I want to thank my readers for their enthusiastic response to my article, “$30 Million Extort Try: Fact or Fiction?” It registered the highest hits for articles and stories for the day’s issue of the Manila Times.
One of the readers, a certain Rose, posed several questions. For lack of space, I will try to briefly address her questions. Again, I must emphasize that I was not at all defending the presidential relatives when I wrote the report. It was based on documents I received from someone who has direct access to the DOTC records, and from my interviews of one of the major players in that shameful event.
Rose asked why the Aquino administration did not deny that the Cruz couple did indeed travel to Prague in 2011. My answer is, I don’t know. I did not bother to ask Lacierda or any Palace functionary.
She also asked: If the Prague visit was a “social gathering” why were Czech businessmen in attendance? “Does this mean that Ballsy is specifically authorized to speak for and in behalf of the Philippines? And why not send government officials concerned with trade and business in the Philippines and not civilian people like Ballsy and Eldon Cruz?”
My informant said that the couple was invited by the Czech Ambassador to the Philippines for a purely social visit to Prague and that while they were there, the Czech government made arrangements for some businessmen to attend the affair. Ballsy and Eldon as private citizens are not and cannot speak for and in behalf of the government.
“Why was Inekon specifically mentioned in this alleged ‘extortion try?’ “Well, because Inekon is the Czech company that had shown interest in and submitted its proposal for the MRT modernization program.
I also agree with Rose that, “if Vitangcol is the main suspect in this botched extortion try” he won’t dare do it without someone higher in rank “instructing him to do so.”
Lastly, the Czech Ambassador figured prominently in the MRT-Inekon negotiations only because the Czech company’s proposal was for a Government-to-Government (G-G) contract. And because it is supposed to be G-G, it is the Ambassador of the proposing country who, by law, is authorized to speak for the foreign proponent with the Philippine authorities.
So, there. I hope I have answered Rose’s questions satisfactorily. Now to the issue of the day.
On Monday, July 1, four days before my scheduled meeting with MRT General Manager Al Vitangcol, a certain Jun Alano called my office in the morning and again later at lunchtime. I was not available when he called on both instances. I returned his call in the afternoon.
He introduced himself and reminded me that he is the Jun Alano who used to work for me at the now defunct daily business paper, “MoneyAsia.”
I asked him what he wanted. At the start, he was hemming and hawing. Finally he said “his brother is working with the MRT” and because of that he is helping Vitangcol in his PR effort.
I had to ask him twice, “So, are you or are you not Vitangcol’s PR (consultant)?” And he then meekly admitted, “Eh, ganoon na nga. [Eh, that in fact is the case.]” I then said, “Ganoon naman pala, PR ka pala nya, bakit paikot-ikot ka pa? Ano ba ang kailangan mo? [If that’s what it is, and you’re his PR, why do you have to go around in circles? What do you want?]”
Imploringly, he replied, “Baka naman huwag nang ilagay ang pangalan ni Vitangcol sa story mo. [Maybe Vitangcol’s name doesn’t have to be in your story.]” I said, “How could that be? He is one of the principal players in the document in my possession.”
Alano then blurted out: “Iyon na nga, sir. Baka naman daw may magawa siya para sa iyo in the future. [That’s the thing, sir. He said maybe he could do something for you in the future. ]”
That took away my equilibrium for a moment. I was dumbfounded. I had never before felt so humiliated in my life. Imagine a former employee asking that I omit the name of a major participant in an alleged $30-million grease-money scandal and having the temerity to offer me something in the “future.” I admonished him briefly and immediately put down the phone. He did not call again after that.
What kind of Public Relations was that? Is that what they call PR at MRT? Is that the best Vitangcol can do in the face of a crisis? Kill the story in exchange for a future favor? Where did this Alano come from? Just because he can write a news release he thinks he is already a PR practitioner?
And so the first question I asked Vitangcol when we met in the morning of Friday, July 5, at Café Adriatico in Malate, was, “Do you know a certain Jun Alano?” Instead of answering my question directly, he launched a circuitous explanation about his being “a director of the UP Engineers Association and we contracted the services of a PR firm to conduct our homecoming (activities) and plan events. That’s Jun Alano.”
He vehemently denied that Alano is MRT’s PR consultant and insisted that he did not engage Alano to be his personal PR or write specific stories for him.
Vitangcol however said that he knew that Alano had called me. The MRT GM explained that after he and I had talked and set our appointment, he spoke to Alano and “asked him to find out what the story is all about.”
When I pressed him if he knew that Alano had asked me to delete his name from my story, he said, “Ang sabi ko lang po sa kanya, wala akong alam dyan, tapos eh kung lalabas ang pangalan ko kawawa naman ako kasi I have always protected. . . (unintelligible). Ang tagal kong pinagtrabahuhan na may credibility ang pangalan ko tapos masisira lang ng unfounded story. [The only thing I told him was I know nothing about that, and it would make me so pitiful if my name comes out because I have always protected . . . (unintelligible). I worked long and hard to give my name credibility then it would just be damaged by an unfounded story.]”
What else did you tell Jun Alano, I asked him. “Kung ano yung ibang tao di ko sila kilala eh di gusto nyang banggitin eh di banggitin nya. [Whatever those other people are I don’t know them and if he (Dante Ang) wants to name them then let him name them.]”
Vitangcol also confirmed to me that he had instructed Alano to tell me that maybe he (Vitangcol) could do something for me in the future in exchange for not naming him in my report.
I repeated my question to give Vitangcol a chance to rethink his statement. But without any hesitation, he repeated what he just said and proceeded to justify it by saying, “Ganoon naman po talaga tayo pag nakikiusap [We are really that way when seeking a favor], we don’t close the discussion. We don’t want enemies, di ba [do we]? Eh sometimes (unintelligible).”
Before I left, Vitangcol managed to ask me if someone had directed me to write about the $30 million demand from the Czech company. I dismissed the insinuation and replied that I am writing the report because it is a good story.
An unsolicited advice to Vitangcol and his PR. Face the issue squarely. If the story is inaccurate, point out the inaccuracies clearly, logically. Air your side in a straightforward no nonsense fashion. And don’t put a spin on it. When you try to pay your way out, you only reinforce suspicion of your guilt.