MANILA, January 4, 2003 (STAR)  By By Katherine Adraneda  - Resignation won’t clear him of graft charges.

The Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) said yesterday it will pursue a graft complaint filed against resigned Justice Secretary Hernando Perez.

Meanwhile, Malacañang brushed off insinuations that there was a trade-off in the resignation of Perez amid charges of corruption raised against him by two congressmen.

A PAGC source said a hearing of the case would be held as scheduled on Jan. 14.

PAGC Chairman Dario Rama said the inquiry may be completed in one day as it would only involve submission of documentary evidence.

He also said Perez is not compelled to attend the proceedings.

In a motion filed before the PAGC last Dec. 27, Perez urged Rama to inhibit himself from the hearing, saying the PAGC chief has already prejudged the case.

Perez claimed that Rama issued statements to the media "exhibiting prejudice and bias" against him.

The motion for Rama’s inhibition was filed along with Perez’s reply to the PAGC’s accusation stemming from his issuance of an order enjoining the immigration bureau from releasing travel documents of top government officials ranging from the President to members of the Cabinet and the legislature, in violation of the Constitution and other administrative laws.

Perez has denied the allegations and sought the immediate dismissal of the case.

In his seven-page rejoinder, Perez insisted that his memorandum order did not involve restriction but only regulation.

He also argued that the PAGC has no authority to rule on the legality of his order.

Perez clarified that his memorandum did not prohibit, deny or restrict access to public documents, but merely regulated release of such documents without his prior approval. He added that he issued the order "in view of the present threats of terrorism that may endanger the lives and safety of public officials."

"The memorandum is a reasonable exercise of the right to regulate," he insisted.

The PAGC specifically charged Perez with violating Presidential Decree 1829 prohibiting acts constituting obstruction of justice, the Administrative Code of 1987, Republic Act 6713 also known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and the Constitution.

In his memorandum order issued last Nov. 16, Perez directed Immigration chief Andrea Domingo to refrain from disclosing travel records of the President, Vice President, members of the Cabinet and legislators. No trade-off in Perez case, Palace insists

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye maintained that there was no horse-trading in Perez’s case, and that he voluntarily stepped down "to help preserve the gains of the Arroyo administration."

"He (Perez) took it upon himself and he went to Malacañang and brought with him his resignation letter," Bunye told reporters.

He rejected allegations that Perez’s resignation was part of a secret deal with Manila Rep. Mark Jimenez who also volunteered to be extradited to face trial in the United States for a number of criminal cases including tax fraud and illegal contributions to the war chest of certain Democratic candidates.

Before his departure last Dec. 26, Jimenez issued statements saying he struck a deal with President Arroyo whereby he would turn himself in while Perez would be sacked.

"That matter (Perez’s resignation) was settled by the President herself and there was no commitment made (with Jimenez)," Bunye stressed.

He added that Perez did not jump the gun on the President in the light of speculations about an impending revamp of her official family expected to be announced on Monday.

Bunye hinted that the specter of a Cabinet reshuffle hounded the entire Cabinet, saying nobody among the Cabinet members is certain he or she would not be removed.

He also said the President can fire any Cabinet member any time. "If there is a need for such changes, she would do so."

In a three-page undated resignation letter he submitted to Mrs. Arroyo the other day, Perez said he was resigning "despite the fact that the charges hurled against me are false and baseless."

"Recent turn of events has unfairly subjected this administration and myself to undue stress which may put in danger all the gains this government has achieved. And this I will not allow," Perez wrote.

A screening committee headed by Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Avelino Cruz was expected to announce Perez’s successor in a few days.

Among those reportedly being considered for the post were Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr., former Quezon congressman Wigberto Tañada, former Quezon City judge now Philippine National Oil Corp. executive Sergio Apostol, former justice secretary Silvestre Bello III and former Supreme Court justice Jose Melo.

Bunye said Justice Undersecretary Merceditas Gutierrez will stay on as acting justice secretary until a replacement has been found.

Meanwhile, Bunye flatly denied reports that the DOJ post was being offered to him.

"It’s not true. Nobody has talked to me," Bunye said.

He also said the search committee has yet to submit its shortlist of potential justice secretary to Mrs. Arroyo.

"We know that the DOJ is a very important and sensitive position and it would be to the advantage of the administration to have this position filled up as soon as possible," Bunye said.

The 57-year-old Bunye finished law in 1969 in Ateneo where he and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo were close friends and were both members of the school’s swimming team.

He was mayor of Muntinlupa City for 12 years, then served as the city’s representative in Congress for one term. — With Marichu Villanueva

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