5 party-list solons unable to leave House amid arrest threat
First posted 04:50pm (Mla time) Mar 02, 2006
By Maila Ager
THE FIVE party-list lawmakers who had been under the custody of the House of Representatives since Monday tried but failed to leave the House, as elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group prepared to arrest them once they stepped out, according to one of the "detained" legislators.
Bayan Muna Representative Saturn Ocampo told a press conference Thursday that he and his colleagues Joel Virador, and Teodoro Casiño, Liza Maza, and Rafael Mariano, had planned to leave the House to attend to a series of engagements related to their duties as lawmakers.
Casiño said they received many invitations to speak in various fora like the gathering of lawyers on Friday, led by members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, while Maza said she was invited to join the Women's Day celebration.
"We realized that today is Thursday and congressmen were going to their districts to attend to their constituents. So we decided to also go out because if we don't move here until Sunday, it's like we're in prison," Ocampo said.
"It was made clear last night that we are not arrested and detained so we can go out. It is our right to go out," he said.
He said he informed Speaker Jose de Venecia, Minority Floor Leader Francis Escudero, and the House security about their decision and none of them objected.
De Venecia though advised them to consult House Sergeant at Arms Bayani Fabic about their security once they leave the vicinity, Ocampo said.
But Ocampo said they were told by Fabic that they could not leave because the House security, including the police assigned to secure the House, were limited to only within the compound.
"He [Fabic] said they could not give us security and escorts. In short, he said we might get arrested when we go out," he said.
When he reported this to De Venecia, Ocampo said the Speaker decided to leave it up to them to decide whether to proceed with their plans but warned them about the risk of being arrested.
"Clearly, there had been a misunderstanding about the coverage of the protective custody provided to us by the House leadership," Ocampo said.
"For us, the protective custody is not only confined in the House but we are also covered by this protection from arrest, especially from a warantless arrest," he pointed out.
Ocampo said they would seek clarification from the plenary on Monday and also to request that they be given protection even outside the halls of Congress.
Maza and Casiño said they were so frustrated because they were being prevented to attend the needs of their constituents.
"Of course I am frustrated and mad. We condemn this kind of political persecution. They are really targeting us and our parties because they know that we're effective critics of this administration," Maza said.
"I'm saddened and frustrated because the ordinary people think that Congress is powerful and they expect that congressmen have the powers too. But it appears now that we don't have that power even to fight a sergeant who may want to arrest us and that is pathetic," Casiño said.
He said they would continue to assert their rights as members of Congress lest they be arrested or become fugitives.
Mariano underscored the need for, "continued defiance and more resolve" to fight this "persecution" by the Arroyo administration.
"We need to assert our civil liberties and rights not only our rights as representatives of progressive parties but also as members of the legislative. Let us not allow the military rule to prevail over civilian supremacy," Mariano said.
CIDG agents in civilian clothes arrived at the House at around 1:00 p.m. in time for the press conference called by the lawmakers who were scheduled to make a "major announcement."
But the briefing was put on hold for an hour because of these developments.
The five party-list lawmakers have been charged with rebellion and placed on the immigration watchlist for their alleged involvement in an attempt to oust President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo last Friday.
A sixth party-list representative, Crispin Beltran, who had been detained in Camp Crame after he was arrested last Saturday, was brought to the hospital Thursday due to hypertension.