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Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo lawyer says poll case has only one witness

A lawyer of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo contends that the allegation that she ordered the rigging of the 2007 senatorial elections relies on one witness’ uncorroborated account, which should be enough ground for the dismissal of the electoral sabotage case against her.

In an omnibus motion submitted to Pasay City Regional Trial Court (TRC) Branch 112, lawyer Benjamin Santos said the statements of witness Norie Unas, a former administrator of the province of Maguindanao, should be taken with a grain of salt because these had not been substantiated by other sources.

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“No independent and competent evidence forming part of the records of this case corroborates on its material points [Unas’] claim that the [election] results in Maguindanao were altered, much more with the participation of [Arroyo],” the motion signed by Santos partly read.

Lawyers of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) are to square off with the defense today at the Pasay City court. Among the points at issue are Unas’ testimony, as well as the preliminary investigation of Arroyo’s complicity in the purported vote-rigging, which, the defense said, had yet to be completed because the joint panel of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Comelec had yet to hear her side.

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The joint panel’s legality is also being questioned by the Arroyo camp in the Supreme Court, which yesterday heard oral arguments on petitions questioning the circular that allows the DOJ to issue watch-list and hold-departure orders.

In his motion, Santos said Arroyo’s legal team wanted her accuser, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, to submit to the panel evidence to support his claim of election cheating in Maguindanao.

But the panel “did not issue any order addressing Senator Pimentel’s failure to furnish the accused with all his supporting documents,” Santos said.

At the four-hour oral arguments before the high court, the lawyer of Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, said it would be better to risk allowing a criminal to evade prosecution than curtail his right to travel while the case against him is undergoing preliminary investigation.

This is because the alternative is a police state, Ferdinand Topacio said.

Topacio made his claim when asked by Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno if he was saying that the DOJ should lift all the watch-list and hold-departure orders it had issued even if this would make preliminary investigations difficult because those who had received summonses could just leave the country.

“Of course, I concede that invalidating the circular may result in some criminals evading prosecution. … But what will be the alternative? A police state. Is that what we want, your honor?” he said.

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Sereno pointed out that wealthy people could easily fly to other countries, such as Hong Kong. “We just have to watch the 6 o’clock news to know that’s being done,” she said, and wondered if there was already a police state because watch-list orders had been issued on 6,000 persons, and hold-departure orders on 500 persons.

Topacio said that there was “creeping authoritarianism,” and that he was prepared to say it might have begun during Arroyo’s term, when DOJ Circular No. 41 was issued.

He said that “if it was wrong then, it is wrong now, it would be wrong in the future unless this court remedies the situation.”

In answer to Sereno’s comment, Topacio said his client Mike Arroyo “has nothing to do with the circular.”

Sereno also said that given Topacio’s arguments, the tradition of using subpoena powers to restrict the right to travel could not be used.

Topacio replied that those decisions were made during “less enlightened times.” To which Sereno said: “Your words are indicting the [Arroyo] administration.”

Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz, representing the executive branch, told the high court that the right to travel was not absolute and must yield to the state’s police power.  With a report from Marlon Ramos

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TAGS: 2007 senatorial elections, former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, lawyer Benjamin Santos, Pasay City Regional Trial Court (TRC) Branch 112, witness Norie Unas
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