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Editorial

Suspicious haste

/ 02:48 AM August 11, 2011

Granted that the unfortunate suicide of a young lawyer at the Development Bank of the Philippines gave not only everyone involved but also the interested public a shock. Granted that the suicide indicated worrisome aspects of the investigation of P660 million in loans extended during the Arroyo administration to a company owned by Roberto Ongpin. Granted that Benjamin Pinpin appeared to have acted under a certain pressure exerted by his superiors to attribute wrongdoing to a specific party—sufficient pressure, it would seem, to drive him to despair and push him over the edge.

But Pinpin’s anguish, as poignantly shown in the suicide letters that his family had acknowledged to authorities as authentic, cannot be taken as proof of innocence by the parties suspected of wrongdoing. Neither should it constitute grounds for the complaint filed at the Office of the Ombudsman to be called off. That Pinpin signed an affidavit (“under duress,” according to his colleagues) and so regretted doing so that he was driven to kill himself should not be taken to mean that the document is wholly spurious. More than ever, it requires rigorous and clinical study.

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The questions demand answers. What was it in the document and the general atmosphere of the government bank that so spooked Pinpin? What so convinced him that he, merely 43 years old and, as had been pointed out, with his whole life ahead of him, was beyond hope? What made him feel exceedingly trapped?

But beyond Pinpin’s suicide, here again is an example of the necessity of examining a purported offense in the context of the time of its commission. In the complaint filed against 25 past and current bank officers and three private persons, DBP chair and president Jose Nuñez and Francisco del Rosario Jr. raised the suspicious haste with which the P550-million and P150-million loans to Delta Ventures Resources Inc. (DVRI) were approved. According to the complaint, the P510-million loan was approved in one day in 2009 by DBP’s risk management committee, executive credit committee, and board of directors even if DVRI had a paid-up capital of only P625,000 when the loan was applied for.

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How could this happen? the put-upon observer who had to go through the proverbial eye of the needle to have a loan application approved may well ask with a groan. Did the close friendship of Ongpin (no slouch in the byzantine ways of banking and its allied arts) and Reynaldo David (the DBP president during the previous administration) with the husband of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo have a bearing on the state of things? (Does it rain in Indianapolis in the summertime?)

Ongpin has retorted that DVRI’s paid-up capital was “of absolutely no significance,” that the loans were paid when these fell due, that these were backed by more than sufficient collateral, and that the ensuing purchase and sale of Philex shares allowed the bank to reap substantial profit. He has also argued that contrary to DBP’s claim, the bank was never at risk during the transactions.

But it behooves DBP to proceed with what it has started and, more important, disclose to the public the results of its investigation. Is the term “behest loans” (used to describe the loans extended to favored persons under Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship) appropriate in this case? Were there violations of banking laws and DBP’s own regulations? Were corners cut, preferential treatment extended? Was the government bank used for the enrichment of private persons? Did it lose considerable sums in the speculation and insider trading that occurred?

While at it, DBP could examine how the inquiry was conducted, and take a second look at the “witch-hunt” that its employees’ union has been complaining about. It could be that a wrecking ball was employed in its perfervid wish to root out irregularities and questionable dealings; if so, a judicious calibration of methods may be helpful to all.

The inquiry is said to be part of the Aquino administration’s continuing journey on the “daang matuwid.” Let the journey not lapse into an Inquisition that drives documentation lawyers to die by their own hand.

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TAGS: arroyo administration, behest loans, Delta Ventures Resources Inc. (DVRI), Development Bank of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship, lawyer Benjamin Pinpin, Office of the Ombudsman, Philex Mining, Roberto Ongpin, suicide
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