MANILA, Philippines--The raging war between Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno is out in the open again. That war has been going on behind the scenes since Santiago lost the 1992 presidential election to Fidel V. Ramos. Santiago accused Puno of being behind the ?Sulo Hotel Operation? that stole the presidency from her. Santiago was leading in the early tabulations for the presidential race (and almost everybody thought she was already the winner) when suddenly Ramos overtook her. That was the work of Puno, according to Santiago.
Recently, Puno is at it again, according to Santiago. A disqualification case has been filed in the Commission on Elections against Santiago, who is running for reelection to the Senate. The petitioner is lawyer Nombraan M. Pangcoga but Santiago said the mastermind is actually Puno.
The petition alleges ?culpable violation of the Constitution? by Santiago, corruption, nepotism, unparliamentary behavior, murder of her own son, and accuses her of being of ?unsound mind.? Very, very naughty, that petition, as I see it.
But that is a ?sham petition? and meant only to embarrass me, said Santiago in her memorandum to the Comelec. She noted ?the orchestrated distribution of this scurrilous petition to the Metro Manila media (print, radio, and TV) on the same day that it was filed.? Santiago added: ?The filing itself was accompanied by the orchestrated coverage by the media, particularly by certain media crews, and its subsequent broadcast that same evening on at least one major TV channel? It is no happenstance that the media, especially TV, were present. They were given advance notice by the anonymous distribution of the petition to every media outlet.?
?This petition was filed, not really to deny due course to respondent?s candidacy, but to scandalize her, by filing the semblance of a petition, in order to serve as a nominal basis for the contemptuous attempt to destroy her,? Santiago continued. Petitioner is trying to use the Comelec in its attempt at ?black propaganda and character assassination,? she said.
The petition was not filed in good faith and should thus be dismissed and petitioner and counsel admonished for filing a ?frivolous complaint,? Santiago said. ?It is devoid of factual and legal basis, and its allegations are founded on speculation and conjecture. It is frivolous, calculated merely to harass, annoy, and cast groundless suspicions on the integrity and reputation of the respondent. The petitioner makes bare allegations, without evidence.?
In Prieto v. Corpuz, the Supreme Court ruled that ?a mere charge or allegation of wrongdoing does not suffice. Accusation is not synonymous with guilt. There must always be sufficient evidence to support the charge.?
At the time of the filing, both SWS and Pulse Asia surveys ranked her No. 1 in the senatorial race, said Santiago. Therefore, ?the petition is a demolition job, funded by a notorious Cabinet member who has been repeatedly denounced for corruption by respondent on the basis of official COA audit reports.?
This is a petition to disqualify me, said Santiago, but under the Election Code, Section 68, for the disqualification case to prosper, the respondent should first have been found guilty by a competent court, or should have been found by the (Comelec) guilty of certain crimes committed during (and not before) the campaign. ?On this point alone, petitioner exhibits ignorance of the law, proving that this is a sham petition.?
?Under the constitutional presumption of innocence, it is the duty of petitioner to produce documentary evidence,? Santiago said. ?He has not produced any, indicating that this is a sham petition. Respondent, enjoying the presumption of innocence, is not obliged to produce evidence, unless the petitioner has overcome the presumption by introducing evidence to support his unfounded and wildly creative allegations.?
Since the petition is fatally defective, no further argument is necessary, Santiago said. Nevertheless, she answered petitioner?s allegation one by one:
1. On corruption and culpable violation of the Constitution?The petition alleges that Santiago was ?a rented apartment dweller until she suddenly acquired a mansion at La Vista Subdivision.?
Santiago: ?I lived in an apartment in UP Village for some 10 years, and then bought a house and lot in the same UP Village for another 10 years before moving to La Vista.?
2. On the death of her son??Petitioner brazenly alleges that in effect (Santiago) murdered her own son.?
?Law enforcement agencies of the government were not allowed to conduct scene of the crime investigation,? the petition alleged. ?She had the cadaver of her son immediately cremated.?
Santiago: ?Another lie. No law enforcer ever appeared, much less was prevented from investigation. Respondent?s son was buried in Loyola Memorial Park, as shown by various TV stations.?
3. On nepotism?Santiago: ?I did not appoint any of my siblings to their past or present positions? On the contrary, my sibling?s are all honor graduates or have distinguished themselves.?
?All of petitioner?s allegations are idiotic, bizarre, or fantastic. Some are outright lies made under oath, and therefore constitute perjury.?
Finally, Santiago argued: ?Suffrage?the right to vote and to be voted on?is a constitutionally protected right. In case of doubt, the doubt should be resolved in favor of a qualified citizen?s right to run as a candidate.?
She asked the Comelec not only to deny the disqualification case against her but to sanction the petitioners for filing frivolous petitions that only add to the workload of the judiciary.