Land Transportation Chief Virginia Torres was finally shown the door, a reliable source told The Manila Times over the weekend. She was asked on Monday by PNoy to file her letter of resignation.
Torres, who is currently being investigated by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) for violation of a circular prohibiting government officials and employees from playing in the casino, was called on Monday afternoon to Malacañang for a meeting with President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
Before her meeting with the President, Torres, according to our source, already suspected why PNoy would want to see her. Someone from the Palace must have tipped her that she would be asked to resign. Before the President could say anything, she tried to explain her side on various issues besetting her. The idea was to convince the President that she deserved another chance at the LTO.
The President was reportedly unmoved. At the end of Torres’ narrative, PNoy said that she should submit her resignation citing as reasons “various threats to her life.”
A presidential relative tried to intercede for Torres. He talked to the President to reconsider his decision, but PNoy wouldn’t change his mind, the Times learned. Torres had to go.
As of this writing, Torres has yet to submit her letter of resignation to the Palace.
Several factors have conspired that made the President fire the LTO head. Chief among them was the casino incident. She must have thought she was out of the woods when Pagcor came to her defense saying that the place where Torres played the slot machine could hardly be classified as a casino. She thought, wrongly, that the people, more particularly those around the President, would take the Pagcor definition of what constitutes a casino hook, line and sinker. She was wrong. It only made her look ridiculous.
Also, her denial that she played the slot machines was one for the books. She said that she was lured to the machines by the lights and that she only tried it briefly while waiting for her restaurant bill to come. Never mind if she was photographed actually playing with both feet comfortably resting on the slot machines. She left immediately after settling her dues. She was lying of course, many people thought.
But the final blow did not come from her detractors in the Palace, or the DILG or DOTC, both departments known to be Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas’ “kingdom.” It was from her old backer, the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), no less. What must have sealed her fate was the report that she was expelled by the religious organization for engaging in gambling, an absolute no-no for INC members.
After her expulsion, she had lost her last remaining defender following President Aquino’s crumbling support for his friend. PNoy and Torres go back a long way. He, as Tarlac’s First District Representative and she, as LTO director for the same province. They would go on a target shooting practice together.
Torres was among the first appointees of PNoy when he assumed the Presidency in June 2010. PNoy genuinely liked Torres. No amount of intrigues or black propaganda campaign would diminish his support for the LTO chief. Even at the height of the Stradcom controversy when she was seen on TV entering the LTO IT-provider offices, the President stood by his friend. (For the record, I supported Torres then and I still do particularly on the P4-billion LTO payable to Stradcom which is currently held in escrow. I also support the Sumbila group in its legal battle with the Quiambao faction.)
It was no secret that when Roxas took the helm of the DOTC after the resignation of Secretary Ping de Jesus, the President gave Roxas a free hand to pick his people. With the exception of Torres, PNoy reportedly asked the new DOTC Secretary to consider retaining her as LTO chief. From the beginning, Roxas was uncomfortable working with Torres.
Roxas brought along with him lawyers from the Carpio, Villaraza, Cruz law firm to DOTC. They, as well as others not from CVC, were reportedly recommendees of Atty. Nonong Cruz, a senior partner at CVC. Some of these CVC lawyers were with Cruz when he was Presidential Legal Counsel and DND Secretary during Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidency. Save for one lawyer, who was brought by Roxas himself to DILG as an undersecretary, the individuals originally recommended by Cruz were reportedly all placed in strategic and sensitive DOTC offices.
Roxas sees Torres as a spoiler. Rightly so. The LTO chief had direct access to the President. And so, Roxas kept his peace. He wouldn’t risk earning the ire of the President so he played along and bided his time. Unknown to Roxas, Torres sincerely tried to work as harmoniously, peacefully and productively with Roxas and his successor, Sec. Joseph Abaya at the DOTC. She wouldn’t want to be seen as the “odd man out.” She wouldn’t “rock the boat” that could breach her relationship with Roxas and Abaya, according to the Times’ source.
Even at the height of the P1-billion highly questionable bank withdrawal from an escrowed account by Stradcom, Torres kept her mouth shut and refused to do anything that would go against the position taken by the Secretary. She did not intervene in the recommendation of Abaya that the P1-billion of the P4-billion be unlocked and withdrawn in favor of Stradcom’s Quiambao faction allegedly to pay various trade obligations, including some P300 million it owes the BIR despite the fact that it was Torres who brought the interpleader suit before the QC Regional Trial Court which resulted in the freezing of the funds.
The moment the P1 billion was withdrawn from Land Bank, Quiambao turned around and defied Abaya and the President’s instructions to pay Stradcom’s trade obligations. The BIR and others were left holding the proverbial empty bag. The BIR has written Stradcom to release the money but Quiambao is defiant. The wonder of it all is why Abaya gave this favor to Stradcom and Quiambao. And, even after the President and his people questioned and condemned his action, why has Abaya been absolutely silent about it. What gives?
With Torres finally out of the LTO, the last remaining cobweb for Stradcom/Quiambao at the DOTC has been cleared. Will the interpleader case filed by Torres before the QC Trial Court be dismissed or withdrawn? Recall that it was Torres who brought the suit to determine who the real stockholders of Stradcom are. What happens next to the P3 billion held in escrow? Will it be unfrozen and released in favor of the Quiambao group? Abangan.