By Buena Rilyne C. Bernal

Sol-Gen claims new evidence in Ongpin insider trading case

Posted on September 02, 2016

STATE LAWYERS raised in open court on Thursday supposed evidence showing businessman Roberto V. Ongpin was obligated to disclose information on shares sold in relation to his insider trading case as early as a month before his official disclosure.

Lawyers from the Office of the Solicitor-General (OSG) representing corporate regulator Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said they are set to submit to the appellate court an affidavit by businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan belying the timeline claimed by Mr. Ongpin when the former purchased shares from the latter in December 2009.

They reiterated Mr. Ongpin’s obligation to disclose information or abstain from buying shares from the open market at that time, given his knowledge that Mr. Pangilinan was set to buy from him at P21 per share.

The SEC in a July 8 decision upheld findings of its Enforcement and Investor Protection Department (EIPD) finding Mr. Ongpin liable for 174 counts of insider trading. The case stems from his purchased shares in Philex Mining Corp. (Philex), which he later sold to Mr. Pangilinan who represented Hong Kong-based First Pacific Company Ltd., while allegedly in possession of non-public material information in 2009.

The information pertained to the negotiations between Messrs. Ongpin and Pangilinan which culminated in a purchase agreement on Dec. 2, 2009.

OSG lawyers alleged that the deal between the two was closed as early as November 2009, while Mr. Ongpin only publicly disclosed the information Dec. 3 that same year.

But veteran Lawyer Estelito P. Mendoza, counsel for Mr. Ongpin, said the deal without its finality “is internal,” explaining that it is not business practice to disclose negotiations.

He opposed the presentation of new proof, saying the OSG is not allowed to prosecute his client “on the grounds other than what is stated in the SEC decision.”

Mr. Mendoza said the OSG “implicitly abandoned what is in the SEC decision.”

“There is no flexibility anymore,” he said, given that the case at hand is simply on appeal.

Mr. Mendoza slammed anew the SEC’s 5-year delay in pursuing its case against Mr. Ongpin, saying there should have been an immediate probe if the transaction was truly anomalous.

Mr. Mendoza also took issue with alleged ad hominem attacks by state lawyers against Mr. Ongpin in open court, as the counsels even mentioned probes into Mr. Ongpin’s business dealings not related to the case.

Mr. Ongpin recently resigned from gaming technology provider PhilWeb after President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s comments attacking the “oligarchy.” Singling out Mr. Ongpin, Mr. Duterte said businessmen allied with past presidents unfairly benefitted from these questionable ties.

Mr. Ongpin had challenged the SEC decision before the CA, with the CA Thirteenth Division on Aug. 1 issuing a 60-day temporary restraining order (TRO) against the P174-million fine and the ban on state company posts imposed by SEC on Mr. Ongpin.

The oral arguments on the merits of Mr. Ongpin’s case against SEC’s alleged abuse of discretion entered its second day Thursday.

CA Associate Justice Marie Christine A. Jacob replaced Associate Justice Normandie B. Pizarro on the bench, after the latter inhibited from the case for being related to “one of the shareholders who allegedly sold shares of stocks to First Pacific.”

The Thirteenth Division, even with Mr. Pizarro on the bench, earlier granted the TRO in favor of Mr. Ongpin.

The justices handling the case include CA Associate Justices Jacob, Padilla, and Samuel H. Gaerlan.

Philex is among the three Philippine subsidiaries of First Pacific, the other two being Metro Pacific Investments Corp. and Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT). Hastings Holdings, Inc. -- a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc. -- maintains an interest in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls.