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Senate urged to tackle proposed RP-HK legal assistance treaty

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Sen. John Osmeña called on the Senate leadership yesterday to immediately calendar for floor debates the proposed mutual legal assistance treaty between the Philippines and Hong Kong.

Osmeña, chairman of the Senate committee on government corporations and public enterprises, said that the submission of the agreement on the floor would facilitate the conduct of a committee investigation on the alleged $14-million bribe for the approval of the government contract with the Industrias Metalurgicas Pescarmona Sociedad Anonima (Impsa).

The committee on foreign relations, headed by then Sen. Blas Ople, passed Report No. 62 on May 29, 2002 recommending the ratification of the mutual legal assistance pact with Hong Kong.

Sen. Manny Villar replaced Ople after the latter was named foreign affairs secretary, but Villar still has to be called by the rules committee to sponsor the report.

"This report now becomes very important in the light of the revelation by Rep. Mark Jimenez that the $2 million paid to Justice Secretary Hernando Perez was deposited in the Coutts Bank in Hong Kong," Osmeña said.

He explained that if the Hong Kong treaty were ratified, his committee could ask for the cooperation of the Hong Kong government so that the records of the Coutts Bank account of Perez could be made available to the Senate.

The Osmeña committee had already heard the testimonies of former President Joseph Estrada, former finance secretary Jose Pardo, former National Power Corp. (Napocor) president Federico Puno and former justice secretary Artemio Toquero on the controversial Impsa contact.

Osmeña said he would be calling next businessman Ernest Escaler and retired banker Ramon Arceo. Jimenez had claimed that Escaler served as the conduit of Perez in the transfer of $2 million to the Coutts Bank branch in Hong Kong.

Jimenez denied that the $2 million was connected to the Impsa contract, contending that it was related to an alleged blackmail for the dropping of the extradition case. He eventually went back to the US last month escorted by US marshals, and is now detained in a Miami jail for failure to post a $500,000 bail for his temporary release. – Efren Danao

ARTEMIO TOQUERO

BLAS OPLE

COUTTS BANK

EFREN DANAO

ERNEST ESCALER

FEDERICO PUNO

HONG KONG

IMPSA

INDUSTRIAS METALURGICAS PESCARMONA SOCIEDAD ANONIMA

JIMENEZ

OSME

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