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Lesson from big crooks: Steal big to be able to pay court fees

/ 12:02 AM February 13, 2015

“Ongpin firm files P100-M damage suit vs Mercado,” went a report in the Jan. 18 issue of the Inquirer. Alphaland Corp., a realty development company chaired by Roberto Ongpin, is said to be involved in a multibillion (note, billion!)-peso deal with Vice President Jejomar Binay over a one-hectare piece of Makati prime lot owned by the Boy Scouts of the Philippines (BSP). Former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado alleged that Binay, who has a stranglehold on the BSP as its national president for more than 20 years, received P200 million in kickbacks from that transaction.

Alphaland called the accusation false and malicious; hence, the proxy suit for moral damages (P50 million) and exemplary damages (P50 million). Binay himself, for reasons only he knows, has not filed any case against Mercado to clear his name. Be that as it may, this case is not going to be finally resolved until after 20 or more years, so we should not hold our breath!

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What I found rather interesting was the ease with which Alphaland paid docket and filing fees estimated to be at least P2 million (roughly computed at P20,000 per P1 million in alleged monetary claims)! Knowing how stingy our courts are in awarding moral and exemplary damages, why the extravagant claims for P100 million? In our law class, we came across a case filed by a Philippine ambassador against an airline company which bumped him off in the United States. He sued here for P10 million in damages but ended up with a paltry P50,000-judgment after more than 15 years! It was a good thing the docket and filing fees were not so steep then. Nowadays, such fees are just plain, bloody murder!

Alphaland would be lucky to get P1 million, if it wins. And there is absolutely no refund in any amount of the court fees paid for the overbloated claims! So why the wanton waste of money, let alone more millions in lawyers’ fees? I have a pretty good idea why money seems to grow on trees planted in its prime-lot backyard, but I’d rather not say more for now.

On his part, Mercado can interpose a counterclaim against Alphaland for harassment and sleepless nights! And if he did earn a bundle from that deal (supposedly as Binay’s sidekick at that time), he should have no problem seeking indemnity in millions of pesos. But if he did not (and, alas, being jobless), he may have to settle for a cheap P100,000 countersuit and pay only about P2,000 in court fees. Big-time crooks have a lesson to teach here: Steal big to spend big!

—GABRIELLE M. M. AGUILLERA, [email protected]

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TAGS: alphaland corp., Boy Scouts of the Philippines, Ernesto Mercado, Jejomar Binay, Roberto Ongpin
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