Monday, March 13, 2006

5 party-list solons in rebellion raps snub preliminary probe

5 party-list solons in rebellion raps snub preliminary probe
First posted 02:31pm (Mla time) Mar 13, 2006
By Maila Ager

SAYING they have not been properly notified, the five lawmakers accused of rebellion and their lawyers snubbed a preliminary investigation at the House of Representatives on Monday.

A group of government lawyers, led by chief state prosecutor Jovencito Zuño, arrived at the House at the appointed time of 10:00 a.m. but none of the respondents and their lawyers were present to receive a copy of the complaint.

But Romeo Capulong, one of the counsels for Bayan Muna Representatives Satur Ocampo, Teodoro Casiño, and Joel Virador; Liza Maza of Gabriela; and Rafael Mariano of Anakpawis, said they did not attend the hearing because they considered it "invalid."

Capulong said his clients were not given ample time to prepare for the proceedings.

Capulong said the subpoena sent to them last Thursday clearly stated that the hearing would be at the Department of Justice at exactly 2:00 p.m. and that they were only notified about the change in venue and time 30 minutes before the schedule.

"Despite these lapses, we will study whether we will answer the complaint within 15 days," he said.

Casiño said the hearing was done "in bad faith" to prevent them from appearing.

Before the start of the preliminary investigation, two defense counsels appeared shortly to inform authorities of their clients' non-attendance.

The lawyers disappeared immediately when the proceedings began.

Nonetheless, the prosecutors proceeded with the hearing and ordered agents of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIG) to deliver the copies of the complaint to the offices of the lawmakers.

"Since none of the respondents has appeared in this hearing, we are ordering the CIDG to furnish each and everyone of the respondents a copy of the complaint against them," State Prosecutor Emmanuel Velasco
told reporters after the hearing.

They also gave the respondents 15 days or until March 28 to file their counter affidavit.

"After that, we will ask the PNP [Philippine National Police] to file their reply or comment on the counter affidavit, then after that the case will be deemed submitted for resolution in case there will be no more clarificatory hearing to be conducted by the DoJ," Capulong explained.

Velasco said if the respondents failed to answer, then the justice department "would resolve the case based on the evidence at hand."

"If there's no evidence, I repeat, we will dismiss the case. If there is probable cause, we will file the case," he stressed.

But Capulong remains confident that the government has no strong evidence against his clients, citing the same complaint filed against Anakpawis Representative Crispin Beltran.

Beltran was arrested last month and is facing rebellion charges. On Monday, a lower court has ordered his release, saying there is no basis for his continued detention on an inciting to sedition charge.

Capulong said out of 46 documents filed against Beltran, only three were "relevant."

He dismissed the affidavits of a certain Raul Cachuela and Rowel Escala that would allegedly establish his clients' involvement in the leftist-rightist conspiracy to topple the Arroyo government.

Cachuela claimed to have seen Beltran, Ocampo, Casiño, Virador, and Mariano in a camp of the New People's Army in Quezon Province between August 1992 and February 1993.

Escala supposedly witnessed the lawmakers meeting with First Lieutenant Lawrence San Juan, an alleged leader of a failed 2003 mutiny, sometime in February.

But Capulong said they had a certificate of attendance and journal records that would show that the lawmakers were attending committee hearings and plenary sessions during that time.

Maza said clearly the evidence was "doctored and manufactured."

The legislators, who vowed to resist arrest without a warant, said they would cooperate only if a judge filed formal charges against them.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez obliged, saying that prosecutors agreed to conduct a preliminary investigation inside the House, where the five have been living since February 27, three days after Arroyo declared a weeklong state of emergency to quash an alleged coup plot.

"We will just declare probable cause, then it's up to the court to decide [on charges]," Gonzalez told local television earlier on Monday.

The investigation will determine whether the five lawmakers should be indicted of charges of rebellion and coup d'etat, Velasco said.

Arroyo's executive secretary, Eduardo Ermita, has said that even the House leadership would have no choice but to turn over the five lawmakers once arrest warrants are served.

The government alleged that the coup plot by disgruntled soldiers, communist rebels, and civilian backers involved the possible assassination of the President and a Cabinet member and the takeover of the presidential palace, military and police camps, and TV networks.

During the emergency period, police arrested a number of critics, banned public rallies, raided the office of a small opposition newspaper, and deployed troops outside two major TV networks.

Police have filed capital charges against at least 16 people, including left-wing lawmakers, military officers, a former senator, and a communist rebel leader.