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Saguisag wants solons probed for filing treason raps vs. peace panel

Former Senator Rene Saguisag has asked House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.  to launch an ethics investigation against two lawmakers who have charged members of the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels with treason and sedition in connection with the peace agreements they signed during the Aquino administration.

In a letter to Belmonte dated July 14, Saguisag urged him to let the House ethics committee act on the alleged “mischief” committed by Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza and Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan Dela Cruz.

The two, Saguisag said, want to jail members of the government and MILF peace panels by filing charges against them before the City of Manila prosecutor’s office last May.

“The situation seems to call for action by your ethics panel or its functional equivalent, even an ad hoc one, to avoid a repetition of the mischief, from where I sit,” he said.

Atienza and Dela Cruz have accused the government and MILF peace panels of acceding to all the demands of the revolutionary group during the peace talks, resulting in a “one-sided” and unconstitutional draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

The lawmakers said the members of the two peace panels, including Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles, government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel Ferrer and her counterpart from the MILF, Mohagher Iqbal, former Secretary Senen Bacani and incumbent Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen should be held liable for treason and inciting to sedition for executing the Framework Agreement aimed at aiding the Bangsamoro “carve out its own state, which is intended to exist beyond the control and jurisdiction of the Republic of the Philippines.”

The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed in December 2012 outlines the general features of the political settlement reached by the Philippine government and the MILF to end the decades-long armed conflict between the two parties in Mindanao.

'Arguably misguided duo'

Saguisag said he found the charges “remarkabl[y] incomprehensible and mind-boggling” since not only is the proposed BBL still a bill subject to amendments by Congress, but also because “treason is a wartime offense while [Oliver Wendell] Holmes said every idea is an incitement.”

“[The] respondents’ only weapon: words, words, words,” he said.

While mindful of Atienza and Dela Cruz’s stature as lawmakers, Saguisag said “the arguably misguided duo” should have been tolerant of the opinions presented by the peace panels in the continuing dialogue on the proposed BBL instead of picking “needless quarrel” with members of the executive and judiciary.

“The two Congressmen, whose bona fides I do not question, have to be probed by their peers as a guide to future action and prevent a repeat of premature ejaculation, as it were. They were elected to convince their colleagues with their logic in Congress, intramurally, and not use the criminal law elsewhere to subdue them, extramurally, as it were, causing needless departmental tension,” he said.

Saguisag, a renowned human rights lawyer during Martial Law, said Atienza and Dela Cruz’s petition to jail members of the peace panel may well be the first time there has been a request for people to be jailed “for peacefully and lawfully inciting with ideas, posing no clear and present danger, as it were.”

“I regard them as long-time and valued friends; however, for them to ask that the likes of [Ferrer, Deles, Bacani, Leonen] and other solid citizens [be tried for treason] crosses some fine line,” he said, as he described the case filed by the two lawmakers as a form of “prosecutorial terrorism.”

'No longer the Saguisag I know'

Sought for comment, Atienza let out a hearty laugh when told of Saguisag’s request to have him and Dela Cruz investigated for a possible ethics violation.

“He’s no longer the Saguisag I know who used to fight for patriotic causes before,” he told GMA News Online in a phone interview.

“Matagal kong naging kaibigan si former Senator Saguisag in the struggle against Marcos. I have every ounce of respect for his past but I don’t understand what he is at present anymore,” the lawmaker said.

Atienza maintained that he acted well within his mandate as a member of Congress in charging the peace panel members because he is convinced the BBL, if passed into law, would not benefit the country.

“I consider it my sacred duty to call attention to the abuses of the executive. Ginawa ko lang ang tungkulin ko to protect our nation’s interest,” he said.

Atienza expressed readiness to defend himself should an ethics investigation proceed against him in Congress.

“If I’m going to be charged for an ethics violation for questioning this treasonous BBL, I’m ready to face the consequences. I don’t need a lawyer of Saguisag’s caliber to speak for me since I’m going to defend myself based on convictions,” he said.

As of posting time, Dela Cruz has yet to respond to GMA News Online’s request for comment. — BM, GMA News