MANILA, January 4, 2003 (STAR)  By Delon Porcalla  - "I’m still alive."

Resigned Justice Secretary Hernando Perez packed up his things yesterday at the Department of Justice and bade DOJ workers one final goodbye, but gave assurances that he would just be around.

"If you need my opinions, personal opinions, you can call me anytime," Perez told reporters in his last press conference at the DOJ in Ermita, Manila.

"There was life before DOJ, so I don’t see any reason why there should be no life after DOJ," he stressed.

At the same time, he insisted that his resignation did not mean victory for his chief accuser, Manila Rep. Mark Jimenez who was extradited last Dec. 26 to stand trial in the United States on a string of criminal cases leveled against him by American authorities.

"Call it what you want, but it is not a victory for MJ (Jimenez)," Perez said.

He said his voluntary resignation was "a sign of courage because I’m brave enough to face my accuser. I want to clear my name as a private citizen."

He hinted that he was the real victor since Jimenez is currently jailed in the US.

However, he could not conceal his bitterness over Jimenez’s accusations.

"He was able to cast doubts on my integrity and that is most unfair. The media blitz against me is unprecedented," he said.

Perez was referring to Jimenez’s accusations that he demanded $2 million in exchange for slowing down on the extradition case against the congressman.

Perez, 63, said he wanted to continue his fight to redeem his integrity and honor, adding that he did not want to drag the Arroyo administration further into the controversy.

"If the President can make a sacrifice, I could make a sacrifice too. I could do no less," Perez said, apparently referring to President Arroyo’s sudden declaration that she would not run for the presidency in next year’s election.

He also revealed that he tried to hand in his resignation four or five times in the past, but the President prevailed upon him to stay on.

He pointed out that he did not know when Mrs. Arroyo would accept his irrevocable resignation, so he did not put a date on his resignation letter submitted to her the other day.

According to Perez, the decision to call it quits was made after consultation with his family, close friends and fellow lawyers who advised him it was the "best decision" he could make.

At the same time, Perez said he would not run for the presidency or even for a Senate seat. "I would rather be a private citizen, but I will still continue as secretary-general of Lakas," referring to the ruling party.

Also yesterday, Perez filed yet another libel suit against Bulacan Rep. Wilfrido Buyson Villarama, a close ally of Jimenez who exposed the alleged $2-million extortion in a privileged speech last month.

The latest complaint, filed before the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office, stemmed from Villarama’s statement calling Perez a liar.

Perez also vowed to press additional charges against Jimenez, including criminal cases of perjury and libel. He earlier lodged at least three civil cases against Jimenez, and a about the same number of criminal complaints against Villarama.

Perez pointed out that he deliberately omitted filing criminal charges against Jimenez to avoid forestalling the extradition proceedings against the lawmaker.

In another development, Jimenez’s legal counsel urged Acting Justice Secretary Merceditas Gutierrez to refrain from issuing statements derogatory to his client.

Lawyer Ed Escueta said Gutierrez should stop speaking against her fellow public servant, saying she should protect Jimenez instead of subjecting him to "continuous vilification."

He also cautioned Gutierrez against interfering in the American justice system by commenting on Jimenez’s trial in the US.

"After all, Congressman Jimenez has no outstanding cases in the Philippines, so it’s only but proper for the DOJ official to focus her attention elsewhere," Escueta said in a statement.

"As acting justice secretary, it is incumbent upon Secretary Gutierrez to check her facts first before making pronouncements. Otherwise, she’ll be doing the public a great disservice by unwittingly sowing disinformation," the lawyer stressed.

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