Saturday, March 04, 2006

PNP: House-bound Batasan 5 still considered under arrest

House-bound Batasan 5 still considered under arrest
First posted 01:05am (Mla time) Mar 04, 2006
By Norman Bordadora

THE militant “Batasan five” congressmen yesterday downplayed the lifting of the state of emergency, saying there was no reason for them to be complacent for as long as the threats of arrest hung over their heads.

"If (the administration) would say that we'd no longer be arrested once we leave the House of Representatives, then we may start to believe that the situation is already normal," Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casino said at a news conference.

Casino and fellow Bayan Muna Representatives Satur Ocampo and Joel Virador, Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano and Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza have been holed up inside the House complex for six days, enjoying protective custody in the face of a police threat to arrest them on charges of rebellion.

"As long as its constitutionality has yet to be decided, we can never be complacent," Ocampo said, referring to Proclamation No. 1017, which President Macapagal-Arroyo rescinded yesterday.

Ocampo said the administration could always restore the emergency when it deemed fit.

A spokesperson for the Philippine National Police yesterday spelled out the conditions under which the police would move against the five legislators.

Senior Supt. Samuel Pagdilao said that as far as the PNP was concerned, the five were already considered "under arrest" and the police would arrest them if they left the House complex without the permission of Speaker Jose de Venecia.

"It's just that their custodian is the Speaker. If they leave without his permission, then that's considered escaping," Pagdilao said.

Warrantless arrests

The PNP has said the rebellion charges against them were an upshot of their alleged involvement in a conspiracy with rightwing soldiers to overthrow Ms Arroyo.

The five lawmakers tried to leave the House premises on Thursday but changed their minds after House sergeant-at-arms Bayani Fabic told them that congressional protection for them applied only for as long as they stayed within the House premises.

"Until now, it is not clear what will happen to us," Mariano said. "It is also not clear whether or not warrantless arrests would continue and whether or not the muzzling of the press would continue."

Mariano also expressed concern about the health of his colleague in the Anakpawis party-list, Rep. Crispin Beltran, who is detained at the Philippine National Police General Hospital.

Beltran suffered a stroke in June 2005 and his doctor has said his condition remains guarded.

Defeating the 'ogre'

"It is not unknown to President Arroyo that there is a Crispin Beltran still suffering inside the PNP General Hospital. It is still not clear what would happen to him," Mariano said.

Mariano said he had received a note from Beltran congratulating the people for successfully opposing Proclamation No. 1017.

"You defeated the ogre PP 1017 in just eight days. With its tail behind its legs, the Arroyo administration took back the proclamation," Beltran's note said in Filipino.

Maza doubted that the situation was back to normal.

"If indeed times are back to normal, threats to our life and liberties, the crackdown on our leaders should stop," Maza said. "Otherwise, Ms Arroyo's lifting of this Draconian measure is as fake as her presidency."

Two options

Casino said the Arroyo administration was leaving him and the others with only two options-face arrest, or go back to armed struggle.

"But we will not give them that benefit. So it's important that we hold our ground here in Congress, hold fast to our right to representation which they want forcibly taken from us," he said.

Ocampo said it was a historical fact that conservatives or those with military mind-set had been barring progressive groups from participating in the parliamentary arena, a right that is "fundamental to a genuine democratic system of government."

Virador said police harassment had reached a new level.

"The harassment has already been turned toward the members of our staff. (They) are being tailed by members of the PNP as they leave the House of Representatives," Virador said.

The Senate has also adopted a resolution insisting that the five legislators should remain in "the protective custody of Congress" until the preliminary investigation was finished.

Sen. Joker Arroyo Arroyo told the Inquirer that arresting Ocampo and Beltran would be illegal because "the crime being leveled against them is a crime against Ferdinand Marcos and martial law and not against the present democratic government."

Arroyo was reacting to earlier police statements that in addition to conspiring against the President, Beltran and Ocampo were also being charged in connection with their activities during the martial law years.

Ocampo and Beltran had been amnestied twice.

Arroyo said he found it "mind-boggling" that cases of those who fought Marcos would be revived.

"Everyone who fought Marcos is a hero," he said.

With reports from Luige A. del Puerto and Michael Lim Ubac

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