ARROYO PROMISES DUE PROCESS FOR GRINGO

Malacanang, August 6, 2003 (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva President Arroyo promised yesterday that "due process" will be given to opposition Sen. Gregorio Honasan, who is being prosecuted for his involvement in a mutiny by junior military officers.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is set to subpoena Honasan within the week so he can answer the charges against him.

Honasan, the highest political figure publicly implicated in the July 27 mutiny, should welcome the charges against him "as an opportunity to prove his claimed innocence," the President said in a statement.

"The battle is now between evidence and conjecture, between fact and fiction. Due process shall be faithfully observed," she said. "Our only aim is to help in bringing forth the truth in clear light."

The President issued this statement in an obvious dig at Honasan, who has admitted making himself "inaccessible" until after she lifts the state of rebellion, which she declared nationwide at the height of the mutiny.

Mrs. Arroyo, however, remained firm in her resolve to continue the state of rebellion despite repeated appeals from the political opposition and the business community to lift it, if, as she said, the coup threat is really over.

She cited "residual threats" of those still unaccounted for in the Makati mutiny — without referring to Honasan’s inaccessibility — to justify the continued state of rebellion in the country, which allows suspects to be arrested without a warrant of arrest.

Honasan has denied allegations he instigated the mutiny by more than 300 soldiers who took over an upscale residential and shopping complex in the Makati financial center.

The government maintains Honasan helped plot what it calls a coup attempt, an incident that analysts blame for dampened investor confidence in the financial markets.

Honasan was a former Army colonel who in the 1980s led several bloody coup attempts against then President Corazon Aquino. He was later granted amnesty as part of a peace deal with rebel soldiers.

Mrs. Arroyo said she would not block congressional inquiries into the failed mutiny, even as she said an independent fact-finding commission she created earlier would continue its work.

The parallel investigations "will also allow Senator Honasan three fora in which to air his case, the forum of his peers and the forum of the bench."

"I am for giving the people the full, unadulterated and unabridged story about the notorious misadventure and I welcome all responsible efforts towards this end," Mrs. Arroyo said.

The President cited the "three fora" as the congressional inquiries being conducted by the Senate and the House of Representatives, the probe being conducted by the fact-finding commission; and before the court as soon as the DOJ completes its preliminary investigation of the accused senator.

On the other hand, Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño said Honasan and his co-respondents in the coup d’etat charges filed against them by the government will be subpoenaed within the week to file their counter-affidavits.

The DOJ also created a five-man panel of prosecutors to handle the preliminary investigation of the case against the senator and more than 1,000 officers and members of the Philippine Guardians Brotherhood Inc. (PGBI).

"We will be sending a subpoena. If he can’t be contacted, the case will be submitted for resolution," Zuño said. "We do not want to make any prejudgments. But if they do not appear or answer, we will decide based on the complaint."

He explained that if the respondents fail to answer the subpoena, the affidavit filed by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) will "remain unrebutted." In cases where the charges are not countered, they are normally elevated to a court.

Zuño said it would be better for Honasan to personally appear before the DOJ and subscribe to his affidavit.

"But it’s all up to his counsel (on how they will deal with the charges," he said.

Named in the complaint filed by the CIDG are Honasan, Ernesto Macahiya, Ret. Capt. Felix Turingan, a certain retired Colonel Lazo and a certain Colonel Briones of the PGBI.

Former Honasan chief of staff George Duldulao and one Lina Reyes were also charged with rebellion along with 1,000 John and Jane Does.

Under the rules of court, respondents are given 10 days from receipt of the subpoena to file their counter-affidavits.

"The subpoena will be served by personal service. That’s part of our due process," Zuño said.

After the respondents file their counter-affidavits, the DOJ’s panel of prosecutors will conduct hearings as part of the preliminary investigation.

Zuño explained that the charges filed against Honasan and the others will be evaluated by the panel to determine whom and what to charge before the court.

He added that they consider the case against the senator one of the biggest they handled this year, considering the personalities involved.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Jose Lina Jr. said Monday that even if the country is under a state of rebellion, Honasan will not be subjected to a warrantless arrest.

Lina said this was the agreement that government authorities forged with Senate President Franklin Drilon, who contended that Honasan cannot be arrested without due process or cause.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) , however, considers Honasan as a threat to national security until he is arrested.

"The threat is his participation in the coup. He is part of the coup based on the charge filed against him," said AFP chief of staff Gen. Narciso Abaya.

Answer Charges Or Take Your Chances

Drilon urged Honasan to "come out and answer the charges" saying it was in the "best interest" of the senator and the nation.

"The government cannot afford to railroad this case," he said. "It is a high-profile case, the entire nation is watching and the confidence of our people in the justice system would depend upon how the government would conduct itself in this case."

Former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, however, advised Honasan, his former protégé, "to take his chances outside (jail)" since it is unwise for him to surrender "given the state of rebellion being enforced and as defined by" the President.

"If you have a wayward government that does not respect the rule of law given this state of rebellion, if I were Gringo, I would take my chances outside," he said.

Enrile, citing his personal experience in 2001 when he was also arrested on charges of rebellion, said if he were in Honasan’s shoes, he would not surface "in this kind of situation even if he is innocent."

"I gave up and faced the charges. But I stayed in jail and was mistreated," he said. Enrile was accused of agitating loyal supporters of ousted President Joseph Estrada to attack Malacañang.

Fearing that Honasan would not be dealt fair treatment, Enrile recounted possible scenarios that his former protégé may go through.

"He will be manacled, leg irons will be placed on him and he will be paraded before the people. He will be put in a dungeon and then will be held incommunicado," he said.

Maintaining Media Interest

Meanwhile, former military rebel leader Navy Commodore Rex Robles, who took his oath yesterday before the President as one of the members of the six-member fact-finding commission that would look into the mutiny, said Honasan is "not really in hiding" but was deliberately trying to maintain media interest in him.

Robles, a fellow mutineer of Honasan during the failed coup attempts they launched during the Aquino administration, said he has "no contact" with his former comrade at the Rebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabayan.

"I think he (Honasan) is not in hiding. What I could advise you is just simply ignore him because the more you pay attention to him, he becomes more popular and that is what he likes to happen," Robles told Palace reporters.

"We know Greg very much. He is very good in doing that. We will be falling into his trap if we keep on talking about him," he said.

Robles said Lina, who filed coup d’etat charges against Honasan, only succeeded in "reviving the dead career" of the opposition senator, who is on his second term.

"Nobody was talking about Honasan before. Lina did a good job of reviving his dead career. He rose from the dead courtesy of the good secretary," he said.

Robles downplayed speculations that Honasan still has a "force" of loyal supporters ready to take up arms against the government again.

He cited the mutineers who came from Philippine Military Academy Class 1995, among them Navy Lt. Senior Grade Antonio Trillanes IV, who were the "third generation" after them.

"If ever there are efforts (to recruit supporters), it would be a difficult effort. He (Honasan) might be trying to take advantage of it. I don’t think he has too much influence," he said, hastily adding, "That’s only my personal opinion."

Robles admitted that he suffers from "low morale" since his "good friends," Honasan and Turingan, a fellow RAM leader, were implicated in the mutiny.

He said, however, that his friendship with them will not prevent him from rendering an impartial decision as a member of the six-man commission.

Offhand, Robles said there is direct evidence against Honasan but none in the case of Turingan, whose name was simply dragged into the issue because of his friendship with Honasan. — With reports from Aurea Calica Mike Frialde, Pamela Samia, AFP, AP


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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