LACSON RUNNING IN 2004 DESPITE COURT RULING

Manila, April 3, 2003 -- Sen. Panfilo Lacson yesterday questioned the 
decision of Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. and four Supreme Court 
associate justices to reverse their position regarding the revival of the 
Kuratong Baleleng multiple murder case.

The SC, voting 10-4-1, on Tuesday ordered the re-filing of the charges 
against Lacson and 37 others, which were dismissed provisionally by Quezon 
City Judge Wenceslao Agnir Jr. in 1999 after some of the witnesses against 
Lacson recanted their affidavits.

Lacson said it was "surprising" that Davide, Associate Justices Josue 
Bellosillo, Vicente Mendoza, Artemio Panganiban and Leonardo Quisumbing 
changed their positions even though the prosecution did not present new 
arguments to support their motion for reconsideration of the unanimous 
(13-0) SC ruling on May 28, 2002, remanding the case to the Quezon City 
Judge Ma. Theresa Yadao to determine if the requirements for provisionally 
dismissing (later made permanent when the prosecution failed after two 
years to present new evidence) the case had been met. Instead, the majority 
took it upon themselves to declare that a new rule did not apply 
retroactively to the case.

Lacson also questioned the refusal of Associate Justice Romeo Callejo to 
inhibit himself, considering that he inhibited himself when the case was in 
the Court of Appeals which upheld dismissal of the case.

"For consistency, he should have also inhibited himself now. Worse, he even 
became the ponente despite our motion for him to inhibit," Lacson said.

During his term as CA justice, Callejo did not participate in the 
deliberations on the Kuratong Baleleng case because the police 
investigation was conducted by his nephew, who was with the PNP.

Lacson said he would seek a reconsideration of the SC ruling in the hope 
that the justices would respect the time-honored principle of applying laws 
retroactively in favor of the accused.

He cited the case of actor Robin Padilla who was arrested and subsequently 
convicted of illegal possession of firearms in 1996.

Padilla was sentenced to 17 years but Padilla served less than six years 
when a subsequent law reduced the penalty for the offense.

"Retroactivity of a new law should apply in favor of the accused. Now they 
are ignoring it by saying that the State should also be favored," Lacson said.

He also said the SC decision would not hamper his plan to run for president 
in 2004.

Lacson said the SC ruling reminded him of his dilemma during the last days 
of the senatorial campaign in 2001 when President Arroyo declared a state 
of rebellion and ordered Lacson's arrest without a warrant.

"I was marginalized then because I had to elude arrest, and yet I won. This 
time, I am optimistic that justice will likewise prevail," he said.

Lacson's lawyer, Sigfrid Fortun, said the SC decision on the re-filing of 
the case could be a high-level attempt to derail the senator's presidential 
bid.

Fortun said the SC ruling was apparently affected by changes in the SC 
composition because of the appointments made by President Arroyo.

Arroyo appointees who signed the majority decision were Antonio Carpio, Ma. 
Alicia Austria-Martinez, Renato Corona, Conchita Morales, Romeo Callejo Sr. 
and Adolfo Azcuna.

Fortun said the administration has identified Lacson as a strong 
presidential candidate.

"Alam na din natin na itong mga kasong ito, kasama nu'ng kay Mary Ong, Ador 
Mawanay and all other cases na bagong nilabas laban sa kanya ay 
para-i-thwart 'yung kanyang presidential aspiration, at alam din natin na 
si Sen. Lacson had been going the rounds and had been in fact supported by 
a lot of people ... baka nga may bahid pulitika," Fortun said.

Fortun said despite the slim chances of a favorable decision, he would 
still file a motion for reconsideration within 15 days.

Fortun said the government lost its right to pursue the case when the 
two-year period lapsed in 2001.

"It was only when Sen. Lacson ran for senator that the case was revived. It 
was only when (they) felt that he was a prospective presidential aspirant 
that they suddenly doubled their effort and filed all of these cases," he said.

House assistant minority leader Gilbert Remulla said he was worried that 
the Supreme Court might allow itself to be used as an instrument of 
political aggression.

Remulla said the SC ruling was obviously designed to pin down Lacson who is 
increasingly becoming popular as a presidential candidate.

"Many people who have been victims of injustices will now see Ping as a 
rallying symbol against a politicized and corrupt justice system," Remulla 
said.

The Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) said the "high 
political profile of the main protagonists in the Kuratong Baleleng case 
may lend credence to the current, though unfair impression that the high 
court could succumb to importunings of the executive branch, thus erasing 
further the panels which constitute the separation of powers in our democracy."

In a statement, Philconsa said: "It is our prayer that ... the members of 
the Supreme Court will also give much value to the possible social 
repercussions should their decision create the unjustified conclusion that 
this court of last resort is no longer available for the peaceful remedies 
of the legitimate grievances of the citizenry."

President Arroyo distanced herself from the Supreme Court ruling.

"It's still up to the court. I don't want to comment. I would rather that 
the matter of rule of law be left to the courts to work out," she said. 
(Malaya)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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