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MANILA, Philippines - "He is still physically present but we've already lost him. He could no longer talk to us, he no longer knows us. We miss his mind, it's the best part of him."
Eduardo Salonga is referring to his father Jovito R. Salonga, a World War II hero, bar topnotcher, a leading opposition leader during Martial Law and undoubtedly one of the country's best politicians who authored laws against graft and corruption, and led fellow senators in the historic September 1991 rejection of the U.S. Bases Treaty with the Philippines.
In a room at their residence is the 91-year-old Salonga, frail, dozing off, without speech, unmindful of what's happening around him. Lying in bed with a feeding tube attached to his stomach, Salonga is being taken cared of 24/7 by his family and three nurses.
Jovito's Alzheimer's disease and dementia worsened since his wife Lydia passed away in April 2010, according to Eduardo.
"He got depressed and bade us goodbye after our mother died. He nonetheless stayed but only physically," Eduardo told InterAksyon.com on Tuesday, May 8, at the senator's residence in Valle Verde, Pasig City.
Decline in cognitive abilities
In a medical report dated October 5, 2011, clinical neuropsychologist Lourdes K. Ledesma said that Salonga's cognitive abilities had started to significantly decline.
"Given his acknowledged brilliance and outstanding achievements as a lawyer and senator of the land, the results of this consult reveal a significant decline in cognitive abilities indicative of a dementing condition in its moderate stage," said Ledesma.
"However, Dementia of the Alzheimer's Type is also a consideration on the age of onset and gradual [progression of the disease during the early stage," she added.
The same medical report also stated that Salonga's memory, whether recent or remote "are already compromised."
"For instance, Sen. Salonga can no longer state his date of birth," the report noted.
On Monday, May 7, Jovito's family, friends, and supporters were suprised by the attempt of authorities from the Eastern Police District to arrest the bedridden Salonga over estafa charges filed against the former senator by physician Restituto Buenviaje in connection with the failed construction of high-end residential townhouses that were supposed to be known as Tagaytay Brentwood villas.
Prior to the attempt to arrest Salonga, a copy of Ledesma's October 5, 2011 neuropsychological evaluation on the former senator was submitted to the Office of the Pasig City Prosecutor so it could be advised of Salonga's inability to attend to investigations and hearings in connection with the case filed against him by Buenviaje.
Nevertheless, Pasig Regional Trial Court Judge Danilo Buemio, issued the arrest warrant against Salonga. Included in the warrant are the former senator's son Esteban "Steve" Salonga and developer Pedro Najal Banez Jr. of Jebson Holdings Corp. The respondents were accused of committing estafa for their alleged failure to deliver one of the 10 townhouses to Buenviaje.
Based on court records, Buenviaje bought Unit 5 of the townhouse project for P10.5 million, which was partly paid by swapping a house and lot in Garden Villas Subdivision in Tagaytay owned by the physician, valued at P5.2 million and Buenviaje's P2-million golf shares in Tagaytay Highlands.
On February 8, 1999, Buenviaje completed the payment but Jebson reneged on its obligation to deliver the unit to Buenviaje.
The Buenviaje case was similar to the earlier cases filed before the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) and the Office of the President (OP) also by Buenviaje and by Beliz Realty and Dev't Corporation and spouses George and Valentina Co. against Salonga and his wife Lydia, and developer Jebson Holdings Corp.and its executive vice president Ferdinand Juat Banez, son of Pedro Banez.
Cleared by HLURB, OP
A review of the said cases showed that the Salongas were cleared of guilt or blame in both the decisions issued by the HLURB and the OP.
Based on the Salongas' May 29, 1997 Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) with Jebson, the Salongas were only required to contribute their 2,935 square-meter landholding for the construction of the 10 townhouses in Tagaytay and subdivide the land into individual titles.
For its part, Jebson was required under the JVA to: (1) construct the 10 townhouses at its own expenses, including the cost of procuring the building permit, development permit, license to sell and other government requirements (2) prepare detailed plans and secure the necessary building permit with the building official and development permit, license to sell and certificate of registration with the HLURB (3) Hold Salongas free from any liability to any third party as regards non-compliance with the HLURB's rules and regulations (4) put up the bond to guarantee the completion of the project and (5) pay the balance of the mortgage loan on the subject property with the bank.
In the September 16, 2004 decision of the HLURB, only Jebson and Ferdinand Banez were ordered to settle their obligations with the complainants.
Like Buenviaje, Belize and the Cos also bought townhouse units from Jebson. However, despite full payment, Jebson failed to deliver the units to the complainants and execute the deed of sale and deliver the title to the buyers within the period provided by law.
Similarly in the November 30, 2005 OP decision signed by then deputy executive secretary for legal affairs Manuel B. Gaite, it was stated that "it is the developer alone who must be held responsible for non-compliance."
"Hence, we agree with the office a quo in holding that there are no factual bases to hold the Salonga's solidarily liable with the developer," the OP decision noted.
"In fact, under the JVA, the developer holds the owners free from any liability from any third party as regards the non-compliance with HLURB rules and regulations," the OP added.
Moreover, the OP ordered Jebson to pay the mortage loan obligations of the Salongas worth P9.52 million as agreed under the JVA and Jebson's personal loan of P700,000.
In an earlier interview with InterAksyon.com, Salonga's son Steve dismissed as a "nuisance suit" the current case filed by Buenviaje against him and his father.
Steve said the dispute was not between the former Senate president and Buenviaje but between the physician and Jebson.
Salonga's son surmised that because Buenviaje could not go after Jebson, he decided to revive the case to humiliate Jovito and force him to pay in behalf of the developer.
"Ang gusto niya siguro, i-blackmail na lang kami, na mapahiya para magbayad na lang kami [Maybe he wanted to blackmail and humiliate us so we would be forced to pay him]," said Steve.
Help from supporters
On Tuesday, Vice President Jejomar Binay said he was "saddened" by the attempt to arrest the former senator.
"There should have been consideration given by the police not only to his advanced age and frail condition, but to his stature as one of the leading lights of the struggle for democracy and a pillar of governance," said Binay, who offered legal assistance that might be needed by Salonga.
Also, last Monday, Quezon Rep. Lorenzo "Erin" Tanada III, secretary general of the Liberal Party, whose chairman emeritus is Salonga, questioned the motives behind the attempt to arrest the former senator.
“We will look into and study the case because we believe that the former senate president is not completely at fault on the case. On his stature, he will not commit estafa," Tanada said. - with reports from Karl John C. Reyes, InterAksyon.com