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DOJ-Comelec probe on alleged poll fraud starts today

MANILA, Philippines - The joint panel of the Department of Justice and the Commission on Elections tasked to look into allegations of cheating in the 2004 and 2007 elections formally begins its investigation today.

DOJ’s Prosecutor General Claro Arellano, chair of the five-man special committee, said he would meet his members at 3 p.m. today to lay down ground rules and procedure of their preliminary investigation into the poll fraud charges.

“We will be drafting the rules and procedure and might also start listing down who would be summoned to the preliminary investigation,” he told reporters in an interview yesterday.

Arellano, the head prosecutor of DOJ, said they have yet to decide when to set their first hearing.

The probe body was formally created last Monday through a joint order of the DOJ and the Comelec.

With Arellano in the committee are Comelec law department head Ferdinand Rafanan, lawyer Michael Villaret, Laguna Provincial Prosecutor George Dy and Pasig City Prosecutor Jacinto Ang.

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“Resolutions finding probable cause for election offenses, defined and penalized under the Omnibus Election Code, and other election laws shall be approved by the Comelec in accordance with the Comelec rules of procedure,” the five-page order signed by DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima and Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. read.

“For other offenses, or those not covered by Omnibus Election Code and other election laws, the corresponding criminal information may be filed directly with the appropriate courts,” it added.

In the same order, DOJ and Comelec created a separate fact-finding team that would gather pieces of evidence to boost the preliminary investigation.

Chaired by a DOJ assistant secretary with two members each from the DOJ, Comelec and National Bureau of Investigation, the team is given 45 days to submit a report to Arellano, De Lima and Brillantes.

De Lima and Brillantes will update the public on the progress of the investigation before a spokesman is named.

The joint probe will operate from funds from the Office of the President.

It is expected to start with the evaluation of testimonies of Senior Supt. Rafael Santiago and his men on the reported switching of election returns (ERs) to cover up cheating in the 2004 presidential polls.

Last Monday, De Lima was criticized by former DOJ Secretary Raul Gonzalez for her decision to personally supervise the preliminary investigation.

Gonzalez told The STAR that De Lima was “a little out of bounds” with her being involved directly in the probe.

De Lima, who is now in China for an official trip, has consistently said she would not meddle in preliminary investigation of a criminal complaint in the DOJ since the case could be elevated to her office for review anyway.

She also announced earlier that she would not inhibit in the probe despite her being the lawyer of newly proclaimed Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III in his electoral protest in 2007.

She believes there is nothing wrong with her participation in the investigation, which would include Pimentel’s case, because the probe does not intend to proclaim poll winners but only seeks to determine who should be held liable for poll fraud.

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