28 NOVEMBER 2000
The Other Women
by SHEILA S. CORONEL, YVONNE T. CHUA, LUZ RIMBAN and VINIA M. DATINGUINOO

THE TRAIL of houses frequented or occupied by President Joseph Estrada and his mistresses leads to some of his closest friends such as businessmen Dante Tan, Mark Jimenez, Lucio Co and Jaime Dichaves. Other presidential friends such as Lucio Tan and Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco are also said to have made sure that the President’s women would be well provided for, and have even given them or members of their families either businesses or jobs that come with huge incomes.

This has raised serious questions of conflicts of interest, since many of these presidential friends are engaged in various businesses that inevitably need or seek out help from the government. Some of these pals have even found themselves entangled with the law, and many have noted the seeming inability of authorities to deal with them because of their perceived ties with the President.

For instance, a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation of Dante Tan’s alleged insider manipulation of shares of his company, BW Resources, fizzled out almost as quickly as it began in June 1999.

Curiously enough, it was also during this time that Tan acquired a 660-square-meter lot on Mindoro St. in Manila Marina Bay Subdivision in Parañaque. A two-story beige-colored house with a swimming pool now sits on the property, whose records show that it was bought from Tan just last March by Eugenia J. Muñoz for P18.5 million. The residence’s main occupant, however, was former Philippine Airlines attendant Rowena Gomeri Lopez, who is said to be among the President’s mistresses.

The President has denied having a relationship with Lopez, who was introduced to him last year by his friend, taipan Lucio Tan, during a trip to the United States. Since then, however, Lopez has been promoted to PAL consultant and has moved out of the house she and her ex-husband Felipe Neri Lopez shared with their three children in Pag-asa Subdivision in Bacoor, Cavite. Sources say she was also given a brand new BMW car, a Rolex watch, and cash, among other gifts.

According to sources close to Lopez, the erstwhile flight attendant is now four months pregnant with the President’s child. Relatives say she left the country in mid-November for the United States, where she is supposed to stay until after she gives birth.

The supposed owner of the Marina Bay property, Muñoz, is the corporate secretary of Professional Managers Inc. (PMI), a Makati-based holding firm. She was unavailable for an interview there as she was supposedly on health leave till January 2001. But her fellow employees said she lives in Sucat, Parañaque and they were not aware she had property in Marina Bay.

Another Parañaque property that the President is said to frequent is a split-level 615-square-meter penthouse at one of four high-rise condominium buildings called Golden Bay Towers near the Marina Bay Subdivision. Unit 30-D is on the northwest corner of the Cleveland Towers condominium. The penthouse, which has a commanding view of Manila Bay, is worth P50 million.

Various sources, including Ilocos Sur Governor Luis ‘Chavit’ Singson, have said the Cleveland Towers penthouse is where President Estrada frequently played mahjongg with his friends, among them Tan and plastics king William Gatchalian. His presence is difficult to miss, residents there said, because the President arrives with a whole retinue of escorts and friends. Lopez herself used to be an occasional visitor to the penthouse. Tower residents, however, said Estrada hasn’t been there in the last three or four months.

The listed owner of the penthouse is Aries Holdings Inc., a real estate company based in Makati. The company’s registration papers show that among its incorporators are family members of presidential crony Mark Jimenez, who was born Mario Batacan Crespo.

Aries Holdings was formed by Ma. Aleli P. Crespo, Jimenez’s first wife, and his children Einez P. Crespo and Myla Crespo-Villanueva, who is listed as the firm’s treasurer. Also an incorporator of Aries Holdings is Edgardo B. Francisco, Jimenez’s long-time lawyer. The company was registered in December 1998, six months after Estrada became president.

The United States government considers Jimenez a fugitive from justice, having been found guilty of making illegal contributions to the re-election campaign of President Bill Clinton. He is also wanted for tax evasion and wire fraud and is being sought for questioning by U.S. authorities for information on drug dealers in Latin America, where Jimenez also does business.

Jimenez was once hailed by President Estrada as a “corporate genius,” and even became a presidential adviser on Latin American affairs until the U.S. government sought his extradition. Jimenez fled to the Philippines shortly before the 1998 elections.

Documents show that Aries Holdings acquired the Cleveland Towers penthouse in July 1999, around the time that Jimenez bought the Manila Times newspaper from the family of taipan John Gokongwei. Crespo-Villanueva herself played an active role in the takeover of Manila Times.

Other interviews and records indicate that several other presidential friends have been buying real estate properties that they have not ended up using. Co and Dichaves, for example, were instrumental in providing a home for another mistress of President Estrada, Joy Melendrez, in an upscale village in Quezon City. Co, the owner of duty-free shops, has been investigated for smuggling while Dichaves is best known for being Estrada’s “wine butler” and champion campaign fund raiser.

Melendrez, with whom the President has a young son, is the daughter of a former Pasig policeman. Before the 1998 elections, she moved from Alabang to 73 Swallow Drive, Greenmeadows, Quezon City. Brokers who are familiar with the purchase of that property say P38 million was paid to acquire the land and house. Of this, P23 million was split between Co and Dichaves, said brokers familiar with the transaction.

The P15-million down payment was made by Bunny German, wife of Estrada supporter Aurelio “Reli” German, these brokers added. Before she was exposed for her involvement in a notorious “pyramid scam” in 1998, German was also acting as an informal real estate broker for Estrada, these brokers said.

The Swallow Drive property is neither in Melendrez’s nor the president’s name. Land records show that the 829-square-meter lot and the two-story house are still in the names of their previous owners, spouses Rodrigo and Teresita Enriquez. But that is where Melendrez and her son live, and it is also where the President was occasionally seen late at night by residents.

Dichaves, whose loyalty to the President is well known, has helped in the acquisition of other properties. He is said to have bought a log cabin in Tagaytay Highlands for the President, and is now being made to appear as the real owner of the shares held by Yulo in St. Peter Holdings.

Yulo, a drinking buddy of the President, is the chair and majority owner of St. Peter, which holds the title to the infamous “Boracay” property in New Manila.

But in an affidavit submitted recently to the National Bureau of Investigation, Yulo said that he is simply Dichaves’s nominee in St. Peter. This supposed admission would spare Yulo from having to explain where he got the wherewithal to purchase the Boracay property. Although he belongs to a wealthy landowning clan, Yulo has virtually been cut off from his father’s will and has no share in the family-owned Terelay Investment and Development Corp.

In the affidavit executed on Nov. 14, Yulo said his shareholdings in St. Peter are “beneficially owned by Mr. Jaime Dichavez (sic) who had provided the funds and arrangements for its organization.” He also said he facilitated the sale from the Madrigals to Dichaves, from which he was to earn substantial returns.

Yulo, who was named chairman of the Presidential Commission on Mass Housing shortly after the sale, said Dichaves gave 2,496 shares at St. Peter Holdings in late 1999.

He said he later endorsed the certificate for these shares in blank back to Dichaves “to facilitate its conveyance or transfer to whomsoever Mr. Dichavez (sic) chooses.” He said he also signed a deed of assignment and a declaration of trust of the shares.

Yulo confirmed that presidential mistress Laarni Enriquez stayed at Boracay from August to October this year, “while a residence in which she was supposed to move to was still unavailable.”

Dichaves, in fact, is a business partner of Enriquez in her three firms, Star J Management, Star J Bingo and Star J Games. But he is also a director of Belle Corp., a publicly listed property and gaming company that owns the upscale, members-only Tagaytay Highlands resort.

Belle insiders say that in 1998, Dichaves bought the biggest and highest-priced Canadian cedar log cabin at 1 Woodlands Drive in 1998 for Estrada.

“Dichaves wanted to buy the house to give it to Estrada,” said a company official. “When it was presented to the board, there was significant discussion in the pricing because it was a bigger unit and the pre-cut log cabin kits were not appropriate.”

The insider rebutted a press statement issued by Belle Corp. that the firm had not sold the unit linked to the President, but had reserved it for use of the incumbent and future president, and was planning to make available another house for the vice president. “There was no such plan,” he said.

He added that the log cabin at 1 Woodlands Drive or Unit No. 128 was sold for P75 million to Mercury Ventures, a company incorporated by A. Bayani Tan and his colleagues at the Tan and Venturanza Law Offices. The law firm’s clients include Belle Corp. and companies of several Belle stockholders including Dichaves, Gregorio Tiu, Wilson Sy and Willy Ocier, a cousin of Dichaves.

The official said Belle Corp. reported the sale of the unit in its 1998 financial report. This was also reflected in Belle Corp.’s sales report for March 20 to Dec. 17, 1998.

He said, however, the title to the cabin—as well as other cabins—remained in the name of Belle Corp. only because the firm had not completed the process of segregating the mother title and issuing individual titles to all the owners.

In Belle Corp.’s site development plan, the owner of Unit No. 128 or 1 Woodlands Drive is listed as “J. Estrada,” short for Joseph Estrada, the source said. The plan was drawn up based on the identities of the owners of the cabins, he said.

The Belle official said the President himself supervised the construction, and had the kitchen, veranda and a room on the ground floor that eventually became the card room redone. Like his other houses, the President wanted a bigger kitchen because he likes to cook, said the insider. He also said the President ordered the construction of the cabin rushed so that Belle personnel had to work round-the-clock.

Meanwhile, other Presidential friends have been plying Estrada’s women and their gaggle of relatives with lucrative positions or business ventures. Lopez’s father, Hernan Gomeri, for example, now holds a position at the Bureau of Customs’ Warehousing Assessment and Monitoring Office. A former overseas contract worker in Saudi Arabia, he was jobless for some time until late last year, when he was appointed special assistant to the Customs commissioner.

Since early this year, Gomeri and his wife, Teresa, have also been operating a huge San Miguel Beer distributorship in Las Piñas City. With a warehouse in Pulanglupa, the distributorship covers Kabihasnan in Parañaque up to Zapote in Las Piñas. The warehouse is operated by a firm called TNT Marketing, which stands for Teresa and Toto, Hernan Gomeri’s nickname.

But Melendrez is doing even better than Lopez and her parents. Although she has had little work experience before meeting Estrada, Melendrez has been quietly making inroads in the securities industry in the last several months.

She chairs Topwin Securities, a broker and dealer in securities based in Makati. Incorporated in late 1999, Topwin is mostly foreign-owned, with 99.98 percent of its shares owned by Topwin Ventures Ltd., reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a British firm. Her election as chairman was reported in a report filed with the SEC in June 2000.

Newspaper reports said Topwin is now a member of a “favored circle” of securities dealers that corner the juiciest transactions, especially with government financial institutions whose securities acquisitions are larger than average. The Social Security System, for example, has been coursing its trading through Topwin Securities, among just a few others.

Formed in September 1999, Topwin’s incorporators include Trade Undersecretary Tomas Apacible, an Estrada political ally who was appointed to the Land Bank board by the President, and UP Professor Mila A. Reforma, a colleague of presidential brother-in-law Raul de Guzman. Reforma is a United Coconut Planters Bank director and presidential assistant on local government; she is also an officer of the Erap Muslim Youth Foundation, which received P200 million in jueteng collections.

Apart from mistresses, others who have found themselves recent owners of real property include Teresita and Joel Eduardo ‘Jojo’ Ejercito, the product of the President’s liaison with Peachy Osorio, a movie director’s daughter whom Estrada met before his marriage to the First Lady.

Teresita now owns six townhouses and an adjoining residence worth P11.3 million on Gomezville St., Mandaluyong, which was transferred to her by JELP Realty, a company owned by the First Family. Records show that the property was transferred in September 1999 through a deed of sale to El Mundo Equities Corp., a shelf company formed for her by the de Borja law office.

Teresita’s brother, meanwhile, recently moved in to a spanking new and sprawling residence on 175 Wilson corner Asiñas Sts. in San Juan, in property that is under the name of Star J Management, in which the chief stockholder is presidential mistress Laarni Enriquez.

In addition, Estrada’s mother, Mary Ejercito, is the proud owner of a new home at 82 Kennedy St., North Greenhills, which was purchased and renovated not long after her son became President. Mrs Ejercito shares that home, which has a grandiose living room with a grand piano and a state-of-the-art kitchen, with her daughter Pilarica.

Another daughter, Patrocinia, who is married to Raul de Guzman, will move in soon to a big two-story house on Madison St., also in North Greenhills. Sources close to the family say that the new house is being constructed for the couple by the President, who had earlier asked them to move out of their home on Polk St. so the Estrada family home can be expanded to include their property.