Press Release
November 21, 2011

Transcript of interview with Senator Santiago

The issue of whether the DOJ-Comelec task force to investigate election fraud is constitutional is a no-brainer. It is constitutional. Number one: the Constitution provides that the Comelec is an independent agency. Number two, in the landmark case of Macalintal v. Comelec, the Supreme Court itself said the meaning of the phrase "the Comelec shall be an independent" means that it shall be independent of both the Congress and the Supreme Court. Neither Congress nor the Supreme Court has supervisory authority over the Comelec, and therefore we should leave the Comelec alone to discharge as it sees fit its main function which is to ensure free, orderly, and honest elections. So if the Comelec decides to go into a joint partnership with the DOJ in the trial and prosecution of electoral cases, that is well within its mandate. I am afraid that this petition from the Arroyo camp is very weak and will not prosper since there is no question about the constitutional independence of the Comelec. I am afraid that the anti-Comelec petition of the Arroyo camp is going to die a natural death.

It will be better if they assail the jurisdiction of the trial court which issued the arrest order on the ground that it should be the Sandiganbayan that has jurisdiction because Rep. Arroyo is a member of the House of Representatives and that the law provides that all anti-graft cases against public officials must be filed before the Sandiganbayan. That should be the better ground, I humbly submit in my opinion.

I believe the petition could be made stronger if they should invoke the constitutional provision that no person should be deprived of life, liberty and property without due process of law. They will then have to show that the issuance of a warrant was too hasty so as to violate due process. Can it be possible that a task force charged only with the prosecution and investigation of cases should have taken no action until three days after the justice secretary refused to obey the Supreme Court? We can see from the timeline alone that there appears to be a movement in bad faith on the part of the administration to prevent Rep. Arroyo from leaving the country at all. They could have filed that case long before or long after, but why file right after the Supreme Court has ruled that her right to travel must be respected?

So the better argument is: there is no due process of law and there is inherent bad faith in the timing of the filing of the case in the RTC and the consequent issuance of the warrant of arrest; and that there is political persecution.

Due process of law means you notify the accused what she is accused of, you give her full notice of what is supposed to be lodged against her, what is the evidence if possible, and then give her a full period of time to submit her counter-evidence.

How can you possibly file a case with allegedly eight volumes of documents and evidence only three days after the Supreme Court has issued a TRO order on the travel ban? If the Supreme Court allows her to travel, and three days later a case is filed in the RTC that prevents her from traveling, even if they suspect that there is bad faith, that the intention is really to circumvent or supersede the order of the Supreme Court, then that should not be allowed. Adopting also the thinking of the Department of Justice, since the case was ordered to be filed and it was filed immediately, then there is something wrong because, according to the thinking of the Department of Justice, if there is a motion for reconsideration, then nothing is final yet. So, if the task force decided to file the case, and motion for reconsideration has been filed, the matter is not final and executory. You can turn it on its head.

Normally you don't do that [show the mugshot of the Rep. Arroyo] because it violates certain rights of the suspect. Remember that she is only a suspect or a person of interest. She is not yet the accused because of this pending motion for reconsideration with the case before the RTC assailing no less than the jurisdiction of the RTC. You see, the Arroyo camp has to assail the RTC because the Supreme Court will have jurisdiction over two topics: jurisdiction of the lower courts, and the constitutionality of what is being assailed. They have to keep within these bounds. They should have jurisdiction on the ground that the jurisdiction belongs to the Sandiganbayan, and they should have assailed constitutionality on the ground that the arrest warrant and the resolution of the task force denied them due process of law.

All of this is the fault of certain people, of a movement within Malacañang that is following blind vengeance against Rep. Arroyo. They are putting President Aquino in legal peril. Credibility is very fragile. Once you have undone it, you cannot bring it back. So if they keep on doing this to the Supreme Court, it is possible that the public will think that this is an administration not bent on justice but on vengeance. I charge that there is a movement within Malacañang that has for the moment captured the president's ear and has been buzzing around his ear for an intolerable period of time, and have therefore persuaded the president that this is what should be done. But the members of this movement are not lawyers, so they think that they can just have their way, which is the basic principle of people who eventually become tyrants or dictators.

That is the problem: overweening ignorance. You are so proud that you can do anything although you are not full aware of what the law says can lead to disastrous effects. As a member of the Commission on Appointments, I will not allow any member of this movement in Malacañang to pass confirmation by the CA because I think they are doing a disservice to the President, but also the country. We must all obey the rule of law. Sec. De Lima is just being used as a poster girl, the poster bad girl of justice because she refused to obey the Supreme Court, but actually it was the instigation of this movement inside Malacañang that forced her hand. She is just a subordinate. She has to follow orders. It is these people in the shadows who should come out. Then we could hail them to the Supreme Court for contempt.

There are always several cliques around the president. They are always fighting each other. I think it is in the nature of the presidency and maybe it is time for the president to lend the other ear to the lawyers in his staff.

Do you approve of a house arrest for Rep. Arroyo?

In the case of former President Estrada, he was given house arrest. So in order to deal justice with an even hand, we should give the former president, if necessary, at least a house arrest as well. But as I said, we still have to wait for the Supreme Court to act on its latest petition. It is just that I'm very worried that, in according the right to travel, the Supreme Court might seize at this very weak argument as a means of disposing of the petition completely.

Just because the offense of electoral sabotage is non-bailable, it does not mean that automatically the accused will have to be detained or arrested because the rule is that even if the offense is non-bailable, still the prosecution has the duty to prove that evidence of guilt is strong. So if the judge requires preliminary evidence on the question of bail, if the prosecution is unable to prove that evidence of guilt is strong, Rep. Arroyo will still be able to evade detention. She will not necessarily be in jail during the proceedings if the evidence of guilt is not strong.

Are you in favor in airing the trial live on television?

Why not? When the trial against President Estrada was conducted, it was aired on television. It depends basically on the discretion of the judge, on whether he thinks that the crowd would be so unruly that it will retract on the majesty of the law.

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