Quezon City court defers arraignment of Morato
A Quezon City court has deferred the arraignment of former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) Chairman Manuel Morato pending the resolution of his motion to dismiss the multiple counts of electioneering filed against him by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
In Tuesday morning’s proceedings, Quezon City branch 87 Judge Aurora Hernandez-Calledo gave the lawyers of the Comelec 10 days to comment on Morato’s claim that the belated charges filed against him were intended to “punish his exercise of free speech, expression, or of the press.”
The Comelec charged the former official of the PCSO of violating Republic Act No. 9006 or the Fair Elections Act and Batas Pambansa Blg. 881 or the Omnibus Election Code when he used several episodes of the TV show “Dial M,” aired over government TV channel IBC-13, to campaign for then presidential contender Gilbert Teodoro in the 2010 elections.
After the Comelec submits its comment, Morato will be given five days to answer their points before the motion will be deemed submitted for resolution.
In his 20-page motion, Morato claimed the charges of partisan political activities “are nothing but pure harassment and political persecution, and also curtail his freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press.”
These rights, Morato argued, are “available even to members of the civil service whose public positions should not inhibit them from the exercise of their rights and duties as citizens.”
Specifically, the four counts of election-related offenses that Morato allegedly violated include: The use of public funds, equipment, facilities owned or controlled by the government for any election campaign or for any partisan political activity; two counts of prohibited forms of election propaganda; and publication or broadcasting through mass media of political advertisement or propaganda prior to the effectivity of the Comelec rules and regulations.
In his motion, Morato described the complaint filed by lawyer Bonifacio Alentajan as “hearsay,” claiming that the case was pursued “on the basis of what he (Alentajan) allegedly heard in the July 18, 2011, Senate blue ribbon committee hearing.” He pointed out that the complainant never presented authenticated copies of the broadcasts to the poll body during the preliminary investigation.
Morato further said the Comelec did not immediately call his attention to any rule violation during the campaign period but did so as a belated move, which is proscribed by the Constitution.
Morato also argued that as host of the TV program, he could not avoid participating in a public forum portion, adding: “It is impossible to engage in public discourse without taking sides every now and then.”