MANILA,  April 27, 2004
By Christina Mendez and Marichu Villanueva - The Philippine National Police (PNP) defended yesterday the recent relief of police officers, reportedly those perceived to be loyal to independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

MalacaŮang, for its part, shrugged off the paid advertisement showing "mistahs" at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) supporting Lacsonís candidacy.

PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Joel Goltiao said the PNP is not singling these police officers out.

"The PNP is apolitical. I am surprised there are people complaining... They are not being singled out," he said.

Goltiao reiterated that the relief of some police officers, approved by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), is just part of "regular routine" to promote the best interests of the entire police organization.

"Anybody can be relieved anytime... This is what is best for the organization, part of reinvigorating its personnel," he said.

The election-related ban on the transfer or relief of government officials and employees took effect last March 12, but the Comelec may grant exemptions on a case-to-case basis.

Last weekend, Lacson, a former PNP chief, complained about the PNPís alleged "crackdown" on police personnel associated with him. He referred to the relief of Superintendent Aurelio Trampe III as regional intelligence officer of the Caraga region last Thursday, a day before Lacson and his supporters arrived for a campaign sortie.

The Caraga region covers the provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur.

Trampe was formerly assigned with the defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force headed by Lacson. He was then assigned to the Police Community Relations Group.

Last Saturday, PNP Director General Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. ordered the relief of Superintendent Rhodel Sermonia as DasmariŮas, Cavite police chief. He was placed on floating status at the Cavite Provincial Police Office and replaced by Chief Inspector Antonio Yarra, formerly General Trias police chief.

Sermoniaís relief was relayed by PNP headquarters through Director Jose Lalisan, head of the PNP Directorate for Personnel and Management, to Cavite provincial police chief Senior Superintendent Roberto Rosales.

"I donít see any reason why I should be relieved. Is this what I get for working so hard, especially now that we got the Best Police Station award nationwide for 2004?" asked Sermonia, who had received the prestigious PMA Cavalierís Award during the academyís annual alumni homecoming last February.

Sermonia told The STAR that the intense rivalry between the local politicians in Cavite may have caused his relief. He belied reports his relief may have been due to pressures related to a presidential candidate.

Local politics in Cavite became more intense after re-electionist Gov. Ireneo Maliksi threw his support behind Silang Mayor Ruben Madlangsacay and former Cavite City mayor Timoteo Encarnacion.

The endorsement came after Maliksi junked his support for congressional bets Crispin Remulla and Jun Abaya. The Remullas have been vocal in their support for Lacson while Maliksi supports presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr.

ĎCanít win them allí

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye merely dismissed the "manifesto of support" for Lacson as contained in paid ads that came out in newspapers yesterday.

"You cannot win them all. But I believe the greater majority, as shown by the surveys, really support President Arroyo," he said.

Bunye brushed off talk that two of former President Fidel Ramosí most trusted lieutenants were among the supporters included in the list of PMA graduates who support Lacsonís presidential bid.

The list included retired generals Cesar Nazareno (PMA Class í61) and Recaredo Sarmiento (PMA Class í66), who, like Lacson, served as PNP chief.

"As I said, we cannot win them all. But we have more support from the other members who have not signified their intention of supporting that particular candidate," Bunye said.

Mrs. Arroyo herself is an adopted member of PMA Class í78, which includes her Presidential Security Group commander Col. Delfin Bangit.

He told The STAR yesterday that military men still in active service are prohibited by law to engage in partisan activities, such as coming out with paid ads expressing support for a candidate.

"Because that could be considered as electioneering, we must be apolitical," he said.

Bangit, however, conceded that those who have retired from police or military service can make such an open endorsement or even campaign for their chosen candidates.

In the same press briefing, Bunye dismissed Lacsonís allegations that the Palace was behind the "manipulated" results of the surveys conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) and Pulse Asia Inc., indicating that Mrs. Arroyo was leading the presidential race.

"I believe this should be addressed to the managements of both survey firms. I believe they can respond and defend the methods they have used in these surveys," he said.

"The administration will not get involved in these allegations. The President is always for clean, honest, orderly and credible elections," Bunye added.

He sought to downplay Lacsonís reported presentation of two witnesses testifying to his claim that the survey results were manipulated, supposedly aimed at influencing the public into thinking that Mrs. Arroyo will enjoy a "majority win" over her rivals.

"Itís just like any of his previous allegations, they are largely unsupported. Just look at the record of this candidate," Bunye said.

He also welcomed the reported 10.5 percentage point lead posted by Mrs. Arroyo over Poe, based on the survey conducted by NFO Trends from April 20 to 22.

"The survey results they (SWS, Pulse and NFO) have presented are very credible. All three surveys confirm the President is consistently on the rise while her closest challenger is consistently going down," Bunye said.

Bunye denied any knowledge that the NFO survey was paid for by the Palace or by the administration coalition, saying that as far as he knows, the NFO was the same firm doing the "legwork" for SWS surveys.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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