A journalist-lawyer and a former Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Bohol Chapter President was declaredÂ “persona non grata”Â or “unwelcome person” by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) of Bohol for failing to prove the veracity of an incredible tale which he himself spun about a mind boggling $81 million or roughly P3.5 billion account amassed by a top provincial official and deposited in a single account in a local bank.
The Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) of Bohol in a resolution passed during the regular session last Friday declared Atty. Salvador Diputado “persona non grata”.
Senior Board Member Vencenzo Arcamo who sponsored the resolution said the declaration against Diputado is the provincial lawmakers’ “expression of sentiments” arising from what he did in spreading the unfounded report of an alleged millions of dollar account of a Bohol provincial official. However, he said the declaration will not curtail any rights of Dipurtado as a citizen.
The provincial government of Bohol would wish the public to know that the lawyer-journalist who is from Negros Oriental is “not welcome” to be in the province.
Being a mediaman, Diputado should have been the bearer of truth as what is expected from the Fourth Estate, the lawmakers said. But, on the US million dollar fiasco, he destroyed the reputation of a mass media practitioner.
Persona non grata is a latin phrase meaning “unwelcome person” or “a person not appreciated.”
Declaration of such is usually associated with diplomatic protocols where a state prohibits a diplomat from entering the country as a diplomat, or censuring a diplomat who is a resident in a country for Â conduct unbecoming of the status of a diplomat.
The eight SP members present during Friday’s session were unanimous in their observations condemning Diputado for his “malicious journalistic caprices” that “surely induce the public to hate and invite unnecessary suspicion of wrong doing and irregularity . .”
Diputado is the editor of theÂ Bohol TimesÂ and the main anchorperson ofÂ “Cuentas Claras”, aÂ program on DYTR.
Citing the language of the Supreme Court in an unnamed case, the SP report stressed that the press wield enormous power that can turn the tide of public opinion for or against someone.
There is a corollary duty of the press to publish responsibly and should be an effective check on government power and abuses.
The SP was united in adopting the persona non grata declaration based on a 10-page committee report no. 2016-05 by the SP committee of the whole chaired by Vice Gov. Dionisio Balite, father-in-law of Diputrado.
The vice governor as well as his son, Board Member Victor Balite, inhibited themselves during the session, immediately prior the approval of the declaration.
The SP believed that Diputado fabricated the $81 million deposit which went viral over social media “to destroy the honor and reputation of public officials” and “should not be brushed aside but must be sanctioned and condemned in the strongest word available”.
The story was further spiced up by insinuations of the involvement of an unnamed priest who was fingered as the “whistleblower” while his sister was tagged as the source of the damaging information.
Fr. Patricio Galon, parish priest ofÂ Nuestra Senora De La Paz y Buenviaje (Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage) in Songculan, Dauis, who testified during the SP meeting on June 22, 2016 belied the allegations triggered by Diputado’s facebook post and column in Superbalita that he was the source of the leak.
Galon also told the SP that her sister has long passed away.
NO LEGAL BASIS
But Diputado, in an interview with Fred Araneta over DYRD “Action Line” lastÂ on Friday laughed off the persona non grata declaration of the SP wondering what legal basis did the Board Members based their resolution.
Diputado challenged Board Member (BM) Vencenzo Arcamo to cite a provision in the Constitution and the Local Government Code giving the SP the power to declare a person persona non grata.
Diputado even lectured Arcamo and Damalerio about the nuances of media reporting drawing the line between news and “blind items”.
But Arcamo toldÂ The ChronicleÂ that the resolution of the SP was their collective expression of their sentiments against the columns and discussions of Diputado in the media.
Arcamo cited several instances were local legislative bodies declared certain persons persona non grata and acknowledged the authority of social clubs and organizations to declare persons as such.
During the July 20, 2016 hearing, the committee was stumped by Diputado’s explanations that “the identity of the account holder is part of the puzzle” and cautioned to wait for the validation otherwise we will indulge in endless tsismis (rumor).
When asked by Arcamo if any document supported his articles or broadcast, Diputado in his usual argumentative manner answered “If I had the document then I would have publish it. Since there was none then there was nothing to publish”.
During a public hearing last July 20, BM Abeleon Damalerio acting as the presiding officer in lieu of Vice Governor and SP Presiding Officer Dionisio Balite explained to Diputado that since the purpose of the meeting was to ferret out the truth on the dollar deposit, the question of a quorum will be dispensed.
The Bohol Bankers Association (BBA) “categorically confirmed the non-existence of such amount in their respective banks”.
The bank officials explained that the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) is very strict and is closely monitoring huge accounts which must be reported immediately to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) under pain of dismissal and filing of criminal charges against bank employees and officials.
Deo Butawan, branch manager of the Bank of the Philippine Island (BPI) and BBA spokespersonÂ also told the SP that “it is unlikely and close to impossibility” that an individual or a corporate entity “could have an $81M or closely P3.8B account with a certain bank in Bohol”.
Butawan in his testimony “in all dollar account passbooks, the dollar sign is not reflected thereon but marked FCD (Foreign Currency Deposit) while some use codes for identification”.
“It is hard for an ordinary depositor who is not familiar with banking procedures and transactions if such account is in dollars or whatever”, Butawan testified.
SINS OFÂ THE PAST
The committee also narrated what Arcamo called Diputado’s “sins of the past” and his “personal advocacy to malign, insult and destroy the image and goodwill of the present capitol officials.”
The report mentioned the unfounded allegations of Diputado about the presence of a media practitioner in the house of suspected drug lord, the late Sherwin Bautista, as shown in a close circuit television (CCTV) cameras before a raid was conducted by the police.
Diputado even claimed that the media man requested “authorities to obliterate his face in the CCTV in possession of the CIDG”.
The allegations of Diputado was debunked by the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG). The Diputado story triggered controversy in the local media circle after he sound definite of a CCTV footage, when there was actually none.
The SP report taken as the basis for the declaration as persona non grata also included the “malicious and irresponsible publication on radio” by Diputado linking Dauis Association of Barangay Captains (ABC) Josever Sumaylo to illegal drugs prompting a resolution from the Provincial Federation of Barangay Captains condemning Diputado for his reckless accusations.
The SP also observed Diputado’s penchant to “damage not only the present Capitol officials but also other persons and institutions citing his attempt to connect the $81 million to the death of Loboc Parish Priest Mar Biliran as written in his column.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) disputed Diputado’s allegation when it reported that the “new discovered leads in the death of Fr. Biliran shows that it has nothing to do with the incredible $81 million bank story.”
The SP also recalled an article in the Bohol Times by Diputado that detailed the content of an email sent to the NBI about the $81 milliion deposit linking funds coming from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) without any supporting documentary proof.
The article led to the observation that the earlier published stories in the Bohol Times and the email sent to the NBI came from one and the same source.
The United States Embassy in Manila was shocked of the Diputado report thus a denial was immediately issued by embassy officials.
Even Atty Victor Dela Serna, a strident critic of the present provincial administration, in an interview over DYRD “Inyong Alagad”Â brushed off the $81 million deposit as mere hearsay with “no documents, no bankbook even a photocopy.
Also, the SP learned of the filing of a complaint by Diputado before President Duterte accusing officials of the present administration of “cornering juicy contracts” in the construction of the P7.2 billion New Bohol Airport Project.
According to the SP report, Diputado did not even verify the fact that the provincial government of Bohol has nothing to do with the project since it is between the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) and the National Government.
The participation of the provincial government was only in the land acquisition for the airport project that was mostly done during the past administrations.
The SP report concluded that “maliciously false imputation of corruption and dishonesty against a public official leaves a stigmatizing mark not only on the person but also the office to which he belongs and in the ultimate analysis public service also suffers.Â (Chito M. Visarra)