August 30, 2001, Inquirer News Service, Lacson: Is Corpus status legal?, by Armand N. Nocum,Posted:11:32 PM (Manila Time)
Stick to 'policy matters'
SEN. Panfilo Lacson on Thursday moved in on Col. Victor Corpus and questioned the latter's commissioning into the Armed Forces of the Philippines following his incarceration for rebellion charges.
Lacson’s tack appeared to be an effort to discredit the military intelligence chief and render useless his claim that the senator was engaged in high crimes, including drug trafficking, money laundering and kidnapping for ransom.
The scene was the resumption of the Senate Question Hour, to which Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes was invited, and where Lacson and his colleague in the opposition, Sen. Gregorio Honasan, tried but failed to discredit the authority of the Intelligence Service of the AFP to investigate Lacson's alleged illegal activities.
Lacson’s move drew immediate reaction from Sen. Joker Arroyo who, it turned out, signed Corpus’ commission papers in his capacity as executive secretary of then President Corazon Aquino.
Arroyo, who chairs the blue ribbon committee, also virtually lectured his colleagues on procedure, specifically that the defense chief should be questioned only on "policy matters," not the operational aspects of his department.
Lacson and Honasan had earlier used up more than an hour grilling Reyes on Isafp operations and the recent "escape" of witness Angelo "Ador" Mawanay from Senate detention.
Asked for comment later in the day, Rigoberto Tiglao, spokesperson for President Macapagal-Arroyo, said "it's kind of strange that the legitimacy of Colonel Corpus, who has been airing these charges, is being questioned."
"The more appropriate way would be to answer the actual allegations first, rather than impugn the personal qualifications of the accuser," he said, adding:
"This tactic is called ad hominem . . . You don't address the issues, (but) the quality of the accuser."
Tiglao also said that if Corpus’ commission were found illegal, "it's up to the Senate to recommend a court case or any move to take (it) out."
"But right now, the President still has full confidence in Colonel Corpus' integrity, the legality of his commission, and his performance," Tiglao said.
Taking the floor after Honasan, Lacson asked whether Reyes had "dug" into Corpus’ record, specifically his commissioning or re-entry into the AFP as a reserve lieutenant colonel in 1986.
Lacson pointed out that while "only the President is authorized to commission" Army officers, Corpus was commissioned through a mere "transmittal letter" issued by Arroyo.
"There was no way he could have been commissioned because he has not received an absolute pardon," Lacson said, adding that the power to pardon could not be delegated.
He then presented letters from then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and then AFP Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos saying that for Corpus’ commission to be legal, he should first be extended a "presidential absolute pardon" in two criminal cases.
The cases involved the raid of the Philippine Military Academy armory by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army on Dec. 23, 1970, and the rebellion charges against CPP founding chair Jose Ma. Sison and 22 other respondents, including Corpus.
Lacson said there was "an indefinite temporary restraining order still pending with the Supreme Court" on the rebellion charges.
"There's no way that Colonel Corpus would receive an absolute pardon" because of that pending case, the senator said, adding that this would make Corpus "an illegitimate officer."
But Reyes said that when the President approved a commission, "that is already an implied pardon."
Besides, he said, he had been "reliably informed" that Corpus was "in fact amnestied."
"The amnesty is a general amnesty that covers all previous offenses of a former rebel. So this erases from memory all of his crimes, thus making him eligible for reserve commission," Reyes said.
Lacson pointed out that amnesty was different from pardon, to which Reyes said pardon was given only when there was a conviction.
"In the case of Colonel Corpus, he was pronounced guilty by a military tribunal, which sentenced him to death. Such a judgment is still subject to review and final approval by the President, before which there is no final conviction," Reyes said. "So he is not eligible for pardon . . . only for amnesty."
Reyes also said then President Ferdinand Marcos never approved the conviction of Corpus, who was charged along with the ex-senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. and then NPA chief Bernabe "Dante" Buscayno.
Later, Lacson told reporters that he was taking the case to court.
The senator said that if Corpus were proven to be an "illegitimate officer" of the AFP, "then all acts done in his position are illegal and should be discarded."
When Arroyo took the floor, he said he knew Corpus’ case well as he was among the lawyers of the defendants sentenced to die by the then Military Commission No. 2.
"What was good for Ninoy should be good for Corpus and should be good for Dante," he said.
Arroyo also said the signing of Corpus’ commission order was a valid act.
"Until the President of the Philippines disowns his executive secretary, that stands as an order of the President. That's what an executive secretary is for," Arroyo said.
"An executive secretary is not worth his balls if cannot make a letter like this," he said.
According to Arroyo, Corpus may have been pardoned in 1986.
He noted that Lacson also had a pending civil case at the Supreme Court for the torture of a certain Aberca and others in 1984.
He said that among Lacson's co-accused were Gen. Fabian Ver and former Rep. Rodolfo Aguinaldo, both now deceased, and that the appeals court had ruled that Lacson should pay damages.
Arroyo pointed out that like Corpus, Lacson could also say that there had been no final judgement on the case.
"Lacson can always say that he had never been convicted of anything, or sentenced, but that case involves torture," Arroyo said. "That's on the record, and I didn't want to bring that up until he brought up this matter."
In his testimony, Reyes defended Corpus’ acts. "If the Isafp is guilty of any crime, it's the crime of taking its job seriously," he said.
At one point, Sen. Vicente Sotto rose to question Arroyo's claim that Lacson and Honasan had questioned the Isafp’s activities.
Sotto said that the two senators were merely questioning the leak of the Isafp report on Lacson to the media, not the investigation itself, and that Arroyo’s claim would put the integrity of the Senate in question.
Arroyo explained that what he actually said was the two were pursuing that "line of questioning."
Sotto demanded that the transcripts be produced. The senators then agreed to resume discussion on the matter at the resumption of the Senate hearings on Lacson on Monday.
Arroyo later told reporters that Lacson should consider attending the Monday hearing in view of the "detailed" testimony of witness Mary Ong alias Rosebud last Wednesday.
He said it was to Lacson's disadvantage to continue to be absent at the hearings.
"I think he should ask his lawyer whether he can risk letting (Ong’s) testimony go unanswered," Arroyo said. "Now he will be forced to refute that."
Besides, Arroyo said, Lacson's decision not to attend the past three hearings or the one on Monday would put the Senate public order, national defense and blue ribbon committees "on the spot" when they make their report and recommendations later.
Arroyo said that after Ong's testimony on drug trafficking, the committees would proceed to hear the issue of money laundering, which he described as "the fruits of the crime."
He said he was not inclined to ask Mawanay to appear at the next hearing as the witness’ testimony was "going every which way." With a report from Martin P. Marfil