Cebu News

Businesswoman hits back, files estafa, cyberlibel raps

Fred P. Languido - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines —  A Cebuana businesswoman has filed a criminal complaint for large-scale estafa before the Department of Justice against an Ormoc-based couple after she was dragged into an alleged investment scam that rocked the local business community in Cebu.

Businesswoman Michelle Go-Chu also filed two counts each of cyberlibel and grave slander against an influential property developer and his counsel for allegedly tainting her reputation and subjecting her to trial by publicity.

In a press conference yesterday, Lawyer Estrella Elamparo, legal counsel of complainant Go-Chu, said that the complaint for estafa was filed against Lorenzo Baltonado,

Jr. and his wife Jerlyn Joyce, owners of L.M. Baltonado Construction, Inc. (LMBC), a business contractor based in Ormoc City, which handles mostly government projects.

Elamparo said that in 2018, LMBC’s construction business started to expand at a fast rate, and to keep up with the increasing demands of their new projects, the Baltonados asked for more loans from Go-Chu.

“My client Michelle Go-Chu would issue the Baltonados checks to help them finance their projects. The agreement was they would pay her back within a short term and this went on without a problem until late 2021 to early 2022 when the Baltonados defaulted on their payments and reassurances,”  Elamparo said.

In her statement, Go-Chu said that she expressly told the Baltonados that she does not allow her checks to be used for third parties. Go-Chu also made sure to write LBMC/ Lorenzo Baltonado as the payee on the checks she issued except in a couple of instances wherein she accommodated a request from the couple to issue checks under the name of Kaiser Christopher Tan.

However, without Go-Chu’s knowledge and consent, the Baltonados allegedly used her good name and the checks she issued as a form of assurance to secure loans from other creditors such as Tan and others.

The Baltonado couple allegedly acquired loans using checks Go-Chu provided through the following scheme: First, the respondents would induce Go-Chu to issue checks with LMBC as payee. Second, the Baltonado couple would issue checks to their creditors. Third, the Baltonado couple would endorse the checks Go-Chu issued to their own creditors as a form of guarantee.

Upon learning of this alleged scheme, Go-Chu said she confronted the Baltonado couple and canceled the checks she had issued, including those that had been endorsed to Tan, and immediately gave a Stop Payment Order (SPO) to the banks.

Thus, when Tan attempted to cash the checks endorsed to him by the Baltonado couple, they were not honored by the banks. According to Elamparo, this was used by Tan and his legal counsel, Atty. Francisco Amit, to go on a massive media blitz, even putting a P1 million bounty on Go-Chu’s head. “The case was widely publicized in Cebu City, with Mr. Tan and his lawyer giving press interviews left and right. Worse, a bounty was publicly put on her head,” Elamparo said.

For her part, Go-Chu said, “To have a bounty on one’s head and be tried publicly through the manipulative use of social media is worse than conviction. While the warrants may be quashed and the cases may be dismissed, I will not be able to live the rest of my life without strict public scrutiny. My reputation is now forever marred and my name is now marked as a criminal.”

This prompted Go-Chu to also charge Tan and Amit with two counts of cyberlibel and grave slander.

Earlier, the Regional Trial Court in Toledo City recalled the warrant of arrest it issued against Go-Chu and ordered the city prosecutor’s office to conduct a reinvestigation on the complaint for estafa filed by Tan.

The court believes that Go-Chu was not afforded her Constitutional rights to due process because the complaint was resolved without hearing her side. Elamparo said her client is apprehensive that despite the reinvestigation, the local prosecutors will stand by their findings of probable cause.

Go-Chu contended that she could not be held guilty of the crime of estafa previously filed by Tan because the two checks were not honored by virtue of the SPO and not because they were insufficiently funded.  (FREEMAN)

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