Comelec official voices fears of Arroyo release this week

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08:28 AM November 21st, 2011

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November 21st, 2011 08:28 AM

Manila— Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo might still escape prison if the Supreme Court ruled that the joint panel created to investigate the alleged poll fraud in 2007 was unconstitutional, an official of the Commission on Elections.

Election Commissioner Rene Sarmiento was vocal about his worries that might override what appeared to be the government’s successful move to prevent Arroyo from leaving the country.

In an interview with reporters last Friday, Sarmiento saw the possibility of Arroyo being freed should the high tribunal rule in favor of the latter’s petition questioning the constitutionality of the Comelec-Department of Justice (DOJ) joint panel.

“If the Supreme Court would say it is illegal or unconstitutional, that might be the effect… it might nullify [her arrest],” said Sarmiento, who was among the five of the seven members of the Comelec en banc who voted for the filing of electoral sabotage against Arroyo on Friday.

Two election commissioners did not take part in the voting since they claimed that they did not receive a copy of the joint resolution earlier.

But in the same breath, Sarmiento said he was confident about the legality of the creation of the joint panel, which was established based on Republic Act 9369.

Under the law, the Comelec is allowed to form a joint panel for such purposes.

Sarmiento said the law was the body’s basis in forming the fact-finding team. “So we can say that we acted with legal support.”

But should the Supreme Court decide against their favor, the Comelec’s recourse would conduct and resolve the investigation on its own, said Sarmiento.

“What will happen is that the Comelec will investigate on its own…without the DOJ. But we won’t go back to square one because there are already affidavits submitted,” he added.

Supreme Court spokesman and court administrator Jose Midas Marquez said the separate petitions filed by Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, and former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chair Benjamin Abalos continue to be pending with the high tribunal.

Both pleadings questioned the legality of the joint investigation panel of the Comelec and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

In the event that the magistrates granted the petitions, Marquez said the filing of the electoral sabotage case against Arroyo could be considered “void ab initio (from the start).”

“If that panel is adjudged as unconstitutional, then of course all the proceedings conducted by that panel would have to be nullified,” Marquez said, adding”

“But again, we have to wait for the decision of the Court. I don’t want to preempt what the Court will do next.”

He said Mike Arroyo and Abalos’ petitions had been consolidated and were expected to be tackled during the regular en banc session on Tuesday.

Ferdinand Topacio, Mike Arroyo’s lawyer, decried the DOJ-Comelec panel as “a kangaroo court designed for persecuting the former first gentleman and his ailing wife.”

Topacio said the creation of the panel should be considered null and void since both Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. once worked as lawyers of Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, one of the complainants in the poll fraud case. Inquirer

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