(STAR) By Paolo Romero - Malacañang yesterday reminded pardoned former President Joseph Estrada and Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay that they are not above the law and that they should be responsible for their actions.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde was commenting on the complaints of Estrada and Binay that they are being harassed after Philippine National Police (PNP) officials said they would be investigated for violating a law banning the display and possession of real-looking firearms.

The two opposition leaders were seen riding a restored World War II US army jeep with a mounted .30 caliber machine gun replica during their “Lakbay Pasasalamat” tour in Cebu last March 4.

“Officials in the administration of President Arroyo, the sitting President, when going around the provinces, do not ride vehicles with a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on them,” Remonde said in a radio interview.

He said Binay and Estrada should explain their actions instead of crying political harassment.

PNP Director General Jesus Verzosa has said that authorities are investigating if charges can be filed against the two.

Verzosa said the Central Visayas Police Office (Region 7) in Cebu had confiscated the machine gun replica.

Police revealed that the restored army jeep is owned by the husband of Carmen Mayor Sonia Pua and had recently won in a vintage car show in Cebu.

Verzosa directed PNP-Civil Security Group director Chief Superintendent Ireneo Bacolod to monitor the investigation of the incident.

Bacolod said Estrada’s group might have violated Letter of Instruction (LOI) 1264, signed by former President Ferdinand Marcos in 1982, that bans the import, sale and public display of gun replicas.

He said a technical working group would discuss the issue of gun replicas as part of the effort to amend the law on controlling firearms.

The PNP has decided to regulate the proliferation of gun replicas, which are sometimes used by criminals in carrying out illegal activities, including bank robbery.

A case of ‘serious sunstroke’

However, Binay said Malacañang is just suffering from “serious sunstroke” and that it is not in a position to give him a lecture on respect for the law.

“There are far larger violations of the law that have been committed right inside Malacañang. Yet they choose to hang us for riding a jeep with a replica machine gun,” he said.

The feisty local executive said he is ready to face the charges in court, and even dared Mrs. Arroyo, her husband Jose Miguel and other Palace allies to do the same for violations of the law.

Binay had earlier dismissed the “gun toting” charges as absurd and ridiculous.

“These allegations should be ignored but under Mrs. Arroyo, the absurd and ridiculous are used as evidence in court cases against the opposition,” he said, adding the administration has started its demolition job on them.

Estrada, on the other hand, challenged the PNP to file the charges in court, saying its officials are “a bunch of ignoramus.”

Political harassment

Meanwhile, Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon advised the PNP against pressing charges against Estrada and Binay, calling the threat to the opposition stalwarts as “political harassment.”

“It (PNP) might only embarrass itself when it finds out that it will not be able to file any charges against the two,” Biazon said, noting that any violation of the LOI, a martial law edict, may only be filed against the owners of guns, real or not.

“The law they are invoking merely prescribes confiscation. If they believe that LOI 1264 was violated, they should have immediately confiscated the replica firearm. But since the PNP in Cebu failed to do that, they should instead pursue a case of negligence against them,” he said.

“Binay and Erap are not the owners. You cannot confiscate from someone something which they do not own or possess,” he stressed.

He clarified that gun toting is only applicable to real firearms, not toy guns, and that the law has a clear definition of what a firearm is.

He reminded the PNP of its guidelines regarding the popular use of air-soft guns nowadays, which, like the mentioned LOI, also “do not provide for penalties except confiscation.”

He said LOI 1264 is “being questioned in court for being unconstitutional for prescribing the penalty of confiscation without due process.”

“The Constitution says, ‘No person shall be deprived of life, liberty and property without due process,’” he said.

Biazon said he filed a bill seeking to repeal LOI 1264 for this and other reasons.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, for his part, advised the PNP to use common sense lest they become the laughing stock of the Filipino people.

“My advice to them (PNP), don’t deal with those things anymore. The machine gun mounted was just a toy. It might only be made of wood. You know in enforcing the law you use your common sense. I think those who say that (filing of charges) only want to show off so they will be recognized,” he said. – Jose Rodel Clapano, Mike Frialde, Delon Porcalla, Aurea Calica

Palace denies GMA link to Charter change moves By Marvin Sy Updated March 27, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang branded yesterday as political black propaganda reports that President Arroyo is behind the efforts of the House of Representatives to amend the Constitution.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde denied that Malacañang had anything to do with the Charter change (Cha-cha) initiative as the President is focused only on the economy and the welfare of the people.

“We do not discuss or pay any attention to the issue of Cha-cha because President Arroyo is focused on the important matters at hand – the creation of more jobs and addressing the challenges on the economy especially with the global economic crisis,” Remonde said in Filipino.

He said even legislators identified as being behind the efforts to amend the Constitution, are conceding that there is not enough time left to get Charter change moving since the elections would be held in little over a year.

Remonde pointed out that Mrs. Arroyo has signed the P11.3-billion supplemental budget for the automation of the 2010 elections, which clearly demonstrates the commitment of the administration to have elections next year.

A search committee has also been created to screen the administration’s candidates, from president down to local government executives.

Defense secretary favors Cha-cha

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, also a prospective presidential candidate, bared that if he runs for president he would have a platform of “studied and balanced reforms” to include Charter change.

Teodoro, a Harvard-trained lawyer, admitted that amending the Constitution is a difficult campaign but the move is necessary and fundamental to political and economic reforms.

When asked whether he considered himself a reformist, he said: “I guess what I can offer in that sense is studied reform. I’m disdainful sometimes of the contemporary connotation of what a non-traditional politician is, change for the sake of change. You need a balance, you need some stability and continuity of policy particularly in structural strategic matters and of course, if there is a need to reform, particularly political reform in the proper way, one has to do.”

“A lot in leadership is balancing, balancing not only between good and evil but more often than not between two competing goods, and there you may have to make a difficult choice,” he said.

He said it appeared that everybody agrees that the structure of government “as designed in the 1987 Constitution has some problems because rather than build synergy, it builds division, such is not what the times need.”

Probe sought

Two party-list lawmakers urged the House of Representatives to investigate reports that the lawmaker-son of President Arroyo offered Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr. the speakership in exchange for his support for Charter amendments.

Reps. Teddy Casiño of Bayan Muna and Rafael Mariano of Anakpawis said the issue of bribery – in the form of reinstating the ousted speaker – committed by Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo should be investigated by the House ethics committee.

De Venecia claimed that the young Arroyo and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez sought his help in persuading congressmen to sign the constituent assembly resolution authored by Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte.

Rep. Arroyo has denied the charge.

“The indecent proposal of Mikey and Martin to JDV is something that the House committee on ethics should investigate as it tends to undermine the integrity and independence of the speakership of the House itself,” said Casiño. – With Delon Porcalla, Jose Rodel Clapano, Perseus Echeminada, Eva Visperas

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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