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Newsbriefs 19 January Morning
Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan

Lozano case rejection won’t faze opposition

Gladdened by the House of Representatives secretary-general’s rejection of the impeachment complaint against President Arroyo filed by the lawyer Oliver Lozano, the opposition said on Wednesday its own complaint will have a bigger chance of making it.

The House minority leader, Rep. Francis Escudero, also said what Lozano did in getting ahead of refiling opposition’s endorsed impeachment complaint did not affect them in any way.

"We had nothing to do with what Lozano did. It does not affect us in any way," Escudero said.

New witnesses to face Senate wiretap hearing (

The Senate Committee on National Defense resumes its hearing today, Thursday, on the "Hello Garci" tapes, focusing on the wiretapping aspect of the conversation between President Arroyo and former Commission on Election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, committee chairman, said six new witnesses will testify.
Biazon earlier said the three new tapes will be played in Thursday’s inquiry.

"We will determine if there were other people besides the President and Garcillano whose phone conversations were wiretapped during the 2004 elections," Biazon said.

Senate sources on Wednesday said that former senator Gregorio Honasan was invited to the hearing.

But Honasan expressed reservations because the issue of the escape from prison of the soldiers in the failed Oakwood mutiny of 2003 "has become too complicated and too hot to handle," the source said.

The informant said Honasan was invited because his wiretapped conversation with "someone" will also be played.

The former senator was the head of security of the late presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. He also had the task to oversee sample ballot distribution until the Holy Week of 2004.

The source said Honasan’s conversation with a general was tapped, prompting Biazon to say the hearing would be "explosive" because of the new witnesses.

"Generals will attend the hearing to shed light on the matter," the senator said.

Army knew of escape plan (

IT'S A CASE of being forewarned but not being forearmed, if the military is to be believed.

Four Army junior officers who took part in the 2003 Oakwood mutiny pulled off their escape from a high-security detention center in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City on Tuesday night although the Army officials supposedly knew of their plan.

Captain Nathaniel Rabonza and 1st Lieutenants Lawrence San Juan, Sonny Sarmiento and Patricio Bumindang Jr. escaped several hours after they attended a hearing at a Makati Regional Trial Court.

Exactly how the four escaped remained a mystery. At 8 a.m. yesterday, 11 hours after the discovery of the escape, Army chief Lieutenant General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. told reporters the military had known about the plan to break loose and had tried to preempt it.

Esperon said he ordered the transfer of the four mutineers from the Custodial Management Unit (CMU) to a nearby building on Tuesday afternoon to prevent them from escaping.

"They were supposed to be transferred but there was a discussion with the lawyer. There was a delay and so they had an opportunity to escape," Esperon told reporters.

Magdalo lawyer, senators don't buy story (

LAWYER Roel Pulido is not buying the Army's story that four more Oakwood mutineers have escaped from military custody.

At least not yet.

"Until one of them calls me, I'm open to both possibilities," said Pulido, referring to the other possibility that the Army was hiding his clients.

Senator Rodolfo Biazon, chair of the Senate committee on national defense, also raised questions about the whereabouts of the four junior officers.

"Did they escape? Where they allowed to escape? Are they being hidden? And the 4th one that I heard this morning, niligpit ba (where they killed)? If they were allowed to escape by certain elements, does this indicate that the sympathy to the Magdalo's cause is widespread?" Biazon said.

"If they escaped, in the face of the fact that there was supposed to be an intelligence report that they were going to escape, this is not a failure of intelligence, (but) a failure in the implementation of the operational unit," Biazon said. "However, if they are being hidden, why are they being hidden?"

US decision on marines won’t affect case --- judge (

THE US refusal to surrender four marines charged with raping a Filipina won’t affect their trial, Judge Renato Dilag said yesterday as the government appealed for calm on a second day of anti-American protests.

The US embassy told the government on Tuesday that it will keep the marines in its custody despite Manila’s request to hand them over, citing the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that allows large-scale American military exercises in the Philippines.
American officials promised to present the accused when needed.

The detention infuriated politicians, some of whom called for the scrapping of VFA, as left-wing protesters rallied in front of the US embassy for the second straight day.

Police said they detained at least three demonstrators who came too close to the fenced compound after breaking away from a group of about 100 activists who shouted “US troops out now” and “Down with US imperialism.”

Government officials came under fire for failing to secure custody of the American servicemen.

In a statement issued yesterday, Rep. Crispin Beltran denounced “a spineless government” represented by inept executives in the foreign affairs and justice departments who “cower in fear before the US.”

Senators want separate vote on Charter change (

Senators on Wednesday insisted on their prerogative to vote on constitutional change separately from the House of Representatives.

They took up the issue of whether the Senate and House should vote separately during the first hearing of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, Revision of Codes and Laws on Charter change.

Congressmen had said they alone can constitute a constituent assembly and that the three-fourths vote provided for in the Constitution could be settled among themselves. House members also proposed that they can add the 235 members of the House and the 23 members of the Senate and compute what will make up three-fourths.

Under the rules, a three-fourths vote by the House and the Senate is needed to rewrite the Constitution.

Army: No wider destabilization plot (

Security officials dismissed reports yesterday that Tuesday night’s escape of four Oakwood mutineers was part of a wider destabilization plot against President Arroyo.

"We are looking at this as a pure escape," Army chief Lt. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon said after ordering a full investigation into the escape of the four junior officers who took part in a mutiny against Mrs. Arroyo in July 2003.

Esperon said he did not believe the jailbreak was part of another power grab in the offing.

Following the escape, the military and police were placed on full alert, which also forced the President to cancel her scheduled trip to the Bicol Region and call for an emergency meeting with her security officials.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita admitted the escape was a cause for concern but that he was not "overly alarmed" since the military reported no unauthorized troop movements.

Magdalo escapees: A profile (

They’re young but they have apparently gained enough military expertise to outsmart their elder custodians.

This could explain how Army Capt. Nathaniel Rabonza and 1Lts. Sonny Sarmiento, Patricio Bumindang Jr. and Lawrence San Juan staged their walk-in-the-park escape Tuesday night from the supposedly high-security Army detention facility at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.

Rabonza’s profile showed that prior to his involvement in the short-lived July 27, 2003 Oakwood mutiny, he was a psychological warfare specialist assigned in the Army’s elite Special Forces.

A 1995 graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), Rabonza is a close relative of retired Maj. Gen. Glen Rabonza, now the administrator of the National Disaster Coordinating Council, an agency of the Department of National Defense.

San Juan is one of the Army’s counterterrorism experts, having undergone anti-terrorism training here and in the United States.

Before the Oakwood mutiny, San Juan, of PMA Class ’97, was assigned to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Light Reaction Company (LRC), a crack anti-terrorism force.

A product of the PMA Cass ’98, Bumindang received training on mechanized and armored warfare here and in the United States.

He was assigned to the Army Light Armor Regiment before the failed Oakwood uprising.

Sarmiento, a classmate of Bumindang, was an expert infantry officer who led many combat missions fighting Muslim rebels in Mindanao.

Sarmiento, whose last assignment was as a company commander at the Army’s 1st Infantry "Tabak" Division based in Pagadian City, sneaked past tight government security to join the failed military uprising.

Their disappearance from the detention facility of the Army’s Headquarters and Headquarters and Support Group (HHSG) at Fort Bonifacio was only discovered during a head count of detainees at about 9 p.m. Tuesday.

"Alam naman nilang mga members the AFP’s elite force ang mga iyan. Bakit nila hinayaan basta-basta ang mga batang iyan (They knew that they were members of the military’s elite force. Why did they guard them so lightly)?" asked one senior military officer.

Army investigators have yet to determine the exact time the four left their supposedly well-guarded cells undiscovered.

There was speculation that the four had been able to establish outside contacts who aided in their escape.

Prior to their disappearance, the four young officers protested their unauthorized transfer to a maximum-security facility, also located inside the HHSG compound.

Army chief Lt. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. earlier said the four were being transferred following reports that they were planning an escape.

But Esperon’s explanation failed to convince some in the military, claiming that the explanation was rather unusual for an army chief.

"He should know better than that. Kung mayroon report na planong pagtakas ang apat, bakit nakalusot pa? Dapat guardiyado na kaagad (If there was a report that they were planning to escape, how did they get away with it? They should have been closely watched immediately)," one officer wondered.

After the escape, security at Fort Bonifacio was immediately raised to its highest level. Even reporters were initially barred entry to the Army’s public information office.

Maj. Bartolome Bacarro, Army spokesman, also announced yesterday that security at the Army’s detention facility had been doubled.

Visits to Magdalo soldiers detained there were temporarily cancelled.

Prior to the escape of their colleagues, visitors of the detained soldiers, including Army Captains Milo Maestrecampo and Gerardo Gambala, two of the six key leaders of the failed military uprising, were given free access.

Gambala and Maestrecampo were transferred to the Army detention facility where they are free to receive visitors as part of a deal made with the government.

They were previously detained at the detention facility of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) at Camp Aguinaldo where visits are only open to relatives and on a limited basis.

"Doon sa Philippine Army (PA) puwede silang tumanggap ng bisita kahit sino. Maluwag doon (They can receive visitors at the Philippine Army facility. There are less restrictions there)," a military source said. — Jaime Laude

High court junks case vs Northrail

THE Supreme Court yesterday threw out a constitutional challenge to the multibillion-peso Northrail Project in Bulacan.

In a single-page resolution, the 15-member tribunal said the motion for reconsideration filed by the League of Urban Poor for Action was denied with finality because the petitioners failed to raise new arguments to warrant a reversal of its previous ruling.

Last Oct. 11, the urban poor group represented by lawyer Harry Roque petitioned the Supreme Court to declare the Northrail contract unconstitutional.

The high court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction but said the petitioners could file their complaint before the lower courts, which could look into whether competitive biddings were held before the contract was awarded to the China National Machinery and Equipment Corp. (CNMEC), and whether there was a prior appropriation of public funds and certification of its availability by proper accounting officials.

These are matters best left to a lower court, the justices said.
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