Manila, August 23, 2003 (STAR) "I am not going to intervene," the President said in a speech at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) last night. "The Palace is not a legal refuge of the First Family. I am married to our country."

Earlier yesterday, Malacañang said the President "will not extend any mantle of protection" to Mr. Arroyo once the charges are filed against him in court in connection with opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s accusations that the First Gentleman maintained secret bank accounts under the name of "Jose Pidal" to launder millions of pesos in campaign contributions.

"The stance of our President is, first, she is asking all those who have accusations against the First Gentleman to bring them right away to court, and once these are brought before the courts, the First Gentleman would launch his own defense and the Palace will not intervene," Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.

Bunye stressed Mrs. Arroyo remains undistracted by the latest accusations against her husband. He said the accusations are "private matters" that should not affect the President in running matters of the state.

At the PMA last night, the President said, the controversy "has nothing to do with my work as Chief Executive."

"I do not interfere with my husband’s private business and I do not allow him to interfere in the affairs of the State," she said. "My husband is not a ward of the Palace… neither he nor any other member of the First Family is under the mantle of political protection."

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo echoed the call of her husband to file the case in court.

"First of all, the First Gentleman is a lawyer himself and he has his own legal team," Bunye said.

Bunye explained the difference between filing the case in court or conducting a Senate inquiry into the allegations.

If the complaint is filed in court, Bunye said Lacson would be held accountable if his allegations are proven false since they were not done under oath.

Secondly, Bunye said evidence presented by Lacson during his privileged speech were not being authenticated but they become part of the records of the Senate.

"That is why the challenge of the First Gentleman is to produce the original documents from which things could be compared," Bunye said.

Bunye said filing the case directly in court would be more expeditious since a judgment will be rendered if Mr. Arroyo is guilty or not of the charges.

"In the case of a Senate investigation, its end result is without pronouncement of guilt or innocence of Attorney Arroyo but its result is a piece of legislation," he said. — Ann Corvera, Marichu Villanueva

‘Ping exposé won’t hurt GMA’s 2004 poll chances’ By Paolo Romero (STAR)

Two administration legislators said yesterday that the allegations made by Sen. Panfilo Lacson against First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo would not make a dent in the credibility and winnability of President Arroyo.

House Deputy Speaker Raul Gonzalez and Bulacan Rep. Willie Villarama said the public has realized that there is actually no case against Mr. Arroyo, since he did not commit any crime.

"That (affecting the credibility of the President) is what Lacson wants to happen," Gonzalez said. "But it is only temporary and would not even reach the end of the year."

Villarama said the people would soon forget the allegation as they are unsubstantiated.

"The controversy is not fatal to her re-election," Villarama said. "In the first place, there is no case."

Administration lawmakers have been pushing Mrs. Arroyo to reconsider her decision not to run in the May 2004 presidential elections.

Gonzalez said the exposé is part of a well-orchestrated smear campaign against the President to force her not to seek another term.

Lacson knows he is lying, Gonzalez said, and also knows he is shielded by parliamentary immunity.

Earlier, legislators said the timing of Lacson’s exposé was suspect, considering that the state of rebellion has been lifted and that Mrs. Arroyo has been leading in the surveys.

They also said Lacson has already announced his bid for the presidency.

They said Lacson does not know the difference between funds being laundered, which are the fruits of a crime like illegal gambling or drug trafficking, and legitimate funds received during an election campaign, which are private and not government funds or the fruits of a crime.

Gonzalez said Lacson’s allegations against the First Gentleman are different from the accusations against former President Joseph Estrada. During his impeachment trial, Estrada was accused of owning the infamous Jose Velarde account at Equitable PCI Bank, where payoffs from a jueteng protection racket and illegal stock market manipulations were deposited.

Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles said Lacson’s charges cannot stand in a court of law, adding that, if there is a case of money laundering, the Senate has no jurisdiction to investigate the case. Only the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) can conduct such investigations.

He said he also doubts that the AMLC will take up the matter, as the alleged money laundering supposedly took place in 1998 and 1999, while the anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) was enacted in 2001.

"Our laws are protective, not retroactive," Nograles said.

Lawyers Patricia Bunye and Joe Nathan Tenefrancia, Mr. Arroyo’s spokespersons, said the findings only prove that Lacson’s allegations are false and malicious.

"Once again, we reiterate our challenge. If (Lacson) has any hard evidence, he should file the appropriate charges in court," the lawyers said in a statement.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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