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Businessman denies backing coup try

Businessmen denied yesterday their involvement in the failed coup attempt last Feb. 24.Felipe Cruz Jr., president of construction firm FF Cruz and Co., denied the allegations made by former ambassador Roy Señeres that he was one of those involved in the plot to oust President Arroyo.

Other people named by Señeres as civilian supporters of Army Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim are Antonio "Tonyboy" Cojuangco, who chairs the ABC-5 television station; Iñigo Zobel, who sits on the board of San Miguel Corp.; former executive secretary Oscar Orbos, and former defense secretary Renato de Villa.

Cruz, in a statement, said that at the meeting to which Señeres referred, "he came uninvited, accompanied by a mutual friend to my residence. At that time, we were having a business partnership meeting with a friend, Iñigo Zobel."

Señeres "told us that he had on his cell phone a recording of what he claimed to be an original copy of the Garci tape. We agreed to hear the recording so that we can compare other tapes appearing in the news," Cruz said.

Cruz said once they had heard Señeres’ recording, the former ambassador "told us about his plan to form a transition government and was soliciting financial support for it. Bluntly, we told him that we would not allow anybody to use us against the government."

"That was the last time I heard from Mr. Señeres," Cruz added.

Orbos, who earlier denied any involvement in the failed coup, said he never had an opportunity to meet or speak with Zobel, Cojuangco or Cruz. De Villa earlier denied any connection to the plot.

sent De Villa a text message asking for his reaction, but he did not reply. Calls to his cellular phone also went unanswered.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate Lim’s alleged civilian supporters, as named by Señeres.

Gonzalez said ABC-5 had videotaped Lim’s statement withdrawing his support from Mrs. Arroyo.

"They cannot deny that. I ordered the NBI to investigate all the persons mentioned by Señeres. I want this investigation to embrace all these incidents," Gonzalez said.

He said civilians who backed Lim’s withdrawal of support may face charges of inciting to sedition.

Gonzalez noted that Señeres was wrong in claiming that what he and other alleged coup plotters did was "patriotic," and that it cannot be compared to the withdrawal of support by government officials involved in EDSA II, which ousted then President Joseph Estrada.

"Señeres said he was the one who instigated, it’s inciting to sedition. If it succeeded, it’s a patriotic act, but if not, it’s a crime," Gonzalez said.

In an interview over radio station dzBB, Gonzalez said the government "can make him (Señeres) a state witness." But when The STAR sought clarification from him, Gonzalez said he did not make any offer for Señeres to be a state witness.

"I did not say that (tapping Señeres as a state witness). What I said was that depending on what he will say, he may qualify as state witness. There is no talks with him yet. I ordered the NBI to investigate the whole picture of this. I ordered the NBI to invite all these personalities, including Señeres, who are linked to the failed coup d’etat last February," he said.

Gonzales said Lim could be charged with perjury for lying to the NBI when he denied their plan to withdraw support from Mrs. Arroyo.

He said Arroyo’s standing order is for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to take action against Lim and the military supporters of the failed coup, while the Department of Justice will run after its civilian supporters.

"If Lim will cooperate with the DOJ, we want to know the details of the coup, who are the financiers, their co-conspirators. We are also interested to know how ABS-CBN got hold of the tape. The threat of destabilization is still there," Gonzalez said.

He added that Señeres’ statements corroborate the information he has gathered.

"I think more people are involved. Even Señeres’ statement about Tony Boy Cojuangco, I have that information already," Gonzalez said.

He said that as early as Feb. 24, he already found out the name of the cameraman who videotaped Lim.

"On the morning of Feb. 24, we already knew about it. But the cabinet did not believe me first. They thought I was crying wolf. On Feb. 24 (this year), a media personality called me up. She said there is something afoot here that will become breaking news. She is a woman assigned in Camp Caringal beat. I don’t know where she is assigned right now," Gonzalez said.

He said he found out about the ABS-CBN’s airing of Lim’s videotape when broadcaster Ces Drilon called him up last Saturday.

Civilian supporters warned

Malacañang warned yesterday that Señeres could be charged and jailed for inciting to sedition even as it warned suspected civilian supporters of the alleged coup plotters that the government is on to them.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Presidential Chief of Staff Michael Defensor, in separate interviews, said the investigation on the alleged plot to overthrow the government last February continues to include monitoring of activities of suspected civilian backers.

"Very clearly... the statements of Ambassador Señeres are illegal, especially admitting to the plot and even saying and enjoining all the citizens who have joined Gen. Danny Lim are all within the attempted coup d’etat and what he’s saying now in fact is inciting to sedition," Defensor told the Newsmakers Forum at the Manila Pavilion Waterfront Hotel.

He pointed out that Señeres also admitted that his group planned to put up a junta to replace the Arroyo administration, thus confirming what Malacañang was saying all along about a rightist-leftist coup plot.

Defensor and Ermita said it would be up to Gonzalez to study the possible charges against Señeres and other suspected civilian supporters.

Ermita said the intelligence agencies are compiling information on the suspected civilian backers but refused to identify them as the investigation is still ongoing.

Defensor said he has no knowledge of the involvement of Orbos and Zobel in the alleged coup plot but there was "some monitoring and information" on De Villa and Cojuangco.

He said since February there was information that some civilians witnessed Lim’s taping of his preempted statement but he was not sure until yesterday that it was Cojuangco.

It is possible, Ermita said, that Cojuangco merely watched the taping as part of his station’s scoop and was not part of the alleged coup plot.

Ermita said the government tried to subpoena the tape it believed the station has but the ABC-5 management had denied its existence.

The network and Cojuangco reiterated their denial of any involvement in the alleged taped interview with Lim.

"ABC-5 also denies that it was ever in possession of any such tape, and further denies that it provided the same to ABS-CBN," said Terra Daffon, the station’s director for corporate affairs, referring to the rival network that aired the interview.

Hands full

NBI Special Task Force regional director Reynaldo Esmeralda said they expect to have their hands full next week as they summon people allegedly involved in the failed Feb. 24 coup.

At 10 a.m. today, the NBI expects Marine Col. Januario Caringal to appear before the office of acting director Nestor Mantaring and execute a sworn statement on his alleged involvement. They hope Caringal will cooperate and reveal the identities of other military officers shown in Lim’s videotape.

Caringal was reportedly one of the military officials positioned behind Lim as Lim read a statement withdrawing support from the President.

By Monday or Tuesday next week, the NBI plans to summon Señeres to shed light on a news report wherein he was quoted admitting that he was one of those who encouraged Lim to withdraw his support from the President.

The NBI will also ask Señeres to issue an affidavit stating the complete list of the civilians who were set to financially support the Feb. 24 uprising. They would use the former diplomat’s affidavit to issue subpoenas to the civilians allegedly involved in the coup plot next week.

Esmeralda also brushed off talk that these civilians will attempt to flee the country now that their alleged link to the failed destabilization efforts had been exposed.

"These people will come back because they are Filipinos and they still have business interests here. We will urge them to cooperate with the investigation," he said.

The NBI also plans to summon former Tarlac congressman Jose Cojuangco and Council of Philippine Affairs secretary general Pastor "Boy" Saycon.

Foiled plans

Sets of military documents obtained by The STAR and ABS-CBN showed that had those behind the plot to oust Mrs. Arroyo succeeded, they would first declare a state of national emergency and the 2004 presidential and vice presidential elections null and void.

They would then abolish both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court, according to Proclamation No. 1 of the revolutionary transition council.

An ad hoc investigation committee report has tagged Lim and Marine Col. Ariel Querubin as the prime movers of the failed Feb. 24 coup that reportedly had the support of former Marine Commandant Maj. Gen. Renato Miranda and Special Action Force director, now retired Chief Superintendent Marcelino Franco.

Lim and Querubin reportedly met with Armed Forces chief Gen. Generoso Senga on the evening of Feb. 23 and mentioned the names of De Villa and Orbos as proposed heads of a transition government.

The two officers even suggested to Senga that he provide the leadership to ensure that there would be no bloodshed in their planned takeover.

Aside from this, Proclamation No. 1 will also suspend operations of both houses of Congress while justices at the Supreme Court and the Sandiganbayan, officials of the Commission on Elections and all political appointees of "the defunct Arroyo administration" in all executive offices are considered resigned.

On the other hand, justices at the Court Appeals, the regional trial courts and other lower courts shall be allowed to discharge their functions and duties unless replaced by the civilian transition government.

Elected local officials and employees of other constitutional commissions, the national government, its agencies and instrumentalities, including government-owned and controlled corporations and government financial institutions will also be allowed to discharge their functions subject to reorganization approved by the transition government.

The last provision of Proclamation No. 1 also allows the transition government to arrest and detain persons involved in high crimes, including electoral fraud, graft and corruption, economic sabotage and drug trafficking, and to recover the proceeds and effects of such high crimes.

This provision, drafted by the civilians involved in the failed plot, was supposed to give the "new government" more teeth in running after individuals, including politicians, who have amassed wealth beyond their means.

It was learned that rightist military groups have drawn up plans to deal with majority bloc congressmen.

A military source claimed that young military officers volunteered to go to Congress just to "arrest their congressman targets."

Among the civilians who reportedly drafted this proclamation was Orbos, who emphatically denied this allegation.

In an interview aired over dzRH yesterday morning, Orbos denied reports linking him to the failed coup plot but said he could have accepted an offer to join Lim’s group.

"Nobody invited or offered anything. But I will be honored if there is such an invitation or offer. But the truth is nobody asked or invited me," he said.

Orbos also denied reports he went to Tanay, Rizal to discuss the coup plot with Estrada.

When asked about his message to Mrs. Arroyo, Orbos said she should make the extreme sacrifice.

"Resign, that to me is the extreme sacrifice that will make her a hero. The one who succeeds her, must also be willing to sacrifice also," Orbos said. — With Jose Rodel Clapano, Jaime Laude, Evelyn Macairan, Paolo Romero

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