Harry Roque

Harry Roque’s way

“There comes a point where making a point is pointless. And reckless.” – Philip Gilmore 

UP banned the screening of the “Innocence of Muslims” to ensure the safety and security of everyone on its campus. But Harry Roque, human rights lawyer and constitutional law lecturer at the UP, would have none of it. He defied the ban and screened the movie for his class, as a teaching tool on the freedom of expression.

Damn the torpedoes! Or as he put it, “As an academic, as a lawyer, I cannot allow rights to be infringed upon. I am in perfect discharge of my duties as a law professor and I’m willing to take whatever consequence.” Eh damn the torpedoes nga!

Alright, so he wanted to make a point. About the freedom of self-expression. But there’s a point where making a point is pointless. And reckless.

Roque already knew Muslims in over 20 countries reacted violently to that movie why did he have to risk riling local Muslims who have displayed admirable restraint so far? Was he testing the limits of their tolerance? 

So what if he had no intention of adding to the Muslims’ rage, that he was only standing up for the freedom of expression. The purity of his intentions do not matter because there is an equally important issue that cannot be ignored. There is an offended party involved and he is very angry. He cannot be put aside, expected to hold his anger in check, while a professor uses a movie that slanders his religion to make a point about freedom of expression.

The thing is Roque won’t even concede that the movie is offensive to Muslims. The first sentence of his Inquirer column last Friday – Free Expression and mob rule – was, “An allegedly anti-Islam trailer has reopened the debate on where the limits to freedom of expression should be.”  Allegedly anti-Islam? In the next sentence he said the movie depicts Mohammad as “a fraud, a womanizer, and a pedophile”. What further proof does he need to say unequivocally that the movie is anti-Islam?

Roque then warned that banning ‘expression that prods members of a religious group to violent reaction is a “slippery slope” as far as freedom of expression is concerned.’ He went on to prescribe, “the remedy in a democratic society is not to ban such a film, but for Muslims to prove in both word and deed that the affront is apparent and real. Certainly, the resort to mob rule is not the means to prevail in the free marketplace of ideas.” 

Wait a minute. Let’s analyze his prescription.

The Muslims have to prove in both word and deed that the affront is apparent and real? They torched an embassy and killed an ambassador, is that proof enough that the affront was apparent and real to them? Or was Roque saying the Muslims must first prove that Muhammad was not a fraud, a womanizer, and a pedophile before they can rampage? Or was he in fact saying if I call your mother a whore the proper response is to prove I’m wrong and not to kick my teeth in?

Certainly, the resort to mob rule is not the means to prevail in the free marketplace of ideas. At least for those who believe that a free marketplace of ideas exists. But certainly as well there are people who believe that mob rule is the only way they can liberate themselves from the free marketplace of ideas dominated by what some American conservatives proudly refer to as “the Judeo-Christian moral code”. 

They have their moral codes, we have ours. What many fail to understand is that the world became interconnected faster than people’s capacity for mutual adjustment. So the first instinct is to impose one’s self on the other in order to maintain one’s comfort zone. It takes a while to learn that the only way to have peace is to co-exist and not to impose peace. 

We are still in the culture clash stage. And so when one does something that offends the other, intentionally or not, one cannot presume the other will respond in a like manner, as if only a reversal of roles were involved.

More importantly, you cannot, like Harry Roque thinks you can, dictate to the other how he should respond. He will respond in the way he responds. That’s it. And you better be prepared to live with it because that will be it until such time as we all get to know each other well enough to agree on a code of conduct.

For example, among Muslims freedom of expression does not extend to criticizing their faith. You cannot blaspheme or commit heresy and expect to get away with a slap on the wrist. That’s the way it is with them. It was also that way for Catholics and christians, for many centuries. So if it was okay for us then why is it not okay for them now? There is no right or wrong involved here, we have secularized, they have not. Who has the moral authority to say we are right and they are wrong?

The secularized go to war over politics, the religious go to war over faith. Asking who between the two is better is like saying that the cannibal who eats with a knife and fork is better than the cannibal who eats with his hands.

Roque could have screened the movie in a rented auditorium or at home and it would have been only him and his invited guests to face “whatever consequences” they were willing to face. They would still be defending a right but they would be doing it without involving those who really don’t give a rat’s ass about defending a bigot’s right to lie about another religion. 

There are people who believe that freedom of speech is better served by condemning bigotry and lies than by standing up for the right of bigots and liars to mouth off. They will defend the right to free speech in their own way just as Roque will in his own way. Unfortunately, Roque’s way put everyone in the UP campus at risk. Nang dadamay pa and that is a no-no in our culture.

The thing is until we can all agree on what democracy is and the extent and limits on freedom of expression, we must settle our differences in places where there is minimal risk of collateral damage. That’s what Roque failed to grasp, believing as he did that his idea of freedom of expression is the one size that fits all, with no need for personalized fittings. He took his fight to the UP campus, a “civilian” zone, instead of a battlefield where only combatants would face-off.

Anyway, after the screening, Harry Roque proclaimed, “Now that we have seen it, we can confidently say it is trash.”

Christ Almighty or Alahu Akbar, does one have to taste-test every foul-smelling mound on the sidewalk before he can confidently say “It is dog shit!”? 

Smartmatic execs told: Surrender passports

Smartmatic execs told: Surrender passports
abs-cbnNEWS.com

MANILA, Philippines – The Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) on Thursday urged foreign officials and employees of Smartmatic involved in the election automation project to send their passports to a Catholic bishop.

“We are calling in your bluff. Give us all your passports,” CCM co-convenor lawyer Harry Roque said in a statement.

Roque said his group will turn over the passports to Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz for safekeeping. He said Smartmatic Southeast Asia president Cesar Flores and other Smartmatic officials can send their passports to Cruz’s office at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines compound at 470 Gen. Luna Street, Intramuros, Manila.

“The Venezuelans behind Smartmatic, like us Filipinos, are predominantly Catholics. Surely, they can trust Archbishop Cruz to return their passports should there be no reason later to ensure their stay in the country,” CCM co-convenor Betina Legarda said.

Flores on Wednesday said he and other Smartmatic officials are willing to surrender their passports as an assurance that they will not flee the country amid massive glitches in the election automation process.

“If you want my passport, you can hold it in escrow,” Flores said during a press conference at the Commission on Elections’ main office in Manila.

Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal assured that the automated elections will push through on May 10. At least 76,000 flashcards were recalled by Comelec after PCOS machines failed to read votes for local candidates during Monday’s supposed final testing.

Flores has assured that Smartmatic-TIM will finish configuring flash cards for all PCOS machines by Friday morning. He said Smartmatic-TIM may also recycle some of the recalled flash cards if the shipments do not arrive on time.

Comelec officials, meanwhile, said if the configuration is not finished by May 10, the poll body can hold special elections in affected areas.

Running priest to go on hunger strike, hits Church's ‘pro-admin stance’

Running priest to go on hunger strike, hits Church’s ‘pro-admin stance’
NIKKA CORSINO
GMANews.TV

Catholic priest Father Robert Reyes, who has gained a reputation for running to advocate causes he believes in, will not run this time but refuse food, as he decried the pro-administration stand of a ranking Church official who rejected people power if the May 10 elections fail.

Fr. Reyes on Wednesday announced he would go on a hunger strike from 10 a.m. on May 8 to 10 a.m on Election Day “to appeal to the Comelec for a credible elections,” in the wake of increasing public concern caused by the failure of counting machines in field tests this week.

At the same time, the “running priest” chided the Catholic church for following what he called “the Malacañang line.”

Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales on Sunday rejected the possibility of a people power uprising if the May 10 election fails or is tainted by massive cheating, dismissing such calls as irresponsible and “crazy, crazy, crazy.” (See: Cardinal Rosales rejects people power if elections fail)

“Many Catholic churches are badly compromised, kaya hindi na kailangang mag-dalawang isip kung ano ang ibig sabihin ni Cardinal Rosales noong isang araw na hindi siya magtatawag ng People Power (so they didn’t need to think twice about what Cardinal Rosales meant the other day about not calling for People Power). That is definitely the Malacañang line. Unfortunately, the Church has become the mouthpiece of this administration,” the running priest told reporters.

Reyes also joined the call for a manual count by the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) led by lawyer Harry Roque, who had accused Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales of planning a military junta in case of a failure of elections. (See: Lawyer condemns Gonzales’ plan to effect ‘transitional junta’)

“The moral scandal here is that she [Macapagal-Arroyo] will stay in power. This is the worst thing that could ever happen to us. It is like a priest telling us, ipagpatuloy mo ang kasalanan mo, basta ‘wag kang papahuli, tayong dalawa lang ang nakakaalam (continue your sinning, just don’t get caught, only the two of us will know),” Reyes said.

“Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is a public sinner. She should not even be allowed to receive communion, but she receives communion from all the bishops,” Reyes lamented.

Despite Cardinal Rosales’ rejection of people power, Reyes urged the rest of the Catholic Church to take a ‘pro-people’ stand.

Ito ang malungkot, walang posisyon ang simbahang Katoliko (This is so sad, the Catholic church not having a position). And even if I risk being excommunicated, I’d like to ask the bishops to [abandon their] political loyalties to a corrupt and immoral president and decide in favor of democracy and our people.”

Reyes joined the CCM’s calls to take protests to the streets in case of a failure of elections.

“We’re reaching a point where people have to take a stand. If our institutions are all badly compromised, people should go out to the streets. Prepare for people power and let us save this country from irrelevant and compromised leadership,” the outspoken priest added.—JV, GMANews.TV

Agra breaks into tears but still sticks to order

Agra breaks into tears but still sticks to order
By Miko Morelos, Dona Pazzibugan, Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—He admits he’s a crybaby.

Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra, in the eye of a storm over his decision to clear two members of the powerful Ampatuan clan of murder charges in what has come to be known as the Maguindanao Massacre, was in tears Thursday as he spoke about the public criticism that was hurting him and his family.

But he’s still sticking to his decision.

Agra also took pains to clarify that the Palace directive on a review of the case of Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan only meant a closer scrutiny of case records once private prosecutors had filed a motion for reconsideration.

Speaking before employees of the Bureau of Corrections at the national penitentiary, where he signed the new rules on parole, Agra said he was sorry that he was “on the verge of crying.”

“I was brought up to be a crybaby by my father, and I am just being true to myself,” he said in Filipino.

Agra said being in the headlines and pilloried by angry protesters were taking a toll on him and his family.

He said it pained him to see the name “bequeathed to me by my father” made the subject of snide wordplay—a reference to placards with the words “Agra-biyado” and “Agra-be” held up by protesters at the Department of Justice.

“That hurts me because I am a family guy,” he said.

He also said he was glad that his family was abroad, and pleaded with his critics to spare his loved ones from their anger.

Public outrage notwithstanding, Malacañang Thursday made it clear that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo remained behind Agra.

Her deputy spokesperson, Gary Olivar, acknowledged that Agra’s controversial decision had its political cost on the unpopular President, but maintained that “the primary consideration is still what the law allows and requires you to do.”

“Sometimes, you make the legally correct decision and you have no choice if there are costs associated with it,” Olivar said, adding that Agra “continues to enjoy the full discretion and authority of his office with respect to the conduct of prosecutorial proceedings on the Maguindanao massacre case.”

3 options

Later in an interview with reporters, Agra said he had conferred with Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza on the directive for a review of the case, and was told that the justice department should pay close attention to the records attached to the motion for reconsideration.

“So they were not asking that based on the current records I have I should revisit my decision,” he said.

Agra said he was “standing firm” on his resolution on the Ampatuans, reiterating that it was solely based on evidence and documents presented to him.

“Until and unless a motion for recommendation is filed, I will stick with my decision,” he said. “If there is a motion for recommendation [filed], I have three options: Affirm my earlier decision, modify it, or reverse it.”

Agra said part of Malacañang’s order was for him to submit a weekly report on the developments in the Ampatuan case.

He said he was considering forming a new panel of prosecutors to review Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan’s case once private lawyers of the massacre victims filed a motion for reconsideration.

“Or I’ll look at the evidence again. But right now, I’m more inclined to form a panel. But of course, they will not be the ones who took part in the case,” he said.

Agra said he respected the protest rallies mounted by the families of the 57 massacre victims.

“I hope [their anger] wouldn’t reach a point where my life and the lives of my family are under threat,” he said. “My conscience is clear. I can still sleep soundly at night, albeit in shorter hours because of the heavy workload.”

Disbar him

The families of nine of the 32 media workers killed in Maguindanao in November 2009 Thursday formally sought Agra’s disbarment as a lawyer for issuing the resolution supposedly contrary to law and for deceit and gross misconduct in office.

The victims’ families represented by lawyer Harry Roque Jr. filed their petition before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines office in Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

In his resolution which he issued at the close of office hours on April 16, a Friday, Agra ordered prosecutors to “immediately” amend the information filed in court and exclude Zaldy Ampatuan, the suspended governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and Maguindanao Vice Gov. Akmad Ampatuan Sr. from the murder case and to report back to him within five days upon receipt of his order.

But Roque said Agra should have dismissed the Ampatuans’ petitions for review from the start because these did not give the complainants a copy of their petition.

Roque also took Agra to task for violating the complainants’ right to due process by not giving them a chance to comment.

He said it was “basic and elementary” for any lawyer like Agra, to “first hear the side of the other party” before issuing a resolution.

“It was utterly unlawful, dishonest, deceitful, immoral and certainly shameless to the legal profession that Attorney Agra proceeded to railroad his resolution without consideration of the complainants’ right to be heard,” he said.

Disregard of evidence

Roque also said Agra violated administrative rules for failing to seek the approval of Chief State Prosecutor Claro Arellano before issuing his resolution.

He said Agra’s finding that there was lack of probable cause against Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan amounted to “unlawful, dishonest and deceitful disregard of the evidence.”

But in a statement Thursday, Ampatuan family lawyer Sigfrid Fortun claimed that Agra’s exoneration of the two Ampatuans was “based on evidence.”

Fortun played down the testimony of witness Kenny Dalandag, who was identified as a member of the Ampatuan private army, claiming that he saw Zaldy Ampatuan among those meeting in the house of clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr. in Shariff Aguak in the evening of Nov. 22, 2009, the eve of the massacre.

He insisted that Zaldy was not in Maguindanao at the time, and that Zaldy’s cell phone records showed a call was made at 7:04 p.m. from Davao City.

Fortun also said Akmad Ampatuan was not included in the original complaints prepared by the National Bureau of Investigation on Dec. 11, 2009, and by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group on Dec. 7. 2009.

“How could Secretary Agra therefore order the indictment and continued detention of a person who was not even mentioned in the complaints filed by the NBI and CIDG?” he said.

For court to settle

Olivar acknowledged that the decision clearing the two Ampatuans could be seen as an “unnecessary aggravation” in the sense that it was something Agra could have left to the courts to settle.

“I understand, from the point of view of political expediency, you can make that argument,” he said. “But from the point of view of the operation of law, I’m not sure that that’s an argument that can be made or would be considered as legitimate.”

Olivar claimed that Ms Arroyo was not informed about the resolution before Agra made it public.

“I would imagine that this was also news to her when this first broke in the news,” he said, noting that Cabinet officials were not necessarily required to “clear everything in advance with her.”

‘Politics before justice’

Olivar assured the relatives of the massacre victims that Ms Arroyo “expects that the judicial system will prosecute the perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law so that justice will be served.”

But the human rights group Amnesty International (AI) expressed concern over the case, saying the dropping of murder charges against the two Ampatuans just before the national elections “smacks of placing politics before justice and human rights.”

In a statement, AI said the government must continue to pursue the case against the Ampatuans as part of its commitment.

“The Philippines must abide by its obligations under international human rights law to ensure effective remedy for victims of human rights abuses and their families, and to prevent impunity,” AI said.

It said the Maguindanao Massacre had put the Philippine government “under international scrutiny.”

AI also said allegations of poll fraud in 2004 had “cast a heavy shadow” on the next elections.

“With the elections coming up in May, the Philippine government needs to demonstrate that it will not tolerate impunity for human rights for political gain,” it said. With reports from Alcuin Papa, Michael Lim Ubac and Carla P. Gomez, Inquirer Visayas

Ampatuan endorses Aquino for president

Ampatuan endorses Aquino for president
philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines (AP) – The principal suspect in the Philippines’ worst political massacre professed his innocence and endorsed a presidential candidate in a much-criticized press conference held in the capital’s maximum-security jail.

“I know very well that I am not the perpetrator because I was in my town hall then,” Andal Ampatuan Jr., former mayor of a town in southern Maguindanao province, told a group of journalists.

Looking fresh and relaxed in a yellow shirt and arm band, Ampatuan endorsed Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., the opposition candidate who is leading in the polls ahead of the May 10 presidential elections.

The conference sparked condemnation and fueled accusations that the current government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is favoring the powerful Ampatuan clan, which is suspected of plotting and carrying out the Nov. 23 massacre of 57 people.

“We condemn this in the strongest terms, this is so callous,” said Harry Roque, lawyer of the slain journalists. “This is another indication that we cannot get justice under this administration.”

The massacre was unprecedented in a country known for election violence and political killings that have claimed hundreds of lives in the past decade. Among the victims were more than 30 journalists and their staff – the deadliest known attack on media workers in the world. The killings elevated the Philippines to the top of a list of the world’s most dangerous places for reporters.

At the conference, Ampatuan thanked Justice Secretary Alberto Agra’s controversial April 17 decision to clear a brother and a brother-in-law of murder charges and repeated his family’s claim that Muslim separatist guerrillas in their Maguindanao stronghold, where the massacre took place, carried out the killings. The decision not to prosecute the pair sparked street protests and public criticism from government prosecutors.

Monette Salaysay, 55-year-old wife of the slain editor of a provincial tabloid, said Ampatuan was trying to fool the public.

“How can he pretend to be innocent?” Salaysay asked. “If you can open my heart you won’t find anything but pure hatred against these killers.”

Prison officer Lloyd Gonzaga said Ampatuan operated through his lawyer to obtain permission for the conference. Prison authorities rarely allow inmates to hold news conferences.

Witnesses testified in court that Ampatuan led dozens of gunmen in blocking a convoy of the rival Mangudadatu clan members, followers and journalists as they were about to register a clan candidate to run in local elections. They were later shot on a nearby hilltop.

Three days after the killings, Ampatuan turned himself in to police. Prosecutors later filed an indictment against his father, clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr., and dozens of others in February, in the country’s largest murder case since World War II war crime trials.

Maguindanao massacre families to appeal over dropped charges

Maguindanao massacre families to appeal over dropped charges
Agence France-Presse via ABS-CBN

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) – Families of those slain in the Philippines’ worst political massacre vowed on Sunday to appeal a government decision to drop charges against 2 members of a Muslim clan blamed for the killings.

“We are going to oppose this order in court. We will file an appeal,” Harry Roque, a private prosecutor representing some of the families, told AFP.

“They are angry, feel they were absolutely betrayed by the government, and believe there is a political compromise,” he charged.

Justice Secretary Alberto Agra on Saturday ordered murder charges be dropped against cousins Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan for the November massacre in strife-torn Maguindanao province.

He said both men presented alibis that showed they were not present at the time of the massacre in which 57 people, including many journalists, were executed at point blank range by gunmen loyal to the Ampatuans.

Government prosecutors had initially charged that both men and other members of the Ampatuan clan conspired to carry out the murders.

The murders were allegedly intended to prevent a rival from running against clan member Andal Ampatuan Jr. for the post of provincial governor in the May 10 national elections.

“The decision dropping murder charges against them was so sly and done on a weekend when no one was looking,” Roque said. “It is so brazen, and shows that justice will not be reached in this administration.”

Roque said his clients would also ask the court handling the case to disqualify the present panel of state prosecutors and appoint new ones.

The Ampatuan clan had enjoyed close political ties with President Arroyo until she was forced to disown them amid international outrage in the aftermath of the bloodbath.

Arroyo’s government had in the past used the clan’s huge private army to help the government in its anti-insurgency drive, and to ensure that her candidates won in the south during previous elections, security analysts said.

In exchange, the government allegedly turned a blind eye to corruption and abuses in the local government, while the clan was building up its vast wealth.

In his 16-page resolution dropping the charges, Agra said public outrage should not be a reason “for a sweeping and senseless indictment”.

“To be sure, if life is taken, justice demands that the wrong be redressed,” he said.

“But this same justice that calls for retribution cannot be the same one that would convict the accused whose guilt cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt,” he said.

Alibi

Maguindanao gubernatorial candidate Ismael “Toto” Mangudadatu, whose wife and sisters were among those murdered, also vowed to question Agra’s decision.

In his interview on ANC’s “Dateline Philippines Sunday,” Mangudadatu pointed out that Zaldy and Akmad might not be present when the murder was committed, but a witness has testified that they took part in planning the gruesome crime.

He also dismissed Zaldy’s defense that he was in Manila on Nov. 23, 2009 when the murder occurred. Quoting a witness’ testimony, Mangudadatu said Zaldy was in Maguindanao on the eve of the murder to allegedly plan the crime before rushing to Davao City to take a morning flight to Manila.

“Tama naman po ang sinabi niya na he wasn’t there during the massacre. He was in Malacañang that time. But it doesn’t mean that Zaldy Ampatuan ay hindi kasali diyan sa planning,” he said.

Despite Agra’s decision, Mangudadatu said his camp will ensure that Zaldy and Akmad will not be released from jail. He said he and his camp are prepared to bring the case to the Supreme Court if their motion for reconsideration is denied.

He also called on Agra, who he said represented the Ampatuans in their election cases, not to be hasty in dropping the charges against the 2 Ampatuans as he reminded him that 57 innocent people were killed in the massacre.

2 Ampatuans to go free

2 Ampatuans to go free
By Dona Pazzibugan, Marlon Ramos
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The government will drop murder charges against two prominent members of the powerful Ampatuan clan in connection with the November 2009 massacre of 57 people, including 31 media workers, in Maguindanao.

Zaldy Ampatuan, the suspended governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and his cousin Akmad Ampatuan, the former acting vice governor of Maguindanao, will be dropped from the list of those accused, Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra said Saturday.

The two men were initially alleged to be among the key planners of the massacre that drew condemnation from all over the world.

Agra said he had ordered state prosecutors to exclude Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan from the information sheet filed before the court, and that the prosecutors would formally inform Quezon City Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes that they were not charging the two with murder.

Asked if the two would now be released, Agra said: “It will depend on the judge.”

Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan were among the family members transferred from detention in General Santos City and Davao City to Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City, on Friday night.

The dropping of charges is seen to provoke outrage among the massacre victims’ relatives, who have repeatedly voiced concern that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had secretly intended to protect the Ampatuans because they were longtime political allies.

In February, the prosecution charged that Zaldy, Akmad and other members of the Ampatuan clan conspired to murder the Mangudadatus, their political rivals, who were in a convoy accompanied by lawyers and journalists on Nov. 23.

But Agra said Saturday that there was “no proof of conspiracy,” so he gave weight to Zaldy Ampatuan’s alibi of being elsewhere at the time of the massacre.

He said Zaldy Ampatuan had presented evidence consisting of plane tickets and cell phone records to show that he was not in Maguindanao on Nov. 23, and a witness who testified to that effect.

Agra said there was likewise no proof of conspiracy with regard to Akmad Ampatuan, who, he claimed, was not identified by witness Kenny Dalagdag, was not included in the charge sheet of the National Bureau of Investigation and Philippine National Police, and had an alibi of being part of a medical mission elsewhere at the time of the massacre.

But lawyer Harry Roque, who represents the families of some of the massacre victims, pointed out that “under criminal law, alibi is the weakest form of defense.”

Roque also said witness Dalagdag had testified that Zaldy Ampatuan knew of the plan to kill members of the Mangudadatu clan.

DOJ, Arroyo’s political arm

Roque said the dropping of charges against the two Ampatuans was the handiwork of the President through Agra, who, being a member of the Cabinet, was her “alter ego.”

He said Agra’s decision was “not only erroneous [but also] scandalous.”

“Agra is the alter ego of the President. He can’t do anything without [her] consent. This is Gloria in action,” an upset Roque told the Inquirer.

He added: “It only proves that victims of the massacre will never get justice under the Arroyo administration.”

Roque said the widows of the slain journalists would immediately petition Judge Solis-Reyes to disqualify the state prosecutors from handling the murder case.

He said Agra’s decision could be part of a supposed plan of the administration to use the Ampatuans’ “cheating machineries” to ensure the victory of its national candidates.

“The Department of Justice is acting like the political arm of Ms Arroyo. This is the price of using the cheating machineries of the Ampatuans,” he said.

Transfer hailed

In General Santos, Manuel Reblando, elder brother of slain Manila Bulletin reporter Alejandro “Bong” Reblando, expressed satisfaction that five members of the Ampatuan clan led by patriarch Andal Sr. had been moved from police and military custody to Camp Bagong Diwa.

“We are happy that they were finally brought to a place where they really belong—a maximum-security prison cell,” he said.

Reblando hailed Judge Solis-Reyes for issuing the commitment order that paved the way for the transfer of Andal Sr., his sons Zaldy, Anwar and Sajid, and nephew Akmad to Camp Bagong Diwa, where they joined primary suspect Andal Jr.

He said reporters would now be able to “closely monitor” if the Ampatuans were being given “special treatment.”

Reblando said that under the custody of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in General Santos, Zaldy and the other Ampatuans “lived in comfort.” With reports from Aquiles Z. Zonio and Nash Maulana, Inquirer Mindanao; Nina Calleja; and Agence France-Presse

Abalos, 10 others charged with graft for 2008 polls

Abalos, 10 others charged with graft for 2008 polls
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Former elections chairman Benjamin Abalos and 10 other officials of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) were charged with graft before the Office of the Ombudsman yesterday in connection with the procurement of election forms for the 2008 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Reached by The STAR, Abalos denied having any involvement in the allegedly anomalous transaction since he was no longer with the Comelec when it took place.

Abalos resigned as chairman in October 2007, five months before the supposed bidding process was undertaken.

“Definitely, I don’t know anything about it,” he said.

Five members of the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) accused Abalos and the poll officials of entering into an anomalous transaction for the procurement of election forms and supplies for the 2008 elections in the ARMM.

The complainants said bloated prices approved by Comelec commissioners and members of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) caused the government to lose P8.5 million.

Among those charged for alleged violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act were Commissioners Jose Armando Melo, Nicodemo Ferrer, Rene Sarmiento, Moslemen Macarambon Sr., Lucenito Tagle and Resurreccion Borra.

BAC members Jose Tolentino Jr., Thaddeus P. Hernan, James Arthur Jimenez, and Ma. Norina Tangarao-Casingal were also named respondents.

Lawyer Harry Roque and the CCM members said the Comelec officials committed graft in causing undue injury to Advance Paper Corp. and the government by giving undue advantage to three other private firms who lost the bidding process for a procurement contract on March 24, 2008.

Apart from giving unwarranted benefits to the losing bidders, graft was also committed when the poll body entered into a procurement contract that was allegedly “manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government,” according to the complainants.

The complaint said Advance Paper Corp. won the public bidding for “Forms and Supplies for the Resumption of the Continuing Registration of Voters” in the ARMM after giving the lowest and most advantageous bids for five specific items or forms.

However, after the process, the Comelec disqualified the firm for allegedly being a sister-company of Advance Computer Forms Inc., a blacklisted company.

The only trivial basis for the accusation was that the companies shared the name “Advance,” the complaint added.

On March 25, 2008, Advance Paper Corp. filed a motion for reconsideration with the Comelec BAC to show that based on corporate documents, the two companies had different stockholders, and that they were not subsidiaries or affiliates of each other.

Despite the evidence presented, the poll body, three days later, issued Notices of Award (NOA) in favor of losing bidders Forms International Enterprise Corp.; Philand Industries, Inc., and Consolidated Paper Products, Inc. “instead of resolving Advance Paper Corporation’s motion for reconsideration.”

Roque and the CCM members said the awarding of the procurement contracts for supplies to the three other firms resulted in bloated prices and the loss of more than P8.5 million to the government.

“From the foregoing, it could be seen that the Comelec BAC caused undue injuries to Advance Paper Corporation and to the government by first, unjustifiably disqualifying this corporation by merely alleging that it was related to a blacklisted company. The unfounded and whimsical decision of the Comelec BAC denied the government of a cost-effective bid for election documents offered by Advance Paper Corporation,” read the complaint.

“Second, the Comelec BAC, with manifest partiality and evident bad faith as shown by the unexplainable indifference to Advance Paper Corporation’s pending motion for reconsideration, awarded overpriced procurement contracts to losing bidders who gained unwarranted benefits, advantages and preferences causing undue injuries to Advance Paper Corporation and to the government.”

Comelec urged to purge BAC

The Comelec was urged yesterday to purge its ranks in the wake of mounting controversies on the conduct of the elections on May 10.

Lakas-Kampi-CMD senatorial candidate Raul Lambino said the poll body must examine and discontinue questionable deals made by members of the BAC.

“This is already a question about the integrity of the Comelec,” he said.

“The public might doubt the Comelec every time it procures something. It could also be flooded with accusations of poll cheating after the election period because of this latest scam.”

Lambino said it is not too late for the Comelec to implement corrective measures to win back the trust and confidence of the people.

“One of them is to effect a reshuffle of its BAC members and relieve all its officials implicated in the ballot secrecy folder scam,” he said. – Michael Punongbayan, Jaime Laude