Abalos detained, seeks house arrest
In a dramatic twist of fate, former Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Benjamin Abalos was detained Tuesday in a police station in Parañaque City, accused of rigging the 2007 polls to favor the senatorial candidates of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The 77-year-old Abalos, who is a former judge as well as a former mayor, was photographed and fingerprinted by police after he was placed under arrest on two counts of electoral sabotage.
Arroyo is facing the same charges and is detained at Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City.
Judge Jesus Mupas of Pasay City Regional Trial Court Branch 112 ordered the arrest of Abalos after finding probable cause against him and dismissing a defense motion questioning the findings of a joint panel of the Department of Justice and the Comelec.
After learning of the warrant of arrest against him, Abalos voluntarily went to the court accompanied by his son, Mandaluyong City Mayor Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr., and submitted himself to its custody. Other members of his family followed suit.
Abalos went to the judge’s sala to present himself but had to wait for half an hour for the judge, who had gone on a lunch break, to return.
As soon as Mupas arrived, Abalos’ lawyer, Brigido Dulay, filed two urgent motions—one that he be held under house arrest and the other asking the court to fix bail. Both petitions cited Abalos’ old age and his not being a flight risk.
The court set a hearing of the motions on Friday.
Looking sometimes pensive and sometimes grim, Abalos emerged from the courthouse to speak to about 500 supporters who had gathered outside the building. Some in the crowd cried.
“I will be back,” Abalos said as the crowd cheered.
He was then driven to the Southern Police District (SPD) headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, where he was held in a small second floor room of the anticrime special operations task group.
“It’s a simple room and its only furniture is a bed with cushion,” a court source said, adding that Abalos would be staying alone in the room.
It was an ironic twist of fate for the former head of a powerful poll body who resigned his post as Comelec chairman in October 2007 after serving as its head since 2002. His resignation was triggered by accusations that he had received bribes for allegedly brokering the aborted National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with China.
Abalos also served as a municipal judge in Pasig City from 1969 to 1979. In 1988, he was elected mayor of Mandaluyong City, winning reelections in 1992 and 1995. Before assuming the Comelec post, he was appointed head of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) in 2001.
In May, the Ombudsman filed graft charges against him in the Sandiganbayan antigraft court for his alleged role in the NBN deal. He pleaded not guilty.
In his “very urgent” motion for house arrest, Dulay claimed that Abalos “is weak and… further exposure to stressful condition will surely aggravate his fragile state.”
The lawyer added: “He may not outlive the dubious interval, often years long, between his arrest and final adjudication.”
“Short of chaining him to the bed, Abalos is willing to take on the strictest conditions that can be legally imposed by this Honorable Court on him,” Dulay further said.
To support his contention that Abalos is not a flight risk, Dulay said: “The Pasay City Hall of Justice, teeming with media, will be the last place a man with intentions of flight would even consider going to in anticipation of an arrest warrant.”
He stressed that a man of Abalos’ age would prefer to be at home with his family and that it would be difficult for him to be held anywhere else.
As for his motion for bail, Dulay said the electoral sabotage charge against his client was a “very highly politicized case” and that, at 77, Abalos would not be a flight risk.
The lawyer also assailed the credibility of the allegations made by Abalos’ coaccused, North Cotabato Election Supervisor Yogie Martirizar, who claimed that the former Comelec chairman orchestrated electoral fraud in 2007.
Members of the media were kept away from the courtroom as Abalos and his lawyer insisted on a hearing to resolve his motion for house arrest within the day.
The court said that should the Comelec get copies of the motions and respond within the day, a hearing would be set later in the day.
But no hearing was held Tuesday. It was instead set on Friday.
Apart from having his fingerprints and mug shots taken, Abalos was also examined by Dr. Noel Lo of Pasay City General Hospital to ascertain his health.
Dulay said his client would not be asking for special treatment but only for “humane” treatment.
Dulay also said: “He will face the charges against him. He gave his word and he is a man of his word.”
Asked about the arrest warrant, Dulay said: “We are no longer surprised. It is, after all, part of the process, although it is a little fast.”
Abalos, along with Martirizar and military intelligence officer Captain Peter Reyes, was charged with two counts of electoral sabotage stemming from alleged poll fraud in North and South Cotabato province during the 2007 senatorial elections.
He allegedly ordered Comelec officials to ensure a 12-0 sweep in favor of Arroyo’s senatorial candidates. With a report from AP