PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — JUSTICE Secretary Raul Gonzalez yesterday lashed back at his province mate, Senator Franklin Drilon, and described as “hogwash” the senator’s claim that he was responsible for the force that was used to implement the dismissal of Iloilo Gov. Niel Tupas at the provincial capitol last Jan. 17.
“He [Drilon] is mouthing nothing but pure hogwash. That’s part of their lies,” Gonzalez said, adding that Drilon and his political ally Tupas were only staging a publicity stunt to cover up the corruption charges that were filed against Tupas by a Catholic priest.
The justice secretary also rejected Drilon’s call for him to step down, saying that was also part of a plan to remove him from the justice portfolio.
“They want me out of [the Department of Justice] because they think I wield so much power. They want me to run so that I resign from DoJ. They want me to resign but I am not running,” Gonzalez said.
“They want me out of DoJ because I stand by the President,” he said. “I’ll defend Malacañang unlike some people. I did not promise the President to bring Malacañang to Iloilo. I don’t abandon what is perceived to be a sinking ship.”
Gonzalez was referring to the incident in July 2005 when Drilon exhorted Mrs. Arroyo to transfer Malacañang to Iloilo, where the President won by a large margin, because of anti-administration rallies in Metro Manila. A week later, Drilon’s Liberal Party withdrew support from the Arroyo administration and called for her resignation.
Five of the six governors in the Western Visayas region defied Drilon’s call for a withdrawal of support and the only governor to back Drilon’s turnaround was Tupas, who claimed last week that Gonzalez engineered his dismissal because of that incident in 2005.
But the justice secretary reiterated that he was not the one who ordered Tupas’ dismissal and stressed that the order stemmed from a corruption charge filed by Msgr. Meliton Oso, who claimed that Tupas, provincial councilors Cecilia Capadosa and Domingo Oso Jr. and provincial budget officer Elena Lim granted a P65,000 for ghost training seminars.
The priest also claimed that Tupas approved the check payable to Capadosa instead of the account of the Provincial Board Members League of the Philippines.
“Why should I be held responsible? I was not the one who ordered his [Tupas] dismissal. That’s funny. I challenge any body to prove that I had something to do with that.”
Meanwhile, Gonzalez asked Lt. Gen. Jose Reyes, commander of the Air Force, to explain reports that some junior military officers boarded a C-130 aircraft that was dispatched to Iloilo last week when policemen were forcing their way into the capitol where Tupas holed himself up with his supporters.
“I have confirmed that a C-130 aircraft had a special flight to Iloilo last week which was used to transport several young military officers at the height of the problem at the provincial capitol of Iloilo. Why was there an urgency to have a special C-130 flight to Iloilo ? The flight of the C-130 cannot be denied. This has been checked by me with the ATO in the Iloilo airport,” he said.
The justice chief said the military officers onboard the plane were classmates of Tupas’ son, Barotac Viejo Mayor Raul Tupas, an alumnus of the Philippine Military Academy.
Gonzalez also claimed that ex-colonel Billy Bibit was seen at the Iloilo capitol together with Palmita Patricio, said to be a political officer of former Senator Gregorio Honasan.
Gonzalez said the group, composed of some 100 identified members of the Guardians, mixed with the New People’s Army-oriented Bayan-Panay inside the capitol.
A .30 cal. machinegun was supposedly mounted at the canopy of the capitol building, and that a certain Capt. Calisico, said to be from the Air Force, was also seen together with some 30 armed persons who converged at the office of the governor.
“It has also been noted that men with MP5 sub-machineguns were positioned inside a secret room inside the office of Gov. Tupas. This secret room is said to be a pantry and leads to a secret elevator which was used for the escape of armed groups when the PNP started to surround the provincial capitol building and grounds,” he said.