MANILA, Philippines—Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on Thursday, she was “extremely disappointed” by the decision of the Commission on Elections to pursue the electoral sabotage against the former election chief of South Cotabato for allegedly rigging the results of the 2007 senatorial elections.
“I’m extremely disappointed with Comelec that they did not allow the discharge of former provincial elections supervisor Lilian Radam. They knew all along that the reason why we charged former Comelec chair Benjamin Abalos Sr. with electoral sabotage is precisely because of the the proffered testimonies for Radam and [her North Cotabato counterpart] Yogie Martirizar,” De Lima told reporters in a press conference.
De Lima said the joint panel would be filing a motion for reconsideration to persuade the Comelec majority to change their minds.
“Otherwise, it’s gone. There’s no more case against Chairman Abalos. We just wasted time here. We struggled with this case, especially the DOJ, in the fact finding and the preliminary investigation. Then it will just be dismissed like that.” she added.
She said she has also asked the WPP director to draft a formal communication to the Comelec stating “very firmly” the DOJ’s position on the matter.
The Secretary said the DOJ would not waver from its position, adding, “We will see what will happen. Of course, our move will be questioned. Maybe Comelec will react; the camp of Abalos will also react; this issue might even reach the Supreme Court because we will make a stand on this,” she said.
Even if he were allowed to post bail, Abalos would not likely get out of jail temporarily as he’s been charged with the non-bailable electoral sabotage case, also at the Pasay RTC, in connection with alleged cheating that took place in Maguindanao during the 2007 elections.
Radam and Martirizar’s lawyer Nena Santos also slammed the four Comelec commissioners, all appointees of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who voted to reject Radam’s bid to become a state witness.
“The GMA (Arroyo’s initials) appointees are very obvious. They would like Abalos to post bail. [It’s] very funny because the Comelec en banc earlier indicted Abalos but they now want him to [post] bail by controlling the presentation of the prosecution witnesses,” lawyer Nena Santos said in a statement sent to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Both De Lima and Santos said they were sure that Abalos would be granted bail by the Pasay City regional court, which has been hearing the case, because of the absence of Radam’s testimony.
Santos said the four Comelec commissioners—Rene Sarmiento, Lucenito Tagle, Elias Yusoph and Armando Velasco—committed “an impeachable act” through betrayal of public trust by preventing Radam, who has already been admitted to the government’s Witness Protection Program (WPP), from testifying
“We will file a motion for reconsideration for the purposes of filing an impeachment case later on grounds of betrayal of public trust in issuing a resolution, which is contrary to Republic Act 6981 or the WPP law,” Santos said.
The lawyer said obstructing the presentation of a WPP-covered witness was a violation of the law.
The four commissioners could also be impeached for culpable violation of the law by allegedly violating Radam’s right against self-incrimination.
“After Radam and Martirizar executed affidavits admitting their participation in the crime, which was used as basis for their and Abalos’ indictment, Comelec en banc turned their backs on their witnesses [who would remain as defendants based on their testimonies, which they gave under WPP,” Santos said.
Like Santos, De Lima also blamed the Comelec majority, saying, “The members of the joint team agreed that Radam and Martirizar should be discharged. Those who did not agree where those commissioners. They should not be interfering because they have already authorized the team to handle the prosecution. They should have allowed the team to make the decision.”
Radam and Martirizar earlier pointed at Abalos as the one who told them to doctor the results of the senatorial polls. They have asked to become state witnesses in return for the dropping of the charges against them.
De Lima said the Comelec majority “seem to forget the very substance and the value of the testimony” of Radam and Martirizar.
“It was very clear that they pointed Chairman Abalos. Their claim is that they were just doing it on the instruction of Abalos and that they were threatened. We would not have filed the charges against Abalos if we did not use Radam and Martirizar’s testimonies in our preliminary investigation,” De Lima said.
“Now that it’s the opportune time to use the testimonies of these two people, why all of a sudden they don’t like them any more?” the justice secretary said.
Abalos had petitioned the RTC to be allowed to post bail. The Department of Justice-Comelec joint prosecution panel wanted to present Radam’s testimony in the bail hearing but they were not able to do so while she remained one of the accused.
Despite the Comelec vote, the prosecutors from DOJ filed a motion to discharge Radam and turn her into a state witness on Wednesday, which was the last day given by the court for the prosecution to present witnesses in Abalos’ bail hearing.
The Secretary said the DOJ prosecutors filed the motion to discharge Radam any way as “implementers” of the WPP law, adding, “We felt the imperative need to uphold the law and insist on the applicability of that law.”
She said this was “very clear” under Section 12 of the law, which stated, “The certification of admission into the [WPP] by the [DOJ] shall be given full faith and credit by the provincial or city prosecutor who is required not to include the Witness in the criminal complaint or information and if included therein, to petition the court for his discharge in order that he can utilized as a State Witness. The Court shall order the discharge and exclusion of the accused from the information.”
The section further states, “Admission into the program shall entitle such state witness to immunity from criminal prosecution for the offense or offenses in which his testimony will be given or used.”
“We think, and it it is our humble but firm submission, that this provision applies even if the primary prosecutor in electoral sabotage cases is Comelec because this is the law with respect to WPP. Our mandate as implementers of the WPP will be affected if our determination in the admission of witnesses is not complied with,” De Lima said.
Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr., who dissented from the majority opinion, said in an interview on Wednesday, that he saw the need for Radam and Martirizar’s admission to the WPP required their discharge from the case.
However, Brillantes said, the majority faulted the DOJ for not first seeking Comelec approval for Radam and Martirizar’s admission to the WPP and that because of this, Comelec was not bound by Section 12.