PALACE  SEES  END  OF  RIFT  WITH SENATE

MANILA
, October 29, 2005
(STAR) By Aurea Calica - Malacañang expressed hope yesterday that the rift between the Palace and the Senate would finally end with the release of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales from the chamber’s custody.

Presidential Political Adviser Gabriel Claudio said President Arroyo and other Palace officials would be willing to "socialize" with senators once again to restore the previous good relations between the two sides.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita has also issued Memorandum Order No. 192 granting consent to the officials covered by Executive Order 464 to attend budget and confirmation hearings before Congress until Dec. 31.

"I’d say the prospects for closer and friendlier relations with the Senate are much brighter now than what they were a few weeks ago," Claudio said.

He said the release of Gonzales from detention was a positive development that would not go unappreciated.

"The Palace will welcome and make constructive use of further opportunities to thaw remaining iciness in its relations with the senators, whether through legislative work or available social occasions," he said.

"I believe both sides are moving in the same direction of strengthening legislative relations uninterrupted by destructive or destabilizing political agendas," Claudio noted.

The Senate, through Blue Ribbon Committee chairman Sen. Joker Arroyo, said it was releasing Gonzales conditionally on humanitarian grounds since he requires further medical treatment.

"I think our relationship with the Senate is well and alive in terms of helping each other bring about laws and legislation needed by the country," Claudio said.

Claudio earlier said it would be up to the Supreme Court to ultimately decide on EO 464, which the President issued after the Senate cited Gonzales in contempt for refusing to answer questions on the contract he signed with the American lobbying firm, Venable LLP.

EO 464 bars government, military and police officials from attending legislative hearings without prior consent from the President.

The Supreme Court has junked Gonzales’ petition for habeas corpus, saying the petition was rendered "moot and academic" by the decision of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee to release him from its custody.

In a three-page en banc resolution, the High Tribunal said the conditions imposed by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee for Gonzales’ release do not constitute any involuntary restraint or preclude any freedom of action that would warrant the SC to take further cognizance of the petition.

The SC also said its dismissal of Gonzales petition, however, will not prevent the national security adviser from taking "any recourse available" if he is again detained by the Blue Ribbon Committee, such as another petition for habeas corpus.

Sen. Juan Flavier said the release of Gonzales from Senate custody should be viewed as a "win-win" situation for both Malacañang and the Senate.

Flavier said Gonzales’ release could serve as a confidence-building measure between the Palace and Senate, which have been at loggerheads since the July 8 resignation of several members of the President’s Cabinet.

He said both sides had given in to some extent after Malacañang decided to junk the controversial Venable LLP contract and the Senate decided to release Gonzales from month-long detention.

Ermita said neither the Palace nor Gonzales would evade any responsibility arising from the Senate investigation.

Meanwhile, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo accused Gonzales of proposing a "witch-hunt" when he suggested the investigation of militant party-list organizations on a "mere hunch."

"If he is referring to us, we absolutely deny our alleged links with the NPA (New People’s Army)," Ocampo said.

"He (Gonzales) wants the government, through the Department of Justice (DOJ), to conduct a witch-hunt on a mere hunch or supposition," Ocampo said. "They cannot do that. They have to have a solid basis to start an investigation."

He added that Gonzales should also name the groups or representatives that he wants investigated.

"Clearly, what (Gonzales) wants to launch is a witch-hunt," Ocampo added. "He did not even name the groups that he suggests should be investigated. All he is saying is that an investigation should be conducted."

Ocampo told The STAR that he had asked Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. whether Gonzales had written him proposing an investigation, adding that De Venecia told him there was no such letter.

"I asked (De Venecia to) be fair to us, that he should seek the basis for such an inquiry," Ocampo added.

He said Gonzales’ proposal is similar to that of Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, who accused militant representatives of using their pork barrel allocations to fund rallies and suggested an inquiry. However, the justice secretary’s proposal was not implemented.

For his part, House Minority Leader Francis Escudero said he does not believe that Ocampo and his militant colleagues have links with the NPA.

Escudero also said party-list representatives know they cannot use their pork barrel funds for purposes other than those for which they are intended.

"I cannot believe that Ka Satur and the others will use their funds for anti-Arroyo rallies. You don’t have to spend for these protests," he said. "People participate in them because of their conviction that Mrs. Arroyo has failed them and she has to be replaced by a better leader."

Escudero and his opposition colleagues led a failed initiative two months ago to oust the President through the impeachment process. Over 10 militant party-list representatives, including those from Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Gabriela and Akbayan, supported the impeachment complaint.

Gonzales’ proposal is reportedly contained in two letters dated Oct. 26, which he sent to the President and De Venecia.

The security adviser said in his letters that he was alarmed by the prominence of militant party-list groups at the recent anti-Arroyo rallies.

He said the intelligence community suspects that militant groups "are funding the daily street rallies and providing financial support (for) the NPA’s armed struggle."

Gonzales allegedly asked De Venecia "to look into how these party-list groups have been spending their funds" without naming the groups to which he referred. — With Jose Rodel Clapano, Jess Diaz


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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