(OFFICE OF THE PRESS SECRETARY) Malacanang today said the leave of absence (LOA) ordered by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo last Sunday for Department of Justice (DOJ) personnel alleged to have been bribed in the controversial Alabang Boys case is not punitive.

This was surmised by Deputy Spokesman Anthony Golez this afternoon (Monday, Jan. 12) in a joint briefing that he held with fellow deputy spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo in Malacanang.

“Well, I think, first of all, we have to think that the leave is not punitive in action. We can’t do pre-judgement because of the leave,” clarified Golez.

He stressed that the concerned DOJ personnel were asked by the President to go on leave so that they could not influence ongoing investigations of the case.

“… As far as the Palace is concerned, the President asked them to go on leave of absence (LOA) so they would not influence the investigation.

“The statement of the President is very clear on her purpose,” added Golez.

Asked why the President did not also suspend the operatives of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the deputy spokesman pointed out, “Remember, the accusation is about bribery, and the ones accused are the DOJ officials; so there is no point in taking a leave of absence from the PDEA side because they are not the ones being accused.”

“They have to understand that this is not a punitive action,” seconded Fajardo, adding that the President’s LOA directive for the DOJ men “is based on the bribery issue on the part of the DOJ, not the PDEA.”

“It is like a preventive suspension so that everything is fair and not influenced by anybody,” she reiterated.

In her statement from the Malacanang sa Sugbo in Cebu yesterday (Sunday, Jan. 11), the President said: “Today, I instructed Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez to require leave of absence of all officials and prosecutors of the Department of Justice alleged to have received bribes in exchange for the release of suspected drug dealers from certain rich and influential families.”

Branding illegal drugs as “society’s cancer” in her 10-paragraph statement, the President stressed that “no one should be spared” from her LOA order.

“The full force of the government’s powers to act against those that betray public trust should be applied swiftly and unequivocally, more so in this case which involves illegal drugs -- society’s cancer -- on the one hand, and supposed pillars of the justice system on the other.”

The President added, “We should not allow a breach in our determined war against the menace of illegal drugs and against narco-politics on a broader level -- we are witness to the tragedy that befell countries that have taken a pause on their war on illegal drugs.”

“From a public realm, I state this: Our war on drugs should be vigilant and unrelenting. It should not be compromised.

“From a personal realm, I state this: I am a mother who is bothered by an alleged conspiracy to let loose on our streets anew pushers of illegal drugs. What if they lurk on my street?”

President Arroyo stressed further: “We cannot overstate… that illegal drugs wreck lives. They do not just destroy lives, they gnaw at the core foundation of a nation’s most precious asset -- its young people.”

Because “illegal drugs sap the strength of its young victims, their vitality, their joy and their enthusiasm,” the President lamented that “directly and with extreme prejudice, they also sap the strength of the nation.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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