A counsel of former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Benjamin Abalos on Thursday accused Justice Secretary Leila de Lima of “pressuring” the election body into excluding two former poll officials as Abalos’ coaccused in the 2007 Mindanao poll fraud case.
Lawyer Brigido Dulay said in an interview that De Lima was meddling with the Comelec’s handling of the electoral sabotage case against Susan Radam and Yogi Martirizar, former election supervisors of South and North Cotabato, respectively.
The two, along with Abalos, former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, former Maguindanao election officer Lintang Bedol and former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., were charged for allegedly manipulating the 2007 poll results in some parts of Mindanao.
Dulay said no less than Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes denied De Lima’s statement that the government was planning to utilize the former Comelec supervisors as state witnesses against Abalos.
Pressure by DOJ
“I feel that there is pressure being exerted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) on the Comelec to discharge Radam and Martirizar as witnesses,” Dulay told reporters.
He noted that Radam and Martirizar’s lawyer, Nena Santos, was a “good friend” of the justice secretary.
“That gives you the clue, isn’t it? They cannot deny that. I’m sure you know the influence of Nena Santos here [in the DOJ],” he added.
Brillantes denied the claim of Abalos’ son, Mandaluyong City Mayor Benhur Abalos, that the Comelec was set to pass a resolution dropping Radam and Martirizar as respondents in the case.
“It’s not true. I’m sure there’s no resolution on that… It may just be a rumor,” the Comelec chair said.
“The joint prosecution panel reports to me, and there’s no such resolution dropping the case against Radam and Martirizar. There’s no formal move [for the adoption of a resolution]. The case against them shall proceed,” he added.
Sought for comment, De Lima denied she was trying to coerce the Comelec into dropping the charges against Radam and Martirizar, saying the poll body “perfectly knows” the importance of their testimonies.
“We’re fully concerned and committed to ensure the successful prosecution of the big fish. Here, it’s former Comelec chair Abalos,” De Lima said in a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “The profered testimonies of these two women are key to the realization of that goal. And the Comelec perfectly knows that.”
The justice secretary said her “perceived closeness” to Santos “has nothing to do” with the DOJ’s position that the pair should be discharged as government witnesses.
“Yes, she (Santos) was a law school classmate, but we’re not really close,” she said.
No counsel for Abalos
Meanwhile, Dulay disclosed that he had decided to withdraw as Abalos’ lawyer in the electoral sabotage case pending before Pasay City Regional Trial Court Branch 112 Judge Jesus Mupas.
However, he said he would continue to represent the former Comelec chair in a similar election case being heard by another Pasay court.
“I voluntarily withdrew as counsel… to spare my client from the possible negative repercussions that may arise due to the animosity Mupas may have against me,” Dulay said, adding that Abalos had accepted his withdrawal from the case.
Mupas ordered Dulay arrested for contempt of court after he claimed in open court that the judge had tried to extort P100 million from Abalos in exchange for the latter’s temporary freedom.
The Court of Appeals reversed Mupas’ decision and lifted the arrest warrant against the lawyer on March 22.