Saturday, November 11, 2006

DOJ: Atong Ang is talking... thanks to INQ7.net

Disclosures may reopen Kuratong, Bentain cases

By Leila Salaverria, Volt Contreras, Margaux Ortiz
Inquirer
Last updated 02:19am (Mla time) 11/11/2006

Published on page A1 of the November 11, 2006 issue of the Philippine
Daily Inquirer

BEYOND the reach of Philippine law for nearly six years, deposed
President Joseph Estrada's gambling buddy, Charlie "Atong" Ang, came
home yesterday to a security welcome rarely, if ever, accorded a
returning fugitive.

Ang is a co-accused in the P4-billion plunder case against ousted
President Joseph Estrada.

Flying business class but ostensibly in handcuffs, Ang was met at the
airport by about 50 heavily armed agents of the National Bureau of
Investigation and whisked off in a convoy of 12 numbered and tinted
cars. His vehicle—a bulletproof white Nissan Patrol—was sandwiched
between two other cars supposedly to ward off attacks on him.

The unusual security cover Ang received stirred speculation that the
Arroyo administration had entered into a deal with him to pin down
some politicians but this was promptly squelched by Justice Secretary
Raul Gonzalez.

Gonzalez said Ang had disclosed information on the Bentain
disappearance and the Kuratong Baleleng rubout cases, and that he
mentioned the names of incumbent politicians in the process.

He said this might lead to the reopening of the two sensational
cases—dealing with the alleged killing in 1995 of 11 captured members
of the Kuratong Baleleng crime gang and the 1999 disappearance of
Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) camera operator Edgar
Bentain.

Validation of Ang's statements could lead to the two cases being
reopened, Gonzalez said.

Bulletproof vests

Given what Ang supposedly knows, the death threats against him could
be considered "serious," he said.

Gonzalez said the possibility of Ang turning state witness in the
Estrada plunder case was unlikely given that the prosecution and the
defense in Estrada's case had already rested.

"There is no deal with him ... no trade-off whatsoever," Gonzalez told
the Inquirer, when asked if Ang's willingness to talk was in exchange
for light treatment on his plunder case.

Gonzalez met with Ang at the Department of Justice. Ang was presented
to the media but chose not to speak.

Like some of the agents who secured him on his arrival, Ang wore a
bulletproof vest. At least, he was made to wear one the moment he
stepped into the passenger corridor at the airport.

"He was even smiling. He didn't look worried at all," said retired
Gen. Angel Atutubo, assistant general manager at the Ninoy Aquino
International Airport and one of the ranking officials who saw Ang
emerge from the cabin of Philippine Airlines Flight 103.

Gambling consultant

Ang, who was not accompanied by any family member, was the most highly
publicized fugitive to be extradited by the United States to the
Philippines since the two countries signed an extradition treaty in
1994. An NBI official said "many others" had been extradited before
Ang, including those wanted here for murder.

Ang mainly figured in the controversies that led to Estrada's downfall
when Estrada appointed him "consultant" on state-sponsored gambling.

Following Estrada's ouster in January 2001, Ang was charged as one of
Estrada's alleged coconspirators in running a payola racket from the
illegal numbers game "jueteng" and in laundering for Estrada P130
million from tobacco excise taxes.

But his image as the most favored Estrada crony was reinforced before
the latter won the presidency in 1998: During the campaign season, a
security video footage surfaced in the press showing the two men
gambling at a local hotel casino.

Confirmation needed

Ang flew to the United States in 2001 after Estrada's ouster, but was
arrested in Nevada after the Philippines filed a plunder case against
him and sought his extradition.

Gonzalez said he asked Ang about the unsolved murder cases because of
the latter's ties to the Estrada administration.

"Considering his personality, considering his relationships in the
past administration, it is relevant to ask him what he knows about
certain things," he said.

He said the information Ang gave could be important if confirmed,
although it might not necessarily be the key to solving the Bentain
and Kuratong Baleleng cases.

He also said Ang was willing to give an affidavit regarding the two cases.

Bentain went missing in 1999 after being tagged as the source of a
videotape that showed Ang and Estrada gambling, and has not been found
up to now.

The Kuratong Baleleng case involved the killing of gang members after
police took custody of them.

"I don't think (Ang is) necessarily the key, but certainly in order to
have a breakthrough of the case, whatever his knowledge will be, if
corroborated by people whom he claims he knows, that would be very
valuable," Gonzalez told reporters.

He said Ang mentioned the names of incumbent politicians but Gonzalez
would not say who they were.

Asked in what context the politicians' names came up, Gonzalez said:
"I don't want to mention that. Let's wait for further developments."

"I am still analyzing his statements on those cases. We have to
analyze it because if they are not authenticated, we might burn
ourselves. If they are validated, we have to act accordingly,"
Gonzalez said.

No effect on plunder case

Gonzalez would not comment when asked if Estrada or Sen. Panfilo
Lacson were mentioned by Ang regarding the Bentain and Kuratong
Baleleng cases.

Lacson was initially implicated in the Kuratong Baleleng members'
killings, which happened when he headed the Task Force Habagat of the
Presidential Anti-Crime Commission, but he was cleared by a Quezon
City court.

Estrada headed the PACC then.

Lacson was also dragged into the Bentain disappearance by Angelo
"Ador" Mawanay, who claimed Lacson ordered the Pagcor employee
liquidated for releasing the videotape of Ang and Estrada. Mawanay
later retracted his statement.

"The fact that it came from Gonzalez makes it worthless to comment
on," Lacson said in a text message last night, reacting to the justice
secretary's remarks to media. "I will appreciate it better if Gonzalez
would state what he is up to."

Gonzalez also said that Ang's statement on the two murder cases would
not affect his plunder case, which will continue.

He said the government was not open to a compromise on the plunder
case in exchange for information on the two other cases, and Ang did
not ask for it, either.

He said Ang's testimony on plunder could be used if Estrada's case was
reopened and if his testimony could be considered "newly discovered
evidence."

Detained at NBI

Ang prefers to be detained at the NBI, Gonzalez said.

"I think they (the death threats on Ang) are serious considering the
circumstances of all the information he has been giving on other
matters, not necessarily on the issue of the plunder case but on other
cases that are still sleeping here," he said.

Ang received stringent security measures on his arrival at about 5:55
a.m. His NBI escorts at the DOJ were all heavily armed, some carrying
M-16 rifles and wearing bullet-proof vests.

The agents were at the airport as early as 4 a.m.

Aside from agents wearing NBI T-shirts, the bureau also deployed a
plainclothes agent who posed as a reporter and mingled with members of
the media at the airport. This was to protect Ang from those who
wanted to harm him who might be posing as members of the media,
according to a source.

Black jacket

On his arrival, agents covered with a black jacket what was assumed to
be his handcuffed wrists.

Even an extradited person like Ang is still "free" to choose any
airline seat he could afford, Atutubo said when asked if Ang's
business class seating was part of some arrangement with the NBI.

The first to exit the aircraft, Ang was whisked out of the Naia's
Centennial Terminal 2 about 15 minutes after his plane touched down.


With a report from TJ Burgonio

Copyright 2006 Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be
published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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