Piqued President Aquino vows to hit fast those who steal the people’s money
Piqued by comments that the government had moved too fast in taking his predecessor to court, President Benigno Aquino III pledged on Wednesday to work thrice as fast in going after those who had “aggressively” stolen the people’s money.
He again spoke on the executive branch’s efforts to hold former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo accountable for her alleged past crimes although he did not mention her name throughout his speech at the 75th anniversary celebration of the National Bureau of Investigation at its headquarters in Manila.
In his speech, the President said the news of the past week—an apparent reference to the controversy resulting from Arroyo’s foiled attempt to leave the country and the electoral sabotage case filed against her—had “become a challenge to our democratic system.”
“It’s forcing us to look [in] the mirror, analyze concepts that have shaped our past, and look into the principles that would guide our future. It’s also forcing us to look into what is happening in society, on what is right and what is just, on when power is justly used and when it’s abused, on when the law is being violated in favor of the few, and when the voice and pulse of Juan de la Cruz prevail, especially when at stake is his life and his rights,” Mr. Aquino said in Filipino.
He said it was in times like this that the country could “show its readiness to achieve order, pursue truth and hold accountable the bad elements of society”—qualities that, he said, were exemplified by the NBI.
While the President’s speech centered on his appreciation for the work done by the NBI in going after criminals, in the end it again touched on the subject of Arroyo.
He observed that in the past few days, many criticisms and kuwentong barbero (barber shop talk) had come his way: “They said we were too aggressive in going after the corrupt and those who had committed offenses. My answer to them: Just as they were aggressive in stealing the people’s money, we will work thrice as fast in making them accountable now.”
Mr. Aquino said he was prepared to do this because “I am on the side of reason and truth, and more importantly, the people,” who, he pointed out, gave him the chance to serve the country.
And that is why “I owe them a lot, no one else,” he said. “Therefore, whether you are a garbage collector or a former President, a driver or a justice, if you take advantage of the people, you have to be pursued and made accountable for your offense.”
He then called on the people to unite and help their fellow Filipinos.
Elaborating on Mr. Aquino’s pledge, his spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the executive branch was “in the process of gathering evidence” against certain people and that it would “make sure that the cases, once they are ripe for filing, will be filed.”
Asked if Malacañang had a back-up plan should the Supreme Court rule against the findings of the joint panel of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Commission on Elections (Comelec) that recommended charges against Arroyo, Lacierda said: “We’re confident that the Supreme Court will rule on [its] constitutionality…”
Speaking with reporters, Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. said the joint panel would soon conduct a new inquiry into purported fraud in the 2004 presidential election.
“We still have the 2004 election fraud issue. Our priority will now shift to 2004. We have already begun gathering evidence. Our fact-finding team is very skillful because NBI agents are in it,” he said.
Brillantes said he expected “explosive testimony” that would lead to the probable indictment of “a lot of people,” including former officials of the Arroyo administration as well as retired military officers.
He said former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano would be “in the starring role” in the new investigation, adding: “We’ll see if we can get him to testify. We’ll listen to what he has to say.”
Arroyo’s purported involvement in the 2004 election fraud was exposed in 2005 with the emergence of the so-called “Hello Garci” tapes, which contained supposed tapped phone conversations between Garcillano and the then President about rigging the poll results.
Arroyo escaped impeachment for the alleged election anomalies several times, while the Comelec inquiry into the matter was stalled.
Brillantes said the DOJ-Comelec panel would also make use of the Mayuga Report, which detailed the involvement of military officials in the 2004 election fraud.
Because the nonbailable offense of electoral sabotage did not yet exist in 2004 and because the election offenses committed at that time have been prescribed, the Comelec may file only an election case against Arroyo, whose immunity from suit ended last year.
But the Comelec is leaving it to the DOJ to file related charges such as bribery, falsification of public documents, graft and other administrative charges (for incumbent public officials) that have longer prescriptive periods, said Brillantes, who was the election lawyer of Arroyo’s main rival in the 2004 election, the late Fernando Poe Jr.
Brillantes said the poll body was preparing for the filing of the next electoral sabotage case—against former Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos Sr. and other persons in relation to alleged fraud in North and South Cotabato provinces.
He said, however, that he did not think the suit would be filed in court this week.
Brillantes said the Comelec would continue its investigation because the Supreme Court did not issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the joint panel, which the Arroyo camp had claimed to be invalid.
“We didn’t really expect a TRO. The case [filed by the Arroyo camp] is so weak. They knew all along that we can exercise our powers separately or jointly to investigate election offenses. The Comelec and DOJ have concurrent powers to investigate election offenses. Even before, the Comelec deputized the DOJ to investigate. I’m not clear about their reasons. [Arroyo lawyer] Ferdinand Topacio is just using dramatics, just in case he convinces [the court]. That is allowed,” he said.
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