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Atienza says ‘cash gifts’ are normal fare in Arroyo Palace

October 16, 2007 11:34am
Environment Secretary Jose "Lito" Atienza Jr on Tuesday admitted that money changing hands is a normal practice in Malacañang, radio dzBB reported.

A former Manila mayor and close political lieutenant of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Atienza made this pronouncement on the heels of Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio's confirmation that he received a P500,000-cash "gift" from the Palace last week.

The radio report quoted Atienza as saying that he himself experienced receiving money from Malacañang when he was still Manila mayor. He said money is usually given either in cash or checks.

Atienza said he understood cash gifts from Malacañang as an aid for local projects, adding it was "normal" for the Palace to help local government units.

However, Atienza refused to comment further when asked if this was what happened to Panlilio last week.

Atienza even tried to divert reporters' attention to President Arroyo's Charter change efforts, the report said.

When further pressed for comment on the cash gifts, Atienza turned his back on reporters and proceeded to the Cabinet meeting.

Speak up

Also on Tuesday morning, Bulacan Gov. Joselito "Jonjon" Mendoza joined Panlilio in asking Malacañang to explain the handing out of "cash gifts" worth P500,000.

Mendoza said the cash he received has already been distributed to village chiefs in Bulacan, but said the money can be still be retrieved.

"Panlilio and I are on the same boat. So we'll handle this similarly," Mendoza said in Filipino on dzBB radio.

"Last night I slept well because I turned over the money to the local village chiefs," he added.

Mendoza said he also wants to know why a "mystery woman" chose him to give the money to Panlilio instead of giving it directly to his Pampanga counterpart.

While Panlilio ran for governor as an independent, Mendoza is allied with President Arroyo's Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi).

Cagayan de Oro Representative Rolando Uy and Baguio Representative Mauricio Domogan had also earlier admitted being recipients of cash from Malacañang.

Negros Oriental Gov. Emilio Macias III on Tuesday also admitting receiving money from Malacañang, although the amount was P200,000.

Pangisanan Rep. Rachel Arenas has been quoted by newspaper reports as saying that she has also received money, but refused to disclose the amount.

Covering the tracks?

As this developed, Anakpawis Rep. Crispin Beltran on Tuesday said the camp of President Arroyo has become "less cautious and more careless" in its efforts to keep the loyalty of its allies.

In a statement, Beltran said the alleged spate of bribery attempts that are being traced to Malacañang and its operatives are further damaging the administration's already cracked reputation.

"Politicians and executives are now more vocal in exposing the anomalies and the corruption that go hand-in-hand with dealings with Malacañang. It's easy to see how Malacañang is now more desperate to keep its allies closer, but in doing so it has become more careless," Beltran said.

Beltran had previously accused Francis Ver, erstwhile Kampi deputy secretary general, of allegedly dangling a P2-million bribe in exchange for the lawmaker's support for an alleged "weak" impeachment bid vs Mrs Arroyo.

"Every day there are more questions that Malacañang has to answer, and these questions keep mounting. President Arroyo has yet to speak on these issues, but her silence is a defensive one," Beltran said, adding that the administration must "come clean" on these issues.

'Mystery woman'

According to Mendoza, the Palace "mystery woman" handed out the bags shortly after their meeting in Malacañang on Thursday last week and asked the Bulacan governor to give one of the bags to Panlilio.

Mendoza recalled the woman speaking in a casual manner: "Gov, this is for you. Please give the other to Governor Panlilio."

He added that, "I don't know her. If I did, I would have named her now."

Mendoza claimed that he did not look at the contents of the bag.

"I asked Panlilio if he would accept the money. He said he saw nothing wrong with it, so I accepted it too," he said in a separate interview on dzRH radio.

Paper-less trail?

However, Mendoza refused to speculate on whether or not other governors accepted money during the meeting.

"I saw nothing, I saw no other bags," he said.

He admitted that he did not think twice where the money came from because there was no accompanying document.

All he thought at the time, he claimed, was that the money would help finance many community projects.

Alone, not alone

Mendoza said he and Panlilio were "alone" at the time in the Palace Heroes' Hall. He said he had an audience with President Arroyo that day.

"We are both first-time governors, and both from Central Luzon," he said.

Panlilio, however, said Monday his staff member received the money from Mendoza.

"As we were walking towards the gate, Gov. Jonjon (Mendoza) handed to my chief of staff a paper bag ... After we entered our vehicle, my chief of staff opened the bag and was surprised to find the money inside it," Panlilio said.

Denial

In a text message, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye denied giving out money to the local government executives during the meeting, and cited statements of local government associations that they did not receive money during the meeting.

"We take the word of the League of Provinces of the Philippines, the League of Cities of the Philippines, and the League of Municipalities of the Philippines that none of the local chief executives who attended the oathtaking requested by ULAP received government funds," Bunye said.

"Regarding officials saying they received funds, we cannot comment since we have no first-hand knowledge of such allegations," Bunye added.

Over the weekend, Bunye said "there was nothing wrong with receiving a donation," even as he dismissed allegations that the Palace bribed congressmen and other government officials. Bunye also said giving a cash gift to Panlilio was a “non-issue," because even the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin saw nothing wrong in accepting donations. - GMANews.TV