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Comelec: No plan to let poll fraud suspects off the hook

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

The Commision on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesday denied it was about to drop electoral sabotage charges against two former provincial election supervisors accused of rigging the 2007 elections but the Department of Justice defended the plan.

“It’s not true. I’m sure there’s no resolution on that. We have a special en banc session tomorrow but that’s not even on our agenda. It may just be a rumor,” Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. told reporters in an interview.

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On Tuesday, the son of former Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. claimed that the Comelec was considering dropping charges against former election supervisors Yogi Martirizar of North Cotabato and Lilia Susan Radam of South Cotabato, who were set to be admitted as state witnesses. They argued that this would be irregular because the two were not the “least guilty” in the poll cheating case.

But Brillantes did admit that the joint Department of Justice-Comelec panel prosecuting the case made such a recommendation “long ago.” But he said the commission “has not yet taken that up.”

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“Maybe they (the Abalos camp) only heard it in the lower levels. 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. But as far as Comelec is concerned, this will be our decision. It (the dropping of the case) can’t happen without passing through us,” he added.

On the other hand, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Wednesday confirmed the government planned to utilize the two former election officials as state witnesses against Abalos and justified the possible dropping of charges against them.

The two are co-accused with the former Comelec chairman, former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Maguindanao election supervisor Lintang Bedol and former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. for rigging 2007 poll results in favor of the administration’s senatorial line-up.

“Utilizing certain co-accused as state witnesses presupposes that they have to be discharged as accused. It goes hand in hand. You cannot be used as a state witness if you are not dropped as a co-accused.”

De Lima also took issue with Abalos’ son, Mandaluyong Mayor Benhur Abalos, who had argued that charges against the two could not be dropped because only the “least guilty” among the accused should be considered as state witness. The two, he had argued, were accused of election irregularities during the term of the elder Abalos and a case was later filed in court. The two went into hiding for five years then emerged and pointed to Abalos as supposedly the one who ordered them to cheat.

Countered De Lima: “Maybe they (the Abalos camp) should read again the Rules of Court,” she said. “The Rules of Court did not say that those that can be discharged as state witnesses are only those that are considered least guilty. The exact wordings… is: ‘does not appear to be the most guilty.’”

“You may not be the least guilty, but for as long as you are not the most guilty, you’re still qualified as state witness,” De Lima added.

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She denied the charge of the young Abalos that the government was planning to drop charges against the two as part of the “persecution” of his 80-year-old father.

“I think that’s the common reaction of those facing criminal charges,” De Lima told reporters. “Our mandate is to go after offenders of the law. It would be dereliction of duty if we will go easy on them.”

“Our mind set, especially in this administration, is that we are going after the big fish because if they are convicted, that’s a strong deterrent against corruption,” she added.

She said it was “natural” for government prosecutors to be aggressive and serious in pursuing cases against accused like the former Comelec chairman.

“But that is not persecution at all. We are just… after accountability. They must be made to answer for their offenses,” De Lima stressed.

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TAGS: 2007 senatorial elections, Benhur Abalos, Comelec, DoJ, poll fraud, Sixto Brillantes Jr.
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