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UPDATED 11:55 a.m. - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Friday filed a case against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for electoral sabotage in the 2007 elections. According to Comelec spokesman James Jimenez, the Comelec filed the case at the Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 112 under Judge Jesus Mupas. Former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. and former election supervisor Lintang Bedol were included in the charge sheet but former First Gentleman Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo was excluded for insufficient evidence. In a text message to GMA News Online, Mrs. Arroyo's legal counsel Ferdinand Topacio said his official reaction to the filing of the case was "INAYKUPOO!" Jimenez said when the Comelec en banc signed a resolution calling for the filing of the case, five commissioners concurred while two other commissioners did not take part in the voting. Reporter Julius Segovia on GMA News TV said the two poll commissioners who abstained were Lucenito Tagle and Armando Velasco because they still had not read the resolution.
Not rushed? In an ambush interview on Friday, Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes admitted that they were filing the case to prevent Mrs. Arroyo from leaving the country. "Kaya nga namin finafile para makakuha na sa court ng hold departure [order] (HDO)," he said. However, he claimed that they did not rush the filing. He explained that they made the decision after the Department of Justice (DOJ) forwarded their recommendation to them last Wednesday. Brillantes said they decided to file the case against Mrs. Arroyo because the former President did not file any counteraffidavit. "Wala siyang rebutting evidence, she did not rebut any [of the accusations against her]," he said. "Basta kami ginawa lang namin yung trabaho namin na nandyan sa amin yung rekomendasyon, we acted on it," he said. Brillantes said they deliberated on the DOJ's recommendations but that they did not adopt all of it. He added it took the Comelec en banc a long time decide who to charge and who to exonerate. Brillantes said they will leave it up to the court to decide whether or not to issue a HDO. "It will be totally dependent on the court," he said. Jurisdiction In an interview with GMA News Online, Ed Diansuy, Director of the Office of the Ombudsman's media bureau, said all cases involving government officials should pass through the Ombudsman before going to the Sandiganbayan, except when the filing of the case is through the regional trial court. The Sandiganbayan has jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases involving graft and corrupt practices and such other offenses committed by public officers and employees, including those in government-owned or controlled corporations. Watch list order The Department of Justice (DOJ) earlier placed Mrs. Arroyo and her husband Mike on the Immigration watch list after electoral sabotage complaints were filed against them for alleged cheating in the 2007 elections. Plunder charges have also earlier been filed against Mrs. Arroyo, now a congresswoman representing the second district of Pampanga. The watch list order requires the Arroyos to seek government permission before traveling abroad. Mrs. Arroyo requested that she be allowed to seek medical treatment abroad for her bone ailment but the DOJ junked her request. The former State leader's camp then questioned before the SC the travel ban against them and had been successful in securing a temporary restraining order (TRO). The government barred the Arroyos from leaving the country despite the TRO on the watch list, saying it still needs to file a motion for reconsideration on the matter. Mrs. Arroyo's spokesman, defeated senatorial bet Raul Lambino, said she had booked a 5:10 p.m. flight for Singapore on Friday. However, Immigration agents at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport remain on alert and are following the Justice Department’s orders to block her attempts to leave. As SC justices tackle in a special en banc session former Mrs. Arroyo’s right to travel, the police said no rallies will be allowed at the SC on Friday. Manila Police District (MPD) spokesman Chief Inspector Erwin Margarejo said enough personnel will be deployed to the SC premises, radio dzBB’s Carlo Mateo reported. - with reports from Mark Merueñas, Amita Legaspi, VVP/MRT/RSJ, GMA News