MANILA, Philippines - Businessman and former Trade Minister Roberto Ongpin defended himself against multiple allegations when he appeared at the Senate’s third hearing on his transactions with the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP).
In a more than 30-minute statement, Ongpin denied allegations that his loans from the bank were behest loans, that he's a dummy of Mike Arroyo, husband of the former president, and that he engaged in insider trading.
"The behestor that has been identified indirectly or by innuendo is former First Gentleman Atty. Jose Miguel Arroyo. As I said previously, Mike Arroyo is a friend of mine and has been so before Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was elected president. But friendship does not mean that I was his crony. That I needed him to ask for behest loans on my behalf nor that I fronted for him in any of my investment banking deals, much less the deal at hand," he said.
The investigation started after DBP lawyer Benjamin Pinpin committed suicide in August, allegedly breaking under the strain of an internal investigation into P660 million Ongpin borrowed from the bank in 2009 to buy the bank’s own investment in Philex Mining Corp. for P12.75 per share.
He sold these a month later to Manuel Pangilinan for P21 a share.
In previous hearings, Senator Sergio Osmeña said Ongpin may not have been able to get the loan if it was not at the behest of an influential person.
Ongpin explained, "These loans were fully collateralized, fully paid and in fact paid long before their maturity dates. There have been many accusations contained in the complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman that during the course of these years there were violations of certain banking rules and many other irrelevant or simple erroneous allegations regarding these loans.
"These loans could never be labeled behest because no powerful government official or individual intervened.
"It might come as a surprise to my distinguished detractors on DBP that I simply do not need a behestor in order to do a deal."
Senator Juan Ponce Enrile drew attention on the transactions Ongpin conducted among his own companies.
Enrile said some of these may be interpreted as stock market manipulation if not by Ongpin, then by his right-hand woman, Josephine Manalo.
When Enrile asked about documents to show inter-company loans, Ongpin said: "It has been my practice for, ever since SGV days, when we used to work together, never to borrow in my personal capacity.
"I owned all of the shares of all of the companies so it would not be necessary for me to make a promissory note from one to the other."
Enrile replied, "Come on, Bobby. You've been managing director of SGV. You know you can't treat a corporation like a sari-sari store."
Manalo, who sits on the boards of at least 17 Ongpin companies, has told the Senate she can't attend the hearings because of ill health.
Ongpin promised to ask her if she'd agree to be interviewed by Senate staffers.
"That's why we want to get this Josefina Manalo here because we know from our investigation, from the records we have that she has been playing the market," Enrile said.
"We're not asking these questions for the heck of it. We're asking these questions to unravel what we believe. And I'll be frank with you, and what we believe to be an ongoing manipulation of the stock market ’’ Enrile told Ongpin.
Ongpin's appearance did not spare former DBP President Rey David, who carried the brunt of the defense in the first two hearings.
Enrile asked him yet again why he would lend to the Ongpin company, which Enrile said had weak finances.
When David said the collateral was sufficient, Enrile said the collateral was shares with limited public float, meaning the price may be bloated.
"So that actually the price of these shares is not according to what it is. You may be a good banker but I can crack your head,’’ Enrile said.
Ongpin also said he had no involvement in the DBP-financed purchase of MRT bonds, an allegation made by Senator Sergio Osmeña last week.
Osmeña said he would focus on that issue in the next hearing.
Toward the end of the hearing, senators returned to the event that brought the controversy to public attention: the suicide of DBP lawyer Benjamin Pinpin amid an internal investigation.
DBP lawyer Benilda Tejada said the board, which conducted the investigation, no longer talks to management and vice-versa.