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BARMM Speaker eyes presidential pardon for Candao

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COTABATO City—The Speaker of the Bangsamoro Parliament has issued a statement saying a former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) who has been convicted by the Supreme Court (SC) was eligible for presidential clemency.

The lawyers of former ARMM Governor Zacaria Candao had earlier petitioned the (SC) to reopen the case considering that one of the respondents was already dead when the promulgation took place.

Bangsamoro Parliament Speaker Pangalian Balindong argued that the amount involved in the original complaint, was withdrawn from the ARMM finance office under compelling circumstances made Candao eligible for a presidential pardon.

The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) covers presidential pardon on members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who had committed crimes in pursuit of legitimate cause of rebellion. The presidential power of clemency restores the inherent rights and privileges of the pardoned person.

A lawyer consulted by this reporter for this story, said the “ball is now in the Office of the Presidential Legal Adviser,” referring to 94-year old former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

It was not clear, however, whether any lawyer has already represented a clemency petition before the Office of the Presidential Legal Adviser.

Balindong, a lawyer like Candao, said the obtaining circumstances then were that the officials of the now defunct ARMM finance were under compulsion by some men passing off as members of a revolutionary group.

He said as a high official, Candao was in a quandary in contrast then to a prior professional commitment as a counsel for the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) at the Tripoli Agreement in December 1976, and later for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 1977.

At one point, Candao resigned as governor of Maguindanao in preference of his professional commitment as a lawyer working as counsel for the MILF, Balindong said.

Under that situation, Balindong said Candao must acquiesce to any covert revolutionary demand particularly that the offenses with which he had been charged happened in 1993 when the anti-subversion law (RA 1700) had already been repealed.

Balindong said like him, Candao apparently did not want to incur the ire of an emerging new revolutionary group that was the MILF.

The two of them were eventually recruited by the top revolutionary leadership to be legal counsels for the MILF, particularly in preparation for peace negotiations, MILF insiders have disclosed.

Lawyer Jose Dalisay III had signified willingness to represent the case, having known Candao when Dalisay was editor of the Catholic-run weekly The Mindanao Cross in the 1990’s. Dalisay relayed the information to a former media colleague who is close to the Candaos.

Balindong recalled the overall situation then was that some countries were in the “mode of recognizing” the existence and at some point, even the legitimacy, of pocket separatist groups, including the Chechens and the other Muslim enclaves in the former Yugoslavia like Bosnia Herzegovina.

Back home, Balindong said, the repeal of RA 1700, the Anti-Subversion Law, was a priority legislative agenda of then President Fidel V. Ramos as he declared it on his June 30, 1992 inauguration as the 12th President of the Philippines.

According to narratives of the case in the Supreme Court Decision, the charges had emanated from external audit reports in 1993 which were later forwarded by the Commission on Audit to the Ombudsman.

The petition for the reopening of the case by the respondent had been referred by the SC to the Sandigan—which then decided with finality for the conviction. The Supreme Court has then affirmed the Sandigan.

The case has muddled political and family relations among Maguindanao leaders and followers when supposed past wounds begin to heal.

Bangsamoro Member of Parliament Bai Maleiha Bajunaid Candao, the former ARMM governor’s daughter, has even prioritized residents of the hometown of her father’s erstwhile archrival in the list of her office’s beneficiaries of relief assistance packages.

One Parliament insider said thus was the younger Candao’s way through sending her family’s message to the constituents of the Ampatuans that the Candaos were not vindictive. This was years after the death of her father’s erstwhile nemesis (former Governor Ampatuan).

The two families had severed ties after the murder of the governor’s elder brother Abdulkadir in 2003. A policeman was pinpointed by a young witness in probers’ files as the triggerman. The Ampatuans have rejected allegations that the suspect was the henchman of the now deceased former governor.

The 1993 case has entailed controversy of sorts among Candao followers by political impression upon the late Congressman Simeon Datumanong (Maguindanao) who was secretary of the Department of Justice in 2004. Incidentally Datumanong was a relative of the late Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr.

Far-connecting circumstances had apparently created an impression of a “political motivation” in the case purporting that Datumanong as justice secretary (in 2004) could have prevented the prosecution of the case (in 1994).  But the fact is that the Ombudsman, and not the fiscal offices under the DOJ, prosecutes office-related cases involving public officials.

A lawyer said even assuming that the DOJ had the power of review on the case, the prescriptive period for a review of probable cause would have expired in 10 years—from 1994 to 2004.

Datumanong had said he was grateful to Candao for endorsing him as the congressional bet of the formidable Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) under the Speaker Ramon Mitra, a leading Presidential candidate in May 1992. Candao was the ARMM LDP regional chairman in 1992

In living, Datumanong had confided that his first connection with LDP was his Sigma Rho Fraternity Brother at UP Law School, banker Manny Zamora who funded his and Mitra’s candidacies in May 1992.


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