Extortion of woman highlights Manila woes

Kyodo

Despite a campaign by Philippine President Benigno Aquino III against corruption, the problem still lingers in the bureaucracy as shown by the extortion late last year of a Japanese woman by personnel of the country’s elite investigating agency, the National Bureau of Investigation.

“It exposed the deep-rooted nature of corruption in government. It reflects the huge work still needed to combat corruption and strengthen the rule of law,” Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said Monday.

Last week, a government fact-finding body made public its report on the involvement of NBI agents in the Oct. 29 illegal apprehension and detention of an undocumented Japanese national.

The three-member panel from the Department of Justice identified the victim as Noriyo Ohara, 33, of Shiga Prefecture, who arrived in the Philippines in June 2009 but later illegally assumed a Filipino identity.

Quoting information from a Japanese Embassy official, the investigating panel said Ohara flew into the country via Guam to evade her father’s creditors and the Japanese government after getting a “huge inheritance” following her father’s death.

With the help of a Filipino friend, Ohara was able to purchase property. She later settled with a Filipino family in Pangasinan Province in Luzon until her illegal apprehension, the panel said.

After a two-week probe in December, the investigating panel discovered that the NBI personnel received 6 million pesos (about around ¥10.8 million) from the family that helped Ohara, supposedly to settle her problem.

According to the family, the NBI agents initially wanted 100 million pesos but later lowered their demand to 15 million pesos.

The panel noted the agents tried to cover up the crime by falsifying documents to give the appearance that Ohara was rescued from mistreatment by the family.

The panel said the operation was illegal from the start as the agents were from a unit tasked solely with ensuring NBI internal security. Also, there was no case operation plan authorizing their action.

The panel underscored how key officers of the agency, particularly Director Magtanggol Gatdula, showed a “lack of concern” for the case, which was brought to his attention by a media figure who had been approached by the Filipino family for help.

Gatdula, who was accused by one of the tainted agents to have asked for 500,000 pesos out of the scam, has denied masterminding or having prior knowledge of the crime.

Ohara was in the custody of the NBI for more than a month and wasn’t turned over to the Japanese Embassy until Dec. 5.

Her captors were keeping her at a time when the agency marked its 75th anniversary on Nov. 23, with a grand celebration attended by no less than Aquino and carrying the theme, “NBI: Your Partner Towards the Righteous Path.”

The theme echoes Aquino’s 2010 campaign slogan, “If No One Is Corrupt, No One Will Be Poor,” which is now at the heart of his administration’s policy following allegations of massive corruption by his predecessor.

“Your mandate finds increasing relevance now that our administration is intensifying its campaign to building our people’s trust in government: by fighting graft and corruption, establishing the rule of law, and restoring integrity to our institutions,” Aquino told the NBI during the celebration.

Former Sen. Ernesto Maceda wrote in his newspaper column Saturday that the Ohara case “validates our earlier columns that corruption is still a fact of life under the Aquino administration,” citing other alleged corruption cases involving customs, immigration and national police.

The investigating panel noted that “the case of Ohara highlights the declining values and distorted sense of duty among some agents and officials of the NBI.” It recommended “retraining with focus on values formation and professionalism.”

But Maceda praised the prompt action by Aquino to dismiss Gatdula, calling it “a step in the right direction.”

“The sacking of Gen. Gatdula as NBI chief and the filing of cases against him and the kidnappers manifest the political will of the current administration,” reform advocate Casiple said.

He said the quick action by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to order a probe into the incident and the subsequent actions taken are “basically within the context of ‘the righteous path’ policy, rather than exposing a flaw in the Aquino government’s anticorruption reform pledge.”

Gatdula, a lawyer and retired police general, was appointed by Aquino after he became president in 2010.