The Philippine government has no plans of declaring Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar a ‘persona non grata’ in the country following his accusations of extortion against some transport officials.
“We are not going so far as to declare him persona non grata. I think that is not in the horizon of DFA [Department of Foreign Affairs] to do so,” Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a press conference.
Instead, Lacierda said that government encouraged the Czech ambassador to cooperate with the authorities in the case.
“I can assure Ambassador Rychtar that there is an investigation in the NBI [National Bureau of Investigation]…we certainly encourage him to speak up before the proper body and not just the media,” he said.
Lacierda said that the government is ready to probe allegations of wrongdoing as long as the accuser has ample evidence to back up his claims.
“The important thing is, if you have an allegation, if you’re willing to face and present evidence of those allegations, then our investigative bodies are there to investigate,” he said.
“Until such time that you are prepared to present evidence, we cannot work on statements coming from media. That’s the reason why we want affidavits coming from those people who have knowledge, if at all, of any alleged wrongdoing,” he added
The Palace official, on one hand, raises doubts on Czech ambassador’s motive to revive the same extortion charges in the media despite the ongoing investigation ordered by President Aquino.
Lacierda said he is “curious” why Rychtar does not seem to be cooperating with authorities in getting to the bottom of the issue.
“It’s certainly interesting, curious why he has not presented any testimony before NBI and let me say that that’s a qualification. We’d certainly be curious why he’s doing that way and not helping the proper investigative bodies to do their jobs,” he said.
He stressed that questions on whether Rychtar is only “sourgraping” is also valid.
The Palace official recalled that the Czech ambassador did not cooperate with the administrative probe conducted by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) on the alleged extortion.
At that time, MRT General Manager Al Vitangcol went on leave pending the administrative probe but later resumed work when he was cleared of any offense.
“For the lack of participation from Ambassador Rychtar, they had to close that investigation proper. However, there is an NBI investigation that is ongoing, and we certainly encourage Ambassador Rychtar [that]if he has anything to say, put it on record, under oath, and NBI is now in the process of investigating,” Lacierda said.
“The only person who can answer that and without any limitations is the ambassador himself. If he’s willing to say that he has given any statement or testimony to the NBI, then well and good,” he added
The ambassador earlier claimed that some DOTC officials, including Vitangcol, demanded $30 million from Czech company Inekon in exchange for the contract to provide several coaches for the modernization of the MRT 3 line. Rychtar claimed that he met Vitangcol and his men twice—in Makati and Quezon cities—but the MRT head denied it.
The controversy, which dragged the President’s sister Ballsy and her husband Eldon Cruz, was first published by The Manila Times through a three-part series written by the paper’s Chairman Emeritus, Dr. Dante A. Ang.
But in a letter to the President, Rychtar said the Cruz couple was not involved in the extortion attempt.
The ambassador claimed that Inekon was blacklisted by the DOTC, but this was denied by the Palace and Transporation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya.
On July 19, the DOTC said it has initiated an investigation of Rychtar’s allegations. Abaya said he will also forward documents to the Office of the Ombudsman so that it can conduct its own probe.
The MRT 3 is Metro Manila’s third rapid-transit line. It forms part of the Manila Light Rail Transit System line 1 and Manila Light Rail Transit System Line 2. CATHERINE S. VALENTE