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The camp of former Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. on Thursday accused the Justice Department of "pressuring" the poll body to drop charges against two former poll supervisors in Mindanao linked to the alleged fraud in the 2007 elections.
In an interview with Justice reporters, Abalos' legal counsel Brigido Dulay blamed Justice Secretary Leila de Lima's relationship with lawyer Nena Santos, who is the legal counsel of the two former supervisors, namely Lilian Suan Radam and Yogi Martirizar.
"I feel there is pressure being exerted by the DOJ on Comelec to discharge the witnesses... Pinangunungunahan ni Sec. De Lima ang Comelec sa lead agency pursuing [the] case," Dulay said.
Dulay has just withdrawn from the electoral sabotage case filed with Judge Jesus Mupas of the Regional Trial Court Branch 112, but remains as Abalos' lawyer in another case filed with Pasay City RTC Branch 117.
"Kung makikita ninyo ang dynamics ng relationship... Nena Santos is a good friend of the DOJ secretary. Doon pa lang alam niyo na diba? Hindi natin maitatanggi iyon. I'm sure you know kung ano ang [influence] nitong si Atty. Santos," he said.
De Lima and Santos were classmates at the San Beda Law School. 'Shooting from the hip'
Reached for her comment, Santos told GMA News Online that Dulay seemed to be "shooting from the hip" and challenged Abalos' lawyer to "put up his good defense in court and not on a non-issue matter."
"It has nothing to do with being classmates but on the merits of their testimonies. There are no pressure to the Comelec as my clients have been admitted to the Witness Protection Program even before the cases filed against them were filed before the court," Santos countered.
Santos said the camp of Abalos should have long known that Radam and Martirizar could eventually become state witnesses, especially after their admission to the WPP.
She insisted that her clients are important witnesses who could prove that irregularities plagued the 2007 elections in Mindanao.
"Atty. Radam and Martirizar's testimonies were the key to discovering the conspiracy between the former Comelec chairman, his chosen regional head and the military to rig the election in 2007," Santos said.
Santos said the prosecution will later try to "connect" the electoral sabotage case against Abalos and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the separate graft charges the two are facing before the Sandiganbayan.
Abalos, Mrs. Arroyo, her husband former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and former Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza are accused of corruption in the government's botched multi-million-dollar broadband project with a Chinese firm. Santos said money that these officials received from the project was "used to fund the 2007 elections."
Dulay's statement came a day after De Lima hinted that the government was indeed planning to turn Radam and Martirizar into state witnesses.
On Tuesday, Abalos' son and Mandaluyong Mayor Benhur Abalos claimed receiving information that the signatures from Comelec commissioners are being gathered to drop the charges against Radam and Martirizar and turn them into state witnesses against the former poll chairman.
Dulay appealed to the DOJ to distance itself from the electoral sabotage case. "The DOJ has recognized that the lead prosecutor is Comelec, so the Comelec really has the lead on what moves to be taken."
He said originally, the Comelec was the only agency pursuing the electoral sabotage case, until Santos "came into the picture late in the day" when Radam and Martirizar identified in their respective affidavits Abalos as the one who gave instructions to them in a meeting in Davao City to ensure the victory of all administration senators in that year's elections.
Dulay said he was cool about the DOJ offering to the Comelec "inputs" about the case, but not to the point of "overruling the judgement" of the poll body.
Dulay also said he does not think the Palace has anything to do with the DOJ's persistence on turning Martirizar and Radam into witnesses. "I would like to give the Palace the benefit of the doubt," he said.
Dulay reiterated his camp's position that the judge handling the cases have the final say regarding witness conversion. — RSJ, GMA News