Ex-trade minister rapped for serious illegal detention

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

BILLIONAIRE businessman Roberto Ongpin was charged with serious illegal detention before the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday for allegedly detaining and harassing an employee, whom he accused of stealing millions from his company.

In his complaint, Eduveges Batalan said Ongpin and some employees of Alphaland Corp. locked him up in a room in Balesin Island Resort off Quezon from February 4 to 7, where he was "interrogated, psychologically tortured and coerced to sign prepared affidavits and promissory note."

Fearing for his life and that of his family, Batalan allegedly admitted in an affidavit that he withdrew P3 million from the three of the bank accounts he personally created for Ongpin's stock market trading activities.

Roberto Ongpin
Businessman Roberto Ongpin

But the former trade minister jacked up the amount to P5.3 million as Batalan, who previously worked for Ongpin-led Philweb Corp., claimed a certain lawyer Cliburn Anthony Orbe prepared the affidavit and a promissory note requiring Batalan to issue a monthly post-dated check worth P50,000 with eight percent interest.

"Batalan was informed by Ongpin that the former has been under surveillance for three months and should explain why he has a good house, cars and pharmacy business. Batalan was threatened to be stuck in the island unless he tells everything," the complaint read.

He was also threatened that should he not cooperate, he would meet the same fate of Josepino Siasat and Brinia Flojemon, Ongpin’s former employees who were charged with stealing and misdemeanor.

Batalan was informed by a certain Josephine Manalo on February 3 that he will fly to the resort in Polilio Island the next day to make an inventory of wines and olive oils.

Upon arrival at Balesin, Batalan said he was fetched by Michael Angelo Asperin (resort director) and Jerry Penaflor (Ongpin's close-in security) and went to the businessman's office, where he was confronted by Ongpin about his supposed misdeed.

Batalan said he was only flown back to Manila on a private plane on February 7 after he acceded to Ongpin's orders.

He added that his name was not included in the flight record to conceal the possible evidence that would support his allegation that he indeed went to Balesin, and could also be used by Ongpin as "controverting evidence in their most likely defense of alibi."

Apart from the non-bailable offense of serious illegal detention, Ongpin and some individuals were charged with grave coercion, falsification of official documents and robbery.

They were Ma. Natalia Cristina Manalo Dalupan (Alphaland Executive Office), lawyer Carlo Bautista (Philweb Corp.), Roegelio Sulit (Alpha Force Security), , Jigsaw Cartas (Alpha Force Security), Colonel Gregor Mendel Panelo (Alpha Force Security Agency), Roderico Arellano Bautista (Alpha Force Security Agency), Asperin, Penaflor, Manalo and Orbe.

In a statement, Ongpin’s lawyer Rodolfo Ponferrada denounced the charges backed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) as "false and erroneous."

"Indeed, Mr. Batalan has been an employee in one of Mr. Ongpin's companies for so many years. But instead of being loyal, he stole money from Mr. Ongpin and his companies. Thus, he was terminated for cause (theft and dishonesty)," Ponferrada said, noting that Batalan is currently under preliminary investigation for qualified theft at the Makati Prosecutor’s Office.

More criminal cases are set to be filed against Batalan, Ponferrada said, "as he stole millions of pesos from Mr. Ongpin."

Forbes magazine ranked Ongpin as the country's 14th richest person last year, netting $1.3 billion.

He is facing graft cases at the Sandiganbayan, along with 25 officials of the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), for allegedly receiving preferential treatment from the state-owned lender.

The Office of the Ombudsman cited the extraordinary speed and the lack of safeguards in which the release of the P660-million behest loan was made.

Ongpin used the money to buy shares of DBP in Philex Mining Corp. (Philex). He then sold his stake to Manuel Pangilinan, who now controls the biggest gold and copper mining firm in the Philippines. (Sunnex)

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