GMA: 'NO LET UP', 'NO SACRED COWS' IN ARREST, PROSECUTION  OF  KILLERS

MANILA, November 29, 2009
(STAR) By Pia Lee-Brago – The mounting public outcry and international pressure have prompted President Arroyo to use all government resources to arrest and prosecute those behind the Maguindanao massacre, Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said yesterday.

Devanadera said the President has ordered a “no let up, no sacred cow” operation against the suspects in last Monday’s carnage that left 57 people dead, including journalists.

“The President said there is no let up in the operation. The full force of the government was used to track down and arrest those behind the killings. This is not an ordinary criminal case, considering the President has used all government resources and agencies to arrest the killers,” Devanadera told the weekly radio program “Para Sa Iyo Bayan” of Vice President Noli De Castro.

She said the President was getting concerned over the growing public outcry and international pressure to arrest the principal suspect, Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.

“This is an extraordinary case,” Devanadera said. “The people, even the international community, is very indignant over this atrocity.”

She revealed the President was getting impatient. “You know the President, she wanted to see the results right away and ordered (me) to make the arrest and prosecute them whoever they may be. No let up, no sacred cow,” Devanadera said.

UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Irina Gueorguieva Bokova yesterday joined the international community in calling on the Philippine government to act swiftly and prosecute the suspects behind last Monday’s carnage in Maguindanao.

“This monstrous crime must not go unpunished,” Bokova said. “I condemn this outrage and urge the Government of the Philippines to act swiftly, using all the resources at its disposal to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Bokova said the murder of the journalists was “clearly an attack against democracy and democratic processes.”

“Furthermore, the killing of journalists violates the rights of the Philippine people to be freely and fairly informed of political developments,” she said.

Devanadera, on the other hand, said Mrs. Arroyo personally tasked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to immediately prosecute all those who took part in the killings.

She said the President also instructed Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno and Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales to harness all government resources to resolve the case at the soonest possible time.

“What she (the President) told us was the overall direction – no sacred cows, the entire government machinery must work towards the attainment of justice,” Devanadera said.

‘The operational issues, operational decisions, we will be held responsible for this. But what is important is the overall direction to bring whoever is responsible for this (atrocity) behind bars,” she said.

Mrs. Arroyo has placed the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), of which Maguindanao is part, under the supervision of the national government.

The President empowered Puno to relieve the civilian and police officials in the ARMM and appoint their replacements.

Officials said the move is to ensure the continued operation of the regional government while a full investigation of the possible complicity of the civilian and police officials in the ARMM is under way.

Conspiracy theory

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., however, said the move empowering Puno to supervise the ARMM was an apparent attempt by Mrs. Arroyo to escape blame coming from the Ampatuans.

“The President is trying to avoid giving Andal the opportunity to retaliate against her for being singled out by Malacañang,” Pimentel said, referring to the Ampatuan patriarch Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr.

Pimentel said the appointment of Puno could be a waste of time since the delegation of power resides on the entire structure of the ARMM.

Pimentel, as the author of the Local Government Code, explained Puno would remain powerless over the local governments in the region.

“Puno has limited powers over ARMM under the (Local Government) Code. His powers are limited to the police,” he pointed out.

Pimentel added Mrs. Arroyo could not contravene the Local Government Code by designating Puno to take over ARMM.

Bolstering fears of a whitewash, Pimentel said the Arroyo government is again “playing politics very clearly” to “dilute the attention on the problem of the government.”

A Muslim group also raised the possibility that top government officials may be involved in the massacre in Maguindanao to pave the way for emergency rule in the country.

According to Amina Rasul, chair of the Philippine Council for Islamic Democracy, some Muslim groups are not convinced that the Ampatuans should be held solely responsible for the killings.

“The conspiracy may involve the national government,” Rasul said.

She said Muslim elders and religious leaders expressed opinions that the events leading to the massacre could have been orchestrated and those who took part in the killings could have been high on drugs.

Rasul said the events before, during and after the massacre showed that the commission of the crime was well planned.

She pointed out the use of government-issued firearms and the backhoe in the mass killings and burial.

Rasul also said the Ampatuans will not be acting without the belief that they can get away with it.

At the same time, Rasul called on the Commission on Human Rights to conduct a parallel and independent probe on the atrocity.

Pimentel, for his part, agreed with the move to charge Ampatuan Jr. over the killings.

Pimentel added the Ampatuan patriarch should be investigated also and placed under police and military custody.

“The DOJ can proceed with its investigation of Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. and then his father should be brought in for investigation,” he said.

‘Extraordinary circumstance’

The DOJ approved on Friday the indictment of Ampatuan Jr. of ordering his private militia of more than 100 gunmen to open fire on the group, which included relatives of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, some journalists and passing motorists who had no known quarrel with the gunmen.

Devanadera said the panel of prosecutors investigating the case has found sufficient evidence to warrant the filing of seven counts of murder against Ampatuan.

She said the DOJ would file the information before the Cotabato City regional trial court on the first working day, or Tuesday, next week.

Devanadera said Ampatuan would remain in detention at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) even as the 36-hour period required under the law to file criminal charges has elapsed.

“This is an extraordinary circumstance and we will (still) hold on to Mayor Ampatuan in the detention center. We could explain this (delay in filing the information). We are very much aware of that. We believe that we have sufficient grounds to keep him,” she said.

The DOJ issued the resolution after the camp of Ampatuan waived his right to submit defense during the inquest last Thursday in General Santos City.

The information was supposed to be filed Friday in compliance with the agreement to resolve the case within 36 hours, which was the reason why Ampatuan waived his right during the inquest proceedings.

Since it was a local holiday in Cotabato City last Friday and the courts are closed during weekends while Monday is Bonifacio Day, Devanadera explained the DOJ would have to file the information on Tuesday.

Devanadera also told the radio program that the DOJ has gathered statements from more than 20 witnesses, including those who supposedly took part in the killings.

She said the witnesses had revealed the killings were planned beforehand.

Devanadera also told a separate radio interview that she would not allow Ampatuan to be placed under hospital arrest.

“We will not go with the fad of hospital arrest. We will have him examined first if there is need for a hospital arrest,” she said.

Devanadera said there is no compelling reason to give Ampatuan the privilege of hospital arrest.

Even Ampatuan’s lawyer, Sigfrid Fortun, said he is not in favor of having his client paced under medical detention.

The NBI also said there was no official request from Ampatuan to be placed under hospital arrest.

NBI deputy director Reynaldo Esmeralda said Ampatuan would remain under detention since there was no such request from his lawyers.

He said the NBI medical staff immediately checked Ampatuan’s health condition as a matter of procedure and it turned out that the accused mass murderer is in good health.

NBI Director Nestor Mantaring said Ampatuan might be allowed to have a medical checkup outside only in case of an emergency and life threatening situation. – With Christina Mendez, Marvin Sy, Perseus Echeminada, Sandy Araneta

Mikey takes backseat for GMA By Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star) Updated November 29, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Presidential son Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo has indicated that he would be willing to step aside for his mother, President Arroyo, if she decides to run as representative of the second district of Pampanga.

The younger Arroyo led more than a hundred local government officials of Pampanga in a lunch with the President at Malacañang yesterday with the objective of convincing her to run for Congress in next year’s polls.

It was the second straight day that the Palace has demonstrated the supposed clamor for President Arroyo to continue her work as a public servant.

Last Friday, more than a hundred “professionals, fisherfolk, farmers and small entrepreneurs” of the towns of Pampanga’s second district trooped to Malacañang and staged a rally inside the highly-secured compound to ask the President to run for Congress.

Yesterday, it was the turn of the President’s close allies in Pampanga to call on her to run.

The Pampanga Mayors League presented to the President the resolution they passed urging Mrs. Arroyo to heed the clamor for her to run as the second district representative of Pampanga.

After the various town mayors took turns to thank the President for what she has done for Pampanga and urged her to continue serving the province, Mikey took the stage and gave his own appeal, from a son to his mother.

“Until last month, I’ve been preparing for my reelection bid. I’ve been going around consulting our constituents, feeling their love and talking to them on how we can improve our district,” Arroyo said.

He said that the residents of Pampanga have agreed that the blessings of the province were all due to the efforts of the President.

Arroyo noted that various groups from Pampanga have indicated their desire to see President Arroyo represent them in Congress.

“My dear mother, in your decision making, my sentiments must be taken as inconsequential. My political future must be brought to the backseat because as public servants we have sworn to give our all to our country,” he said.

“Madame President, I believe that the best service I can give to my constituents, who I've grown to love so much, is urging you not to deny them the privilege of being represented by your person,” he added.

Arroyo is on his second term as the second district representative of Pampanga so he is entitled to seek a third term in next year’s elections if he wants to.

For several months leading to the elections, widespread speculation has been raised regarding the President’s political plans after she steps down next year.

The speculations were fueled by her frequent visits to Pampanga this year as well as a statement she jokingly made a few years back that she might run for Congress after her term ends.

Now that the filing of the certificates of candidacy has started, the entire province of Pampanga has been on a daily alert for the President’s visit to the local Commission on Elections office.

So far the President has not responded directly to the calls for her to run.

Asked by some reporters point blank if she will heed the calls for her to run, the President only offered a smile and a “thank you.”

The younger Arroyo said that he represents 95 percent of the total electorate in Pampanga “so it's safe to say I carried the voice of our people and the people want you to serve them.”

He also said that the President does not have to file the COC herself if she does not want to because the mayors and other local government officials could do it for her.

This was also stated by Pampanga provincial board member and close Arroyo ally and friend Lilia Pineda the other day.

Pineda said Mrs. Arroyo is expected to hear Mass at the San Guillermo church in downtown Barangay San Nicolas in Lubao on Monday while waiting for the filing of her COC by her representatives.

“This, Madame President, my mother, will be the best gift of gratitude you'll be giving them for all their support not only to you, to me, but our ancestors as well,” Rep. Arroyo said.

“If and when the President heeds the call of our people and the voice of God, then I'd like to say that the district, province, will show her how much she should be appreciated,” he added.

One of the President’s staunchest supporters in Pampanga, Candaba Mayor Jerry Pelayo, said that he believes an appeal from a son to a mother is very significant and should carry a lot of weight in the decision making of the President.

He said that the President would not face any serious competition if ever she runs for Congress because of the sheer magnitude of what she has done for Pampanga.

Retire from politics

A Kapampangan bishop has appealed to Pres. Arroyo to retire from politics after her term ends next year.

Auxiliary Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, who is based in Angeles City, said the President would go against the principles of “decency and propriety” if she insisted on running for Congress.

David is the younger brother of University of the Philippines Prof. Randy David, who earlier announced that he would challenge the president in the congressional race in the province’s second district.

“In the name of decency and for the sake of propriety, I appeal to her not to run and to respect the spirit of the Constitution instead of exploiting the letter of the law which indeed does not categorically mention prohibition of running for lower positions,” he said in a text message.

“The Constitution drafters were such decent people that they left (such things) for common sense and propriety,” he added. With Ding Cervantes

GMA  TO  FILE  COC  FOR  CONGRESS  ON  MONDAY, SAYS  CLOSE  FRIEND AND ALLY

(STAR) By Ding Cervantes – The guessing game is over. President Arroyo will file on Monday her certificate of candidacy (COC) for congresswoman representing Pampanga’s second district.

This was disclosed in an interview with The STAR yesterday by provincial board member Lilia Pineda, a close ally and friend of the President. Pineda said representatives will file the COC for Mrs. Arroyo. Presidential son Rep. Mikey Arroyo is currently the province’s 2nd district representative.

Pineda herself is set to file today her COC for governor under the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD, with Vice Gov. Joseller Guiao as her running mate.

Earlier, the President’s election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said in a text message that the President need not personally file her COC.

“The filing of COC shall be at the provincial election supervisor of Pampanga and cannot be done in Manila,” Macalintal said, adding that there is “a strong clamor from leaders of the second district for her to run there.”

Pineda said Mrs. Arroyo is expected to hear Mass at the San Guillermo church in downtown Barangay San Nicolas in Lubao on Monday while waiting for the filing of her COC by her representatives.

At Malacañang yesterday, Macalintal said Mrs. Arroyo hinted at aiming for an elective post in her province.

The election lawyer said he asked Mrs. Arroyo about her political plans and she replied she was thinking of it because of the clamor from her province.

“I think based on her body language, she is considering it (running for an elective post) already,” he said. “But because of the clamor, she said she is going to give it deeper consideration.”

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, meanwhile, said at a news briefing that Mrs. Arroyo will make a “proper announcement” on the matter soon.

“I am aware of the strong clamor (for her to run) but cannot judge her body language if it’s too loud for her to ignore,” Remonde said.

He said that if she decides to run, it would be to “serve the people, not protect herself,” referring to suspicions that bagging a congressional seat would make her immune from lawsuits that may arise after she steps down.

Mikey quitting politics?

Asked about Mikey’s political plans after his stint in Congress, Pineda said there’s “none.” She said he has apparently given way to his mother’s own congressional bid.

“It will be such a waste if the President withdraws from public service. She has the experience and has established connections abroad that can be used to benefit Pampanga,” she said.

Pineda declined to reveal when the President told her about her congressional plans. She also said that Mrs. Arroyo merely wanted to show her gratitude to her kabalens by her frequent visits to the province.

Pineda said the president, during her visits, has realized that there’s much to be done for the province, especially for the 2nd district.

“Because of the connections she has established even abroad, the President will be an asset not only to Pampanga’s 2nd district but even to other districts in the province, or even Central Luzon,” Pineda noted.

Pineda also said she has heard reports of the Liberal Party’s invitation to former congressman Emigdio Lingad to run against the President in the second district. But Lingad declined to comment on the issue.

Prof. Randy David, a native of Guagua town in the second district, earlier vowed to challenge Mrs. Arroyo if she runs in the 2nd district, but has reportedly withdrawn his bid.

Unify Pampanga

Pineda said she intends to restore unity in Pampanga in her decision to run again for governor.

She credited Gov. Ed Panlilio for easing graft and corruption but stressed it was under his administration that Pampanga became fragmented.

“I credit Among Ed (Panlilio) 100 percent for removing graft and corruption. That credit is owned by him, but his administration was not able to do enough for the people because of disunity,” she said.

“He put his trust only in one person,” she said, referring to Panlilio’s provincial administrator Vivian Dabu.

Panlilio may still be Pineda’s strongest foe in the gubernatorial race, although the priest-on-leave said the LP, his party, has yet to come up with its official bet for the post of governor. Sen. Lito Lapid has withdrawn his gubernatorial bid in deference to Malacañang’s request that he seek reelection instead.

Pineda’s electoral protest against Panlilio is up for resolution by the second division of the Comelec after several hearings as well as a recount of gubernatorial votes cast in 2007.

Ernesto Francisco, one of Panlilio’s counsels in the case, said he did not expect a fair ruling from the Comelec on the case.

“Based on the actuations of Commissioner (Nicodemo) Ferrer from the start, I believe that we will not get a fair ruling. I was going along with the process because we had no choice but I personally do not believe in its integrity,” Francisco said in a text message.

“It seems to me that the objective of the whole thing is to unseat Gov. Panlilio,” he said. Ferrer said they hope to resolve the case next month.

In the 2007 gubernatorial race, Pineda ran under the administration Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi) party but lost to Panlilio, an independent candidate, by 1,147 votes.

Speaker Prospero Nograles said President Arroyo’s decision to seek a congressional seat was widely expected.

“She has made a decision and that was predictable. Going back to your roots,” he said.

Nograles earlier gave Mrs. Arroyo unsolicited advice: Don’t run for a lower office, since you have reached the pinnacle of your political career.

Those who have held the highest office, including former President Fidel Ramos, have made a similar suggestion.

Militant party-list congressmen have claimed that the President would seek the speakership and work on Charter change (Cha-cha) with her allies to steer the nation to a parliamentary system, under which she could become prime minister.

Protection vs prosecution

Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno Aquino III and his running mate Sen. Manuel Roxas II said Mrs. Arroyo, in her bid for a new elective post, apparently wants protection from prosecution.

Roxas said they would study whether they would field a candidate to run against Mrs. Arroyo in Pampanga and that they would campaign hard in the province. Roxas expressed belief Aquino would win in Pampanga, the home province of the President.

“I cannot understand (why she won’t retire). (Former President Fidel) Ramos told us when he asked (his wife) if they could serve one more (term), Mrs. (Ming) Ramos told him, ‘enough. It is very difficult to shoulder the problems of the country,”’ Aquino said.

Roxas stressed the public must be vigilant about the plans of Mrs. Arroyo to make sure national interest would be protected as she would run while still in office and amid talks that she wants to become prime minister.

Relaxed security for supporters

Supporters of Mrs. Arroyo in Pampanga have come out in the open – even at Malacañang grounds – to push her to run for a local position in the province.

“In Pampanga, in spite of the various programs and services delivered by the national government, they are still not enough to achieve the full development of the province, hence, the Kapampangans urged the President to continuously serve even at the capacity of a congresswoman,” the mayors said in a statement.

Malacañang even had to relax its security yesterday to accommodate supporters of the president who gathered right at the Palace grounds to show their support for Mrs. Arroyo.

The crowd arrived just as Mrs. Arroyo was conferring the Order of Lakandula on CNN Hero of the Year Efren Peñaflorida at the Ceremonial Hall of Malacañang.

More than a hundred people gathered along the driveway of the Kalayaan grounds chanting “GMA! GMA!”

A certain Jun Panganiban of Guagua who led in the chanting said they were not allowed to hold their rally on Mendiola because it has been declared a “no-rally zone” by Manila City Mayor Alfredo Lim so they decided to go straight to Malacañang. He claimed “security was tight” and that they were not allowed to bring their placards.

Eventually, President Arroyo emerged from Kalayaan Hall and was greeted by loud cheers by the group.

The President basked in the adoration of her kabalens, shook hands and lingered for photo-ops.

At a press briefing two hours later, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, asked about the relaxed security, said the group coordinated with Malacañang security and considering that they were supporters of the President, they “do not pose a threat on the President.”

He said that such rallies are allowed on “a case-to-case basis.”

In fact, he even announced that another rally would be held today, this time composed of local government officials and other political leaders of Pampanga. With Paolo Romero, Ric Sapnu, Marvin Sy, Sheila Crisostomo, Jess Diaz


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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