decision, that it would withdraw its petition asking the Court for an astronomical compensation for its lands. Neither Aquino nor any of his spokespersons has bothered to respond.

Tupas’ law firm filed on Dec. 16, 2011, at the Court a “Motion to Clarify and Reconsider Resolution of Nov. 22, 2011 (on Hacienda Luisita),” as if given the go-signal when on Dec. 12, the impeachment complaint was rammed through Congress.

Study that “Motion,” do some arithmetic, and you will be shocked at how much the Cojuangcos want to be paid for Hacienda Luisita. If the Court buckles under their demand, it would result in the biggest payment to a private entity by government in our history, the biggest revenue ever of any Philippine law firm ever because of its contingent-fee contract with Hacienda Luisita, and immense wealth for the Tupases, if they—and most probably they have—still have profit-sharing rights in their law firm.

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I had been puzzled over Tupas and his colleagues’ ferocity against Corona, the likes of which I had seen only in the eyes of communist firebrands or of people out to avenge their murdered kin. But now I understand why they have thrown all civility out the window, and had even wanted to drag his wife, his children and even his in-laws to a modern version of a mob’s stoning. Many billions of reasons, it seems.

My earlier report that the Cojuangcos are asking the Court P5 billion—which the clan has not rebutted—is wrong.

Rather, based on their Dec. 16 petition, they would be getting, if the Court buckles under—believe it or not—a staggering P10 billion, and that will come from taxpayers’ money. Details on that next week. As Aquino’s true believers are fond of saying: The truth will set you free.

E-mail: [email protected]

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TAGS: agrarian reform, Benigno Aquino, Cojuangco, corona impeachment, hacienda luisita, Renato corona, Supreme Court
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