De Lima denies pressuring Comelec on 2 accused
MANILA, Philippines—Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Friday denied pressuring the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to admit two former election supervisors as state witnesses in the pending poll-sabotage case against former Comelec chair Benjamin Abalos Sr.
“Maybe it’s not right to accuse me of meddling in this issue. Of course, I can meddle, the Department of Justice can meddle because we’re part of the prosecution team. We’re assisting in the prosecution, and therefore, we have a role. It can’t be that we’ll just keep silent. We have to say what we think is the right strategy,” De Lima told reporters.
On Thursday, Abalos’ former lawyer, Brigido Dulay, claimed he “felt” that pressure was being exerted by the DOJ on the Comelec to drop the charges against former provincial election supervisors Lilian Radam of South Cotabato and Yogie Martirizar of North Cotabato.
De Lima, however, said the testimonies of Radam and Martirizar were important because without them, the charges against Abalos would not prosper.
“If the testimonies of Radam and Martirizar on the irregularities are not presented, do you think we can successfully prosecute Chairman Abalos? They’re the ones tagging Chairman Abalos. I don’t know of anyone else who is pointing at him,” she said.
Charges of electoral sabotage were filed against Radam and Martirizar during the term of Abalos. The two were accused of tampering with the results of the 2007 senatorial elections in the Cotabato provinces. The case against Radam was filed at the Pasay City regional trial court during the term of Abalos’ successor, Jose Melo.
The two went into hiding but surfaced last year at the DOJ and pointed to Abalos as the mastermind of the poll-cheating operations. Abalos was thus included in the case.
A separate electoral sabotage case was also lodged by Comelec against Abalos, former Maguindanao provincial election supervisor Lintang Bedol, former Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in connection with the alleged tampering of the results of the 2007 senatorial elections in Maguindanao.
In the Maguindanao case, Bedol claimed Abalos had also instructed him to rig the results, while another witness, Norie Unas, claimed to have overheard Arroyo telling Ampatuan to ensure that the administration senatorial slate would have a clean sweep in the province.
The Cotabato and Maguindano cases are being pursued by a joint Comelec-DOJ prosecution panel.
De Lima said she had already spoken to current Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. and reiterated the DOJ’s recommendation to make Radam and Martirizar state witnesses, which, if the court allows, would mean the withdrawal of the charges of electoral sabotage against them.
“To us it boils down to a choice between the biggest fish who is the former chair Abalos or these two women who, admittedly, participated in the cheating. They’re not denying it. That’s why they are coaccused because they are participants. They were involved in the irregularity,” she said.
She said Brillantes told her he would relay her concerns to other Comelec commissioners. De Lima said she and Brillantes would meet next week.
De Lima said allowing Martirizar and Radam to turn state witness was “judgment call” on the part of the Comelec and DOJ.
“It’s a difficult judgment to make but under the circumstances, under the premises, it is the opinion of the DOJ that we have to go after Chairman Abalos. Are we going to allow him to post bail and worse, be acquitted, in spite of the story of the two (Radam and Martirizar) that is very clear?” she asked.
Two senior Comelec officials, who declined to be identified, separately admitted that the poll body did take a long time deciding on the fate of Martirizar and Radam.
One said the Comelec-DOJ panel tried but failed to convince prospective witnesses, including a former Comelec commissioner, to testify against Abalos and even tag Arroyo as also the mastermind in the Cotabato cheating.
“Without new witnesses, not only Radam and Martirazar but even Bedol and Unas would have to be state witnesses so they can pin their superiors and other higher officials,” he said.
The other said the Comelec-DOJ panel wanted the election-related cases against Abalos and Arroyo to be “strong enough” so that Arroyo’s appointees in the Comelec —who comprise the majority in the poll body—would not dare vote it down.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.