MANILA, Philippines—“Who’s the one using connections now?”
The lawyer defending businessman Cedric Lee and also representing commercial model Deniece Cornejo lashed back on Saturday at the camp of actor-comedian Vhong Navarro, who sought and was immediately granted police protection after a meeting with Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and a police general.
“I thought we’re the one with connections here,” Howard Calleja told the Inquirer. “This is overkill. In my many years of law practice, I’ve never seen such a request granted so fast.”
Calleja, who said he would be defending Lee and Cornejo against the string of complaints lodged by Navarro in the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), noted that Lee’s past dealings as a businessman had been dug up in the media—including his partnerships with some police generals—after the Jan. 22 incident at Cornejo’s condominium in Bonifacio Global City.
“There’s nothing wrong with generals being part of a corporation,” he said, stressing that these “respectable individuals” were already “all retired.”
Among those mentioned in media reports were former Philippine National Police director for logistics, Luizo Ticman, who was one of the 21 persons charged along with former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo with graft in 2012 for the sale of overpriced second-hand helicopters to the PNP.
Another partner was Jose Antonio Salvacion, former administrator of the PNP’s Service Store System, and Abner Cabalquinto, former director of PNP-Region 8 and of PNP records and management. The three men were Lee’s partners in the firm Verticabres Agro-Industrial.
Calleja said the media reports portrayed his client to be “well-connected,” but that this label could apparently apply to the Navarro camp.
The actor’s lawyer Dennis Manalo and talent manager Chito Roño met Friday morning with Roxas and Director General Leonardo Espina to request increased police presence at Navarro’s residence. They claimed that the still-hospitalized actor feared for his family’s safety after receiving death threats on his mobile phone.
Manalo later told reporters that Roxas and Espina, deputy chief for operations of the PNP, granted the request.
Navarro had accused Cornejo, Lee and six others of mauling and forcing him to admit raping the model as part of a scheme setting him up for blackmail. The alleged scheme was carried out when Navarro visited Cornejo at her Forbeswood condominium unit on the night of Jan. 22.
Navarro’s complaints—including one for grave coercion and the nonbailable offense of serious illegal detention—had been approved for filing by the NBI in the Department of Justice.
Cornejo, who maintained in media interviews that she neither had the time nor means to set up or be part of such a scheme, revived her “attempted rape” complaint initially filed at a police station and upgraded it to rape. It was filed last week with the help of Calleja’s law firm in the Taguig prosecutors office.
Calleja said that if there’s anyone who had come under threat because of the Jan. 22 incident, it was Cornejo.
He said the social media had been rife with menacing posts addressed to the model, threatening her with “acid attacks, boiling water” and sexual assault.
Also on Saturday, the security agency servicing Forbeswood condominium, which the police earlier threatened to sue for obstruction of justice for its refusal to cooperate, finally broke its silence.
In a press statement, United Megaforce Security Inc. maintained that it was up to the condominium administration, not the security agency, to release materials sought by investigators.
“The CCTV footage, logbooks and other documents being asked from our security agency by the NBI and the police are all properties of our client condominium. We are not allowed to release these documents and information without the consent of our client,” said the statement signed by the agency’s legal counsel Phydias Emmanuel Ramos.
But the agency maintained it would cooperate with authorities, but “without compromising the privacy and interest of our client condominium.”
Earlier, the Taguig City police have expressed an intention to charge Megaforce and the Forbeswood administration after they failed to turn over security camera footage and other potential pieces of evidence.
Megaforce disputed this, saying “we have already cooperated with the NBI (and) the statements of our guards were already taken by the NBI office last Jan. 27, and additional statements will be given on Feb. 3 as per NBI subpoena.”
“Our guards have reported to Taguig police on three instances for the purpose of submitting themselves to investigation, this was last Jan. 27, 29 and 30,” it added.
Megaforce also belied the supposed lapses committed by its personnel in handling the incident.
“We have in place standard security procedures in handling cases similar to the case of Vhong Navarro. However, a peculiar circumstance in the said incident is that one of the involved parties is the condominium occupant herself (Cornejo), who gave information and instructions to the guards, which the guards believed to be legitimate.” With a report from Jaymee T. Gamil