By Virgilio J. Bugaoisan
The Daily Tribune
The probe on the alleged 2007 electoral fraud has not even quite started by way of hearings, yet both Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, along with poll chairman Sixto Brillantes, and the presidential spokesmen appear to have prejudged the case against former President Arroyo and not only have deemed her guilty, but they have even pronounced already just where she would be jailed: In the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa.
Edwin Lacierda, speaking for President Aquino, yesterday said that Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo will not get any VIP (Very Important Person) treatment and will definitely be sent to the National Bilibid Prison if and when she is arrested in connection with accusations that she is behind the alleged massive election cheating during the 2004 and 2007 elections.
A day earlier, Brilliantes claimed that Arroyo will be in jail by Christmas, as election fraud is a non-bailable offense, creating the general impression that the probe body will, even before any hearing is done, be found guilty by way of a finding of “probable cause” to arrest her.
The Constitution, however, says that no accused should be denied bail—even in so-called unbailable crimes, the only exception to this would be when strong evidence warrants an accused’s immediate detention.
Thus far, what Brillantes, De Lima and Malacañang claim is “strong evidence” against Arroyo is an affidavit from a former Maguindanao administrator, Norrie Unas, who claims to be a close confidant of former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan. Unas has been charged as one of the “brains” behind the Maguindanao massacre. He is under government protection through the WPP.
In a press briefing Thursday, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that despite Mrs. Arroyo’s stature as a former head of state, she will not get any special treatment from the Aquino government and that she would be treated just like any other ordinary citizen accused of an unbailable crime.
Lacierda made this statement in the light of the declaration made by Commission on Elections Chairman Brillantes that they now have a very strong case against Arroyo who will probably be arrested before the end of December in connection with her alleged role in manipulating the results of the 2004 and 2007 elections.
“Yes, of course. We have done so, that’s why we have reformed the National Bilibid Prisons. We make sure that there’s the equal protection clause so that nobody would be given special treatment in any case,” Lacierda said when asked for an assurance that Mrs. Arroyo will not be accorded VIP treatment once she is hauled to jail.
Despite all the clear statements that Aquino, through his mouthpieces, pointing to the guilt of Arroyo this early, and even making sure that there is a place reserved for the former president in the national penitentiary, Lacierda however denied that Malacañang has a hand in the ongoing investigation being conducted by the joint Department of Justice-Comelec task force in relation to allegations of massive electoral fraud during the term of Arroyo.
Yet it was Aquino who had stated that the testimony of Unas was “strong evidence” as he had personal knowledge of the instructions given by the then president to Andal Sr., to change the election results in Maguindanao to ensure a 12-0 victory for the administration’s Team Unity senatorial candidates.
Former Local Water Utilities Administration chairman Prospero Pichay admitted that indeed Arroyo did order all her then allies from the Lakas-Kampi NUCD party, which meant mayors, governors congressmen and senators nationwide to campaign for a 12-0 vote in favor of Team Unity senatorial bets.
“That was an order for Lakas partymates to campaign for the administration bets, and not an order to cheat in the 2007 polls,” Pichay told the Tribune the other day.
Pichay said he should know, since he was present at both meetings in Malacañang when the then president gave the 12-0 order to governors too, including Andal Sr.
“The President called on all the party members to campaign for a 12-0 vote, but look at what Unas is saying that she told Andal Sr. to change the election results. It is clear he is lying through his teeth. How can there be an order to change the election results when, at that time, there were still no elections, since it was still campaign time,” Pichay said.
“Unas is definitely not credible, Number one, he really is fooling the people. Number 2, he was already tagged as one of the masterminds of the Maguindanao massacre yet he is being made a state witness by De Lima and Brillantes,” Pichay stressed, adding that the administration should be careful in choosing their witnesses, because the administration may have an egg on its face.
Lacierda also refused to make a similar assurance that the former president would be arrested and jailed before the end of December.
“We are not privy to the deliberations going on in the task force. So it’s a statement made, my understanding, by Chairman Brillantes. So we don’t know the stage at which they are right now. That’s their target and we respect that,” Lacierda said.
When asked what would be the government response if Mrs. Arroyo or her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo would cite health reasons to dodge any jail time, Lacierda said the government would have to defer to the discretion of courts.