MANILA, Philippines - Repeatedly invoking his rights to privacy and against self-incrimination, Edgardo Yambao, the brother-in-law of former military comptroller Jacinto Ligot, gave the Senate very little information on P300 million in bank deposits and various real estate properties that he allegedly owns.
Ligot’s wife, Erlinda Yambao Ligot, finally showed up at the Senate hearing yesterday only to be excused after her blood pressure shot up to 180/110 just when Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada was about to start questioning her over her questionable acquisition of properties in the United States.
Under intense questioning by the senators – particularly Sen. Franklin Drilon – Yambao invoked his right to privacy when asked if he was the owner of a P25-million condominium unit at Essensa East Forbes in The Fort, Taguig, and some luxury vehicles amounting to about P30 million.
Drilon also asked Yambao to confirm ownership of a P1.4-million unit at One Burgundy Plaza in Loyola Heights, Katipunan, Quezon City.
Drilon also asked Yambao to explain why he had no taxable income between 1999 and 2003 despite his staggering bank accounts.
“I think he was lying. Yambao is lying through his teeth and I did not want to ask for his detention because it will divert attention,” Drilon said, referring to Yambao’s claim that he had paid his taxes.
“Because if he is saying that he has paid taxes, there is no income tax filed. I think he was lying,” he said.
Drilon said Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares should start working on tax evasion cases against Ligot and Yambao.
At one point, Yambao even challenged the authenticity of the documents presented by Drilon on his alleged bank accounts and properties.
“We did not invent this. This is based on a counter-affidavit that you filed,” Drilon retorted.
Despite Yambao’s non-declaration of his earnings, Drilon revealed that he had about P300 million in questionable accounts, based on reports from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
The senator said Yambao, based on AMLC records, had accounts in Citibank, Metrobank and the United Overseas Bank in 2001.
In 2002, Yambao’s accounts in the three banks totaled $775,000 and P17 million while in 2003, the same bank accounts reflected deposits of $2.3 million and P20.7 million.
In 2004, the accumulated dollar and peso deposits amounted to $302,000 and P21.5 million while in 2005, the deposits reached $60,000 and P5.9 million.
“For five years, you deposited over $3.7 million or a peso equivalent of P185 million and almost P70 million or a total of about P225 million in cash,” Drilon told Yambao.
Although the accounts were monitored by the AMLC, Drilon said only $20,573 and P614,605.96 were frozen.
“I have never waived my rights under the Bank Secrecy Law, that’s why I am surprised by this revelation,” Yambao said in Filipino.
When he denied the accounts, Drilon challenged him to waive his rights to the accounts in favor of the government.
But Yambao explained he was only denying knowledge of the account numbers, which he claimed he couldn’t recall anymore.
“Mr. Yambao, you know you have undeclared deposits of P255 million. You have a potential income tax liability of P91 million. I’m telling you for these undeclared deposits, you stand liable for tax evasion and we will be asking the BIR to examine your accounts and file charges of tax evasion against you,” Drilon said.
Right to privacy
At one point during the hearing, Drilon recalled that the last time the right to privacy was invoked in the Senate was during hearings on the so-called Jose Pidal accounts. It was Rep. Ignacio Arroyo, brother of then first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, who invoked such right.
Drilon noted that Ligot’s lawyer – Antonio Zulueta – had also acted as lawyer for Ignacio and for then Agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante during the hearing on the fertilizer scam.
“The last time right to privacy was invoked here was at the time of Jose Pidal by Attorney Antonio Zulueta. He invoked his right to privacy. Atty. Zulueta was the lawyer of Iggy Arroyo. He was also the lawyer of Jocjoc Bolante, according to reports. Now, he is the lawyer of General Ligot. I am not surprised that the right to privacy is again being invoked by you at this point,” Drilon said.
Yambao insisted on invoking his right to privacy even after Blue Ribbon committee chairman Sen. Teofisto Guingona III insisted that he cannot invoke it indiscriminately.
When pressed about his tax status, Yambao claimed that he paid a final tax sometime after his “retirement” in 1999.
“Maaring hindi ako nakapag file ng income tax as mentioned by the BIR pero ako po ay nagbayad ng taxes in form of final tax (I may not have filed income tax as mentioned by the BIR, but I paid taxes in the form of final tax),”he said.
Yambao even explained that final tax was the 20 percent withholding tax imposed on his savings from his previous investments with his trading partners.
Yambao also admitted making “business trips” to Australia and key cities in Europe sometime in the mid-1980s.
This prompted Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to question Yambao regarding the sources of his income, since final taxes are applied only in a few cases, including transactions in stock trading and sale of shares of stocks in corporations.
Drilon also said that Ligot, his wife Erlinda, and children Paulo and Rizza transferred their accounts to a certain Hilda Velazquez, and a certain Maria Cristina Mercado Laurel and husband, Antonio Castillo Laurel.
Not a dummy
Yambao also denied Drilon’s accusation that he was a dummy for Ligot.
“Which transaction allowed you to make a gain for which a final tax was paid, in order to justify and (to make us) understand where these monies came from? Otherwise the conclusion is that you are a dummy,” Drilon said.
“I will never admit that I am a dummy and I’ll never be used as a dummy,” Yambao said.
In his opening statement read before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, Yambao claimed he had earned enough money to enable him to buy some properties and vehicles as a businessman engaged in confectionary business and stock trading.
“It’s not my fault to be the brother-in-law of a former general. And it’s not my fault as a private citizen to be successful in business and to be able to buy properties like condominiums, cars. I’m just an ordinary citizen,” he said in his opening statement.
Despite the tax evasion charges and forfeiture case filed against him and the Ligot couple before the Sandiganbayan, Yambao maintained that he gained his properties through legal means.
“I have wronged nobody. If you suspect that I am a dummy of my brother-in-law or my sister, please give me the benefit of the doubt and allow me to testify before the Sandiganbayan,” he said.
High blood pressure
Senate doctors were called in to check Mrs. Ligot’s blood pressure when she showed sign of stress just when she was about to be questioned by Estrada.
“To tell you frankly, I am not feeling well,” Mrs. Ligot said when Estrada asked her if she was alright.
Gen. Ligot tried to console his wife, who was visibly shaken.
In previous hearings, Estrada told the committee of 10 properties in the US in Mrs. Ligot’s name.
Mrs. Ligot covered her face with a piece of paper to conceal her face from press photographers and TV crews who tried to follow her as she was being brought to the Senate clinic in a wheelchair.
Dr. Renato Sison Jr., one of the Senate’s attending doctors, said Mrs. Ligot was given anti-hypertensive medication and oxygen. She was discharged shortly after 2 p.m.
Estrada, meanwhile, said it was an attempt by Mrs. Ligot to conceal her properties in the US to transfer ownership of $183,168 worth property from an “unmarried” Erlinda Y. Ligot to an “unmarried” Erlinda Yambao, which was her maiden name.
A Grant Deed from Orange Country, presented by the senator during the hearing, revealed that Mrs. Ligot made the transfer to her maiden name on Nov. 1, 2004.
On Nov. 23, 2004 or after 23 days, the Stanton property was transferred “for a valuable consideration” to one Elenita Destura and Juanito Destura Jr., “husband and wife as joint tenants.”
Estrada noted that Mrs. Ligot’s signature in the same Grant Deed was similar to the deed of sale in the Essensa property which the Ligot couple “sold” to Yambao in 2004 – also the same year when the Buenapark, California property was transferred to “Erlinda Yambao” and later sold to the Destura couple.
Guingona, for his part, said Ligot’s and Yambao’s invoking of their right to privacy and right against self-incrimination only showed they were hiding something.
Guingona said the Senate is wrapping up its inquiry and that the committee will focus on the developments in the AFP’s own investigation into corruption issues.
Guingona also said Congress may have to act swiftly on the Freedom of Information Act, apart from recommendations to amend the AMLA, the government’s witness protection program as well as the rules on plea bargaining agreement.
“Definitely, we need more information, and these people had (struck deals) shrouded in secrecy. What happened now underscores the need for a Freedom of Information Act,” Guingona said.
In the same hearing, Drilon questioned former armed forces chief Roy Cimatu about two properties in Iloilo City he and his wife allegedly owned.
Drilon questioned Cimatu about two mortgaged properties in Iloilo City with a total value of P24.4 million.
According to Drilon, the first property was supposedly acquired by spouses Roy and Fe Cimatu on July 12, 1984 with transfer certificate of title (TCT) number 67072 while the second was registered on June 22, 1987 under the name of Fe Cimatu with TCT number 75922.
Based on the document held by Drilon, Cimatu signed the mortgage to the two properties to Queen City Development Bank in Iloilo City for P24.4 million in 2010. Asked to explain, Cimatu fumbled.
“I am not sure about those because my wife… I don’t know. When was that?”
Cimatu also said that he could not recall if he was already married at the time and that while he knew about some of the properties he couldn’t say how they had been acquired.
“With humility, your honor, even when I was a lieutenant they had already some lands in Antique and Iloilo,” Cimatu said.
He could not explain how one of the properties ended up registered in his name but when asked if this was done by his wife, he said that it appeared to be the case.
“We are not certain if the property is grossly disproportionate to his income. I was trying to get him to produce the other documents but since it was not available, he could not even remember the property, I was forced to bring out the value of the mortgage and which indicates the value of the property and I don’t even know whether there are improvements on the property,” Drilon said.
“That was what I wanted to show, wanted to probe if indeed this is a property (acquired) beyond his means. But I must admit that I did not have all the documents that’s why I was forced to reveal that it was mortgaged for P24 million,” he added.
Before becoming chief of staff, Cimatu served as battalion commander, brigade commander, division commander, Army comptroller and AFP comptroller.
Cimatu said that he was Army comptroller for about a year in 1994 before he was assigned as brigade commander.
It was in 1998 that he became AFP comptroller under then AFP chief Clemente Mariano and was retained by his successor Gen. Joselin Nazareno.
Cimatu said that he stayed on as comptroller for a brief period under Gen. Angelo Reyes but at that time he was already awaiting his assignment as division commander.
Former AFP budget officer George Rabusa claimed that Cimatu received P80 million in pabaon or sendoff gift when he retired as AFP chief of staff in 2002.
Cimatu denied this and said that his only pabaon was the 40 medals he received over the course of his career in the AFP. With Marvin Sy