MANILA (UPDATED) - Controversial billionaire business tycoon and former Trade and Industry Minister Roberto Ongpin was slapped with serious illegal detention charges before the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday for allegedly detaining and harassing an employee of one of his firms whom he has accused of stealing from the company.
Complainant Eduveges O. Batalan, who works for Philweb Corporation, and public complainant National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), alleged that Ongpin and several of his employees at Alphaland Corporation illegally detained Batalan in Balesin Island Resort and three other locations from Feb. 4 to 7 of this year.
Also charged were Michael Angelo Asperin alias "Mike" (Alphaland Executive Office), Josephine Manalo (Alphaland Executive Office), Ma. Natalia Cristina Manalo Dalupan (Alphaland Executive Office), Atty Cliburn Anthony Orbe (Alphaland Executive Office), Atty Carlo Bautista (Philweb Corporation), Roegelio Sulit (Alpha Force Security), Jerry Penaflor (Alphaland Security Agency), Jigsaw Cartas (Alpha Force Security), Col. Gregor Mendel Panelo (Alpha Force Security Agency), and Roderico Arellano Bautista (Alpha Force Security Agency).
They also face charges of grave coercion and robbery, but the gravest charge against them is serious illegal detention -- a non-bailable offense, which carries the penalty of life imprisonment.
In its complaint-referral, the NBI alleged that Ongpin accused Batalan of "stealing millions" and that Batalan was placed "under surveillance for three months" in order to confirm what was previously a mere suspicion.
Ongpin allegedly questioned why Batalan was keeping "a good house, cars, and a pharmacy business."
"Batalan was threatened to be stuck in the island unless he tells everything. Further, he was also threatened that should he not cooperate, he would be charged similarly as that of... former employees of Ongpin who were charged of stealing and misdemeanor," the complaint read.
Batalan was allegedly flown, against his will, to Balesin on Feb. 4 via a private plane owned by the company (Alphaland Corporation). He was also also allegedly illegally detained in Makati City; Polilio, Quezon; and Las Pinas City.
The complaint said Batalan was allegedly brought to Ongpin's office located at the Balesin Club House, where Batalan claimed he was confronted by Ongpin.
Batalan was allegedly detained at the Balesin Village while in the island resort.
"While under detention, Batalan was interrogated, psychologically tortured and coerced to sign prepared affidavits and a promisory (sic) note. For days, [respondent] Asperin padlocked Batalan inside the room tightly guarded by security guards of Balesin Resort.
"Further, Asperin was persistent in telling complainant to do things and tell things that would satisfy Ongpin," the complaint read.
For "fear for his life," Batalan executed an affidavit admitting that he withdrew P3 million from three of the bank accounts he personally created for Ongpin's stock market trading activities.
This amount was later increased to P5.3 million "upon the dictate of Ongpin," according to the complaint.
After Batalan acceded, he was allegedly flown back to Manila, again via private plane, on Feb. 7.
The flight manifestos were allegedly doctored to omit Batalan's name. The complaint pointed out that this was in order to "conceal the possible evidence that would support the allegation of Batalan that he indeed went to Balesin, and could also be used by Ongpin and company as "controverting evidence in their most likely defense of alibi."
The NBI attached its investigation report on the alleged incident to the complaint.
The NBI said respondents failed to present evidence in their defense in the course of the probe that would disprove Batalan's claims.
Ongpin's lawyer Rodolfo Ponferrada, meanwhile, denied the charges as false, erroneous and "contrived accusations of a disgruntled employee."
In a statement, Ponferrada described Batalan as an employee who was fired for stealing money from Ongpin and his companies.
He said a a Notice to the Public about Batalan's firing was published with the BusinessMirror on 18 February 2014.
"In addition and more important, a criminal complaint for qualified theft has been filed against him by Philweb Corporation before the City Prosecutor of Makati City as early as 12 February 2014. This case is currently undergoing preliminary investigation," the lawyer said.
Ponferrada said more charges are set to be filed against Batalan.
"Clearly, the false and malicious information that Mr. Batalan fed to the NBI are nothing more but his way of getting back at Mr. Ongpin and his companies," he said.
Ongpin is ranked 14th in the Forbes list of wealthiest Filipinos with US$1.3 billion in net worth.
Ongpin, who worked in the cabinet of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was earlier charged by the Office of the Ombudsman for graft and irregular banking practices as the alleged beneficiary of over P600 million in behest loans under the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for the acquisition of shares of the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) in Philex Mining, the biggest mining firm in the country today where he had a major stake in.
Ongpin is in the real estate and mining businesses. He is chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of Alphaland Corporation, among others.