Accounting has begun: Arroyos get subpoenas
“The process of accountability has formally begun,” Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Tuesday told reporters shortly after Department of Justice (DOJ) personnel started serving subpoenas on former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo.
The joint investigating panel of the DOJ and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has formally summoned the Arroyos and close to 40 others to appear at its first hearing on November 3 into the purported fraud in the 2007 midterm elections in Mindanao.
“We’re definitely serious in this undertaking,” De Lima said.
But Arroyo’s colleagues in the House of Representatives have paved the way for her to fly out of the country. The travel authority earlier granted Arroyo, now representing the second district of Pampanga province, has been amended and extended up to December 5 to include three more countries where she intends to seek medical treatment.
Arroyo is afflicted with a bone mineral disorder, according to her doctors.
The travel authority dated September 16, which covered the United States and Germany, was endorsed by Deputy Speaker Artemio Adaza to the foreign secretary on October 19 to also include Singapore, Spain and Italy. It will be valid from October 22 to December 5.
Adaza signed the travel authority because Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. is abroad. But Belmonte earlier said he would grant an extension because he did not consider Arroyo a flight risk.
With Mike, aide, nurse
The travel authority states that Arroyo will be traveling with her spouse, Mike Arroyo; her aide de camp, 1st Lieutenant Jane Glova; and her private nurse, Marian Saharah Casuga.
Manila Representative Amado Bagatsing said there was nothing wrong with extending the travel authority because there was no indication that Arroyo would be a flight risk.
“We should allow her to seek medical treatment out of compassion because of her medical condition,” Bagatsing said
Not required to attend
While he was not included in the electoral sabotage case that the DOJ-Comelec fact-finding team had recommended against his wife and others, Mike Arroyo was summoned because he was listed as a respondent in the separate poll fraud case filed by Senator Aquilino Pimentel III.
Prosecutor General Claro Arellano, head of the five-member DOJ-Comelec investigating panel, said the election suit that the fact-finding team had endorsed was different from Pimentel’s complaint.
Citing Arellano’s explanation, De Lima said the respondents were not required to personally attend the joint investigating committee’s initial hearing.
“Their lawyers may represent them during the initial hearing. After that, the panel will require them to submit their counter-affidavits,” De Lima said.
Also directed to attend the hearing at the DOJ were former Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos, former Justice Secretary Alberto Agra, detained former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., retired Election Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer and former Maguindanao Administrator Norie Unas.
A number of agents of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and former provincial election officers Lintang Bedol, Yogie Martirizar and Lilian Radam were likewise summoned.
It was Unas, Ampatuan’s right-hand man, who directly implicated Arroyo in the purported covert operations to ensure the victory of the 12 Team Unity senatorial candidates in the 2007 elections.
Real medical condition
De Lima said she might ask a government doctor to check on Arroyo’s condition.
“That will be an option. That’s why I am waiting for the recommendation of the Office of the Chief State Counsel,” she said, adding:
“Checking her real medical condition is a sensitive and ticklish issue. What if we do not believe that her condition is serious enough to warrant medical treatment abroad? That is just one side.”
De Lima dismissed Mike Arroyo’s allegation that she had been arbitrarily delaying the approval of his wife’s application for an allow-departure order (ADO) by requiring several documents.
“We require it from everyone who applies for an ADO. The problem is that they did not immediately comply…. I see no reason why anybody else should be deemed exempted,” she said.
According to De Lima, she was only standing by the contents of Department Circular 41 signed by her predecessor, Alberto Agra, a known associate of the Arroyos.
She said that while she was trying to be “liberal” in implementing the order, she was also being cautious to avoid being accused of “giving special treatment or double standard” to Arroyo.
“This is a matter of national interest. I must consider all the factors involved. I have to strike a delicate balance in favor of upholding the rule of law so that the process will not be complicated,” she said.
De Lima said Arroyo’s camp had been issuing “mixed signals or varying reports” about her health.
“That’s why we requested a medical abstract. We just want to be guided because the cited reason for travel is to seek medical treatment,” she said.
She added that she had directed Arroyo’s lawyers to identify the medical institutions abroad where the lawmaker intended to seek medical treatment.
In an e-mailed statement, Mike Arroyo’s lawyer Ferdinand Topacio assailed the DOJ-Comelec investigating panel for including his client among the respondents despite “the finding of sheer lack of evidence against him.”
Topacio also accused the Aquino administration of perverting the independence of the Comelec by using it to pursue cases against the Arroyos.
“The fact that they refused to close the investigation against [my client] … shows clearly where this inquisition is going,” Topacio said.
“They will try to produce evidence against [him] by hook or by crook, even if they have to fabricate the evidence,” he said.
Through the DOJ-Comelec panel, the Palace is virtually using the Comelec as a “puppet” to persecute the Arroyos, Topacio said.
“This is legally impermissible. Whoever conceived of that joint order must have been smoking a joint,” he said.
‘Just send her lawyers’
Arroyo’s colleagues in the House said there was no need for her to personally appear at the DOJ-Comelec preliminary investigation.
Representative Niel Tupas, chairman of the House committee on justice, said the two subpoenas issued by the DOJ to Arroyo on Monday and served at the House Tuesday were a valid exercise of its quasi-judicial function.
The two subpoenas involve the electoral sabotage case and the electoral fraud case filed by Pimentel.
“The House has to allow its members to participate in hearings to defend [themselves]. However, [Arroyo] need not personally appear at the DOJ preliminary investigation as she can just send her lawyers. She cannot be forced to personally appear,” Tupas said in a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Bagatsing said the former President should not be forced to attend the hearing out of compassion and humanitarian consideration considering her medical state.
‘Don’t force her’
“I don’t think she will evade the charges. There is still no case in court but if she wants to go, that’s fine. If not, because of her medical condition, then we should not force her,” he said.
Bagatsing also said he believed that Arroyo was determined to fight her accusers in court.
“She is facing all the cases. These will take long. Look at the Marcoses—until now we still don’t have a conviction,” he said of the family of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
Originally posted at 12:35 pm | Tuesday, October 25, 2011