Abalos posts bail; DOJ surprisedBy Jaymee T. Gamil, Jocelyn R. Uy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said it was not surprised by a court decision to release on bail former Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos. The Pasay City judge cited weak evidence and Abalos’ advanced age.
But the Department of Justice (DOJ) said the ruling came much too quickly, as state prosecutors filed their comment on Abalos’ bail petition only late Thursday.
Judge Jesus Mupas of the 112th branch of the Pasay City Regional Trial Court allowed Abalos, who is accused of electoral sabotage, to go temporarily free on P1-million bail.
Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. maintained, however, that the Comelec had a strong case against Abalos.
“This is the same with the case of Arroyo,” Brillantes said, referring to the electoral sabotage case of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whom the court allowed bail earlier.
“This is just a bail hearing [and] we are still going on the merits of the case,” Brillantes said.
But Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said she was surprised at how quick the Pasay court resolved Abalos’ bail petition.
De Lima said the DOJ prosecutors on the Comelec prosecution team told her that they filed their comment on Abalos’ petition late Thursday, but Mupas handed down his decision on Friday.
The decision came down at 1 p.m. Friday and De Lima said she found it “premature.”
De Lima said she believed Mupas had made up his mind even before the comments could be filed. She noted that the judge cited the prosecution’s inability to establish Abalos’ guilt clearly and his advanced age and poor health.
Order to cheat
“What happened to the testimony of [former North Cotabato Election Supervisor Yogie] Martirizar, which we think is very strong since she really pointed to Abalos as a major player in the manipulation of election results in [North] Cotabato?” De Lima asked.
In her testimony, Martirizar alleged that Abalos gave her an ornate wooden box containing P50,000 in December 2006 as a prelude to the manipulation of the results of the 2007 senatorial elections.
Witness points at Abalos
She also claimed that five months after, Abalos informed election supervisors of the plan to rig the vote in favor of the Arroyo administration’s candidates.
On Election Day, she said, she was forced to follow the “12-0 instructions”—a sweep of the elections—in favor of Arroyo’s candidates or her life would be endangered.
She said she was disappointed that the judge did not appreciate Martirizar’s testimony.
“We’re lucky there’s someone who’s pointing [at Abalos] based on personal knowledge,” she said.
De Lima said she believed the charges against Abalos were strong, and that she told the DOJ prosecutors to strengthen the case during the trial.
“It doesn’t mean that just because bail was granted, there’s no more hope,” she said. “We remain hopeful that in the main trial we will still be able to get a conviction.”
Not lack of substance
Brillantes said Judge Mupas allowed Abalos temporary liberty only on the ground of “weak evidence” presented during the bail hearing but did not say that the case lacked substance.
“[Judge Mupas] may have said there was weak evidence but he did not say that we have a weak case against Abalos,” Brillantes said. “We haven’t presented all our witnesses yet,” he added.
At the trial proper, prosecutors will present witnesses, mostly election officers and board of canvassers, to pin down Abalos, Brillantes said.
One of those witnesses is Martirizar, whom the court discharged from the case last month as an accused and allowed her to turn state witness against Abalos.
Brillantes said the court’s decision strongly indicated that the Comelec had a fighting chance to make Abalos liable for the electoral fraud in North and South Cotabato provinces in 2007.
“Why would the court allow Martirizar to be discharged from the list of accused and be a state witness if it believes her testimony is weak?” Brillantes asked.
Evidence not clear
In his decision to grant Abalos’ bail petition, Judge Mupas cited the prosecution’s failure to establish clearly the guilt of Abalos.
“Though … evidence of guilt is present, it does not follow that the same is strong enough by law to deny his admission to bail,” Mupas said.
The judge said the court also considered the former Comelec chief’s “advanced age and present health condition.”
Abalos is 76 years old and is in poor health.
Mupas said Abalos’ continued detention would be “injurious to his health” and could even “endanger his life.”
The court, Mupas said, found it “necessary to render justice with compassion.”
Abalos received a copy of the order for his release at around 3 p.m., an hour after his lawyer Roberto Bermejo paid the P1-million bail in the court. The bail was P500,000 for each of two counts of electoral sabotage brought against Abalos.
Branch 112 sheriff Rodelio Buenviaje said Abalos was “very happy and excited” when he received the order for his release.
Abalos arrived home in Mandaluyong City at around 5:30 p.m. and was greeted with cheers from about 200 supporters.
“I really did not feel that I had been in jail for eight months,” Abalos said to his supporters. “Every day, I had a visitor. The people were coming in nonstop.”
Speaking in Filipino, Abalos thanked his supporters and promised them, “We will never part again.”
The Comelec filed electoral-sabotage charges against Abalos, former President Arroyo, former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. and former Maguindanao provincial election supervisor Lintang Bedol last year for allegedly conspiring to manipulate the results of the 2007 senatorial elections in North Cotabato and South Cotabato in favor of Arroyo’s candidates. With reports from Jerome Aning and Nathaniel R. Melican
First posted 11:56 pm | Friday, August 17th, 2012