Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Party-list solon nabbed; 4 more in House custody


Arroyo cracks down on Left, Right foes
First posted 00:32am (Mla time) Feb 28, 2006
By Michael Lim Ubac, Luige del Puerto

SHRUGGING OFF threats of arrest, four leftist lawmakers strode into the halls of Congress yesterday and declared that it was an honor to be on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s “enemies list.”

Spurred by Ms Arroyo’s proclamation of a state of national emergency on Friday, police also placed under house arrest Chief Superintendent Marcelino Franco, the sacked chief of the Special Action Force, and put three other police officers under “restrictive custody.”

The lawmakers were among 16 people against whom police had filed charges of rebellion in connection with their alleged involvement in a plot to overthrow Ms Arroyo.

Police did not arrest the militant legislators, but after negotiating with Speaker Jose de Venecia, they agreed that the top House leader would have custody of them within the confines of the Batasang Pambansa.

The arrangement would last pending the outcome of a formal investigation of the charges of rebellion and coup d’état filed against them.

Half a dozen policemen were around when party-list Representatives Satur Ocampo and Teodoro Casiño of Bayan Muna, Rafael Mariano of Anakpawis and Lisa Maza of Gabriela showed up to attend the session.

Another party-list congressman, Joel Virador of Bayan Muna, was not as lucky. He was at the Philippine Airlines ticketing office in Davao City when police agents grabbed and handcuffed him after he resisted arrest.

De Venecia said the lawmakers would be “under detention and custody of the House sergeant at arms and PNP security force here in the House. So they will be under detention. No one is above the law.”

A sixth congressman, Crispin Beltran of Anakpawis, was arrested over the weekend.

Stepping up their campaign to purge alleged coup plotters, police also filed with Department of Justice prosecutors a complaint of rebellion and insurrection against about 50 leftist leaders, including Communist Party founder Jose Maria Sison and National Democratic Front leader Luis Jalandoni. Both Sison and Jalandoni live in self-exile in the Netherlands.

Cojuangco, Saycon

At the same time, Malacañang ordered authorities to investigate former Tarlac Representative Jose “Peping” Cojuangco and political strategist Pastor “Boy” Saycon also for supposed involvement in the plot to oust Ms Arroyo.

Cojuangco and Saycon denied the allegations.

De Venecia told reporters the accused lawmakers would be under his “detention and custody” for the time being.

Except for cases penalized by more than six years’ imprisonment, the Constitution bars the arrest of members of Congress while the legislature is in session.

A defiant Ocampo said he and his five House colleagues did not violate any laws.

He said he and his colleagues were attending the session to maintain the “integrity of our position as House members doing our sacred duty.”

“We don’t accept the legitimacy of the proclamation, and the ensuing crackdown on critics of the government,” Ocampo told reporters before entering the session hall.

Casiño said it was a “badge of honor to be considered an enemy” of the Arroyo administration.

Arroyo tool

Mariano said the arrest orders were issued upon the behest of an “illegitimate President.” He said Proclamation No. 1017 imposing a state of national emergency was the “tool of Ms Arroyo to stay in power.”

Mariano warned the proclamation would “hasten her downfall.”

It was Maza who arrived first at 3:20 p.m., followed by Casiño, then Mariano, as about 80 supporters in the Congress lobby chanted, “No to martial law!” and “Never again to martial law!”

Ocampo arrived last, accompanied by House Minority Leader Francis Escudero, Majority Leader Prospero Nograles and Assistant Majority Leader Art Defensor.

Demonstration in Congress

The three congressional leaders fetched Ocampo from the University of the Philippines in nearby Diliman.

Supporters and staff of the militant lawmakers sang “Bayan Ko” while waving posters reading: “No to Marcosian 1017,” “Marcos Noon, Gloria Ngayon” and “Uphold Civil Liberties.”

A commotion occurred when House security personnel tried to disperse them after the militant lawmakers entered the session hall. Soon, the demonstrators dispersed voluntarily.

Franco and three other police officers were placed under restriction following reports that they had tried to recruit police colleagues to join protesters during Friday’s rally to commemorate the 1986 People Power Revolution, according to PNP Director General Arturo Lomibao.

Breach in chain of command

Lomibao’s admission was the first clear indication of the seriousness of reports about a breach in the chain of command in the PNP.

The SAF is the most seasoned and most heavily armed police unit.

Lomibao said the three other officers -- Senior Superintendent Benjamin Magalong, Chief Inspector Ericson Dilag and Inspector Ryan Paloma -- “are now under my restrictive custody in Camp Crame.”

He said the officers were “not entirely under detention” but they would be restricted to camp and would have escorts.

Only Representative Beltran and 1st Lieutenant Lawrence San Juan, a key official of the Magdalo group, were presented by the police to a panel of public prosecutors at yesterday’s inquest at the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group office in Camp Crame.

‘This is farcical’

Beltran was defiant, raising his fists and crying out that the government was making a “fool of us all.”

“I am questioning the legitimacy of this proceeding,” declared human rights lawyer Romeo Capulong. “This is farcical. This is scripted.”

Besides San Juan and Beltran, among those charged by police for the crimes of rebellion and coup d’état on Friday were Ocampo, Virador, Casiño, Mariano, Maza, lawyer Christopher Belmonte, ex-Senator Gregorio Honasan, retired Colonel Jake Malajacan, retired Captain Felix Turingan, First Lieutenants Angelbert Gay and Patricio Bumidang of the Magdalo, Sison and a person with an alias.

Their cases were entirely different from those filed against some 50 leftist personalities in the DoJ.

At one point during the inquest, Beltran said: “Kalokohan ito (This is foolishness).” He demanded to be returned to his detention quarters.

“We will not allow you to leave,” State Prosecutor Emmanuel Velasco shot back and ordered the police to hold Beltran, who was visibly getting angrier by the minute.

Velasco reasoned that the charges had yet to be proven and his team had yet to study the evidence against them.

Meeting in Cojuangco home

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita confirmed that the Department of the Interior and Local Government had been ordered to invite Cojuangco and Saycon for questioning.

The order was spurred by an article in the international weekly newsmagazine Time which said that one of its reporters had witnessed a meeting at Cojuangco’s home on the night before a supposed coup attempt against Ms Arroyo was supposed to have been launched.

At the meeting, the Time reporter said that Saycon spoke with someone identified as “Lim” on the phone about an alleged plot by a faction of the military.

The military later sacked Scout Rangers commander Brigadier General Danilo Lim for alleged involvement in the plan of some military units to declare their withdrawal of support from Ms Arroyo.

Cojuangco and Saycon denied that they helped Lim plot the ouster of Ms Arroyo last week.

What it was about

Cojuangco confirmed that there was a meeting at his house on Thursday night, but it was about finalizing the plans for the EDSA 1 anniversary celebration. Saycon attended the meeting as a member of the EDSA Commission.

According to Cojuangco, rumors of a coup circulated that night, and soon people were calling them to ask if this was true.

He said “people” also started arriving. At the meeting, Saycon gave a briefing on the current situation, he said.

Cojuangco maintained that the conversation with Lim was about the military plan to join a people’s march on EDSA (Epifanio delos Santos Avenue) on Friday morning.

“Would you invite the press if you were plotting something?” Cojuangco said.

Saycon and Cojuangco were among the founders of the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi), the political party founded in 1996 as a vehicle for Ms Arroyo’s presidential bid in 1998. But Saycon and Conjuangco were eased out of Ms Arroyo’s inner circle due to disagreements arising from campaign funds and other issues.

Cojuangco is the president of the Philippine Olympic Committee. With reports from Armand N. Nocum and Jerome Aning; and Rolando Pinsoy, PDI Mindanao Bureau

No comments: