A CEBUANA businesswoman filed a large-scale estafa complaint against an Ormoc-based couple at the Department of Justice (DoJ) last Thursday after she was dragged into a messy issue that rocked the Cebu business scene.

Related to the same issue, businesswoman Michelle Go-Chu filed two counts each of cyberlibel and grave slander against an influential property developer and his counsel for tainting her reputation and subjecting her to trial by publicity.

In a press conference on March 6, 2023, Atty. Estrella Elamparo, legal counsel of complainant Go-Chu, said that the estafa case was filed against Lorenzo, Jr. and Jerlyn Joyce Baltonado, owners of L.M. Baltonado Construction, Inc (LMBC), a business contractor based in Ormoc City, which handles mostly government projects.

Atty. Elamparo said that in 2018, LMBC’s construction business started to expand at a fast rate, and to keep up with the increasing demands of their new projects, the Baltonados asked for more loans from Go-Chu.

“My client Michelle Go-Chu would issue the Baltonados checks to help them finance their projects. The agreement was they would pay her back within a short term and this went on without a problem until late 2021 to early 2022 when the Baltonados defaulted on their payments and reassurances,” Atty. Elamparo said.

In her statement, Go-Chu said that she expressly told the Baltonados that she does not allow her checks to be used for third parties. Go-Chu also made sure to write LBMC/ Lorenzo Baltonado as the payee on the checks she issued except in a couple of instances wherein she accommodated a request from the couple to make the payee Kaiser Christopher Tan.

However, Atty. Elamparo added, without Go-Chu’s knowledge and consent, the Baltonados used her good name and the checks she issued as a form of assurance to secure loans from other creditors such as Tan and others, accordingly, through the following scheme: First, the respondents would induce Go-Chu to issue checks with LMBC as the named payee. Second, the Baltonado couple would issue checks to their creditors. Third, the Baltonado couple would endorse the checks Go-Chu issued to their own creditors as a form of guarantee.

Upon learning of this scheme, Atty. Elamparo explained, Go-Chu confronted the Baltonado couple and canceled the checks she had issued, including those that had been endorsed to Tan, and immediately gave a Stop Payment Order (SPO) to the banks. Thus, when Tan attempted to encash the checks endorsed to them by the Baltonado couple, they were not honored by the banks.

Tan and his legal counsel Atty. Francisco Amit then went on a massive media blitz, even putting a PHP 1 million bounty on Go-Chu’s head.

“The case was widely publicized in Cebu City, with Mr. Tan and his lawyer giving press interviews left and right. Worse, a bounty was publicly put on her head,” Atty. Elamparo said.

For her part, Go-Chu said, “To have a bounty on one’s head and be tried publicly through the manipulative use of social media is worse than conviction. While the warrants may be quashed and the cases may be dismissed, I will not be able to live the rest of my life without strict public scrutiny. My reputation is now forever marred and my name is now marked as a criminal.”

Meanwhile, Go-Chu is appealing to the DoJ to take cognizance of the estafa case she filed against the Baltonados. Atty. Elamparo said, “Our client is thus praying that she be afforded her constitutional right and be allowed to initiate the subject criminal cases before the Honorable Office. Ms. Chu is understandably apprehensive that despite the reinvestigation, the local prosecutors will stand by their patently biased and erroneous finding of the probable cause.”

Go-Chu cannot be held guilty of the crime of estafa previously filed by Tan because the two checks were not honored by virtue of the SPO and not because they were insufficiently funded, according to Atty. Elamparo. As of posting, several cases filed by Tan against Go-Chu have been dismissed by the courts for lack of merit. Apart from Lapu-Lapu, cases filed by Tan against Go-Chu in Naga and Danao have also been dismissed. The case filed in Mandaue has also been dismissed, but has a pending motion for reconsideration filed by Tan. (PR / EV Mail March 6-12, 2023 issue)