Poll fraudsters open an electoral "Pandora's box"

by Eric Jude O. Alvia, NAMFREL Secretary General

from NAMFREL Election Monitor Vol.2, No.17

Like in the story of the mythical Greek character Pandora - the first woman on earth - who unleashed evil contained in a jar which was forbidden to be opened, so too had scourge abound after revelations and renewed accusations from former ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan and his cohort Maguindanao Province Election Supervisor Atty. Lintang Bedol of poll fraud perpetrated during the 2004 and 2007 elections.

Ampatuan and then Bedol belatedly claim poll cheating in the 2004 and 2007 elections

In a twist in development during the investigation on the November 2009 Maguindanao massacre, suspended ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan implicated former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He said the plan, spearheaded by then First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, was hatched four months before the mid-term elections.

A day later, Maguindanao election supervisor and chairman of the board of election canvasser in Sultan Kudarat province Lintang Bedol alleged that massive fraud was committed in the 2004 general elections and that former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was the principal beneficiary.
In an exclusive TV interview, Bedol claimed that vote padding and shaving (commonly known as dagdag-bawas) activities were conducted in the 2004 elections. He then urged that investigation on poll fraud in 2004 be revived, to include the “Hello, Garci” vote rigging scandal. The controversy arose when an audio recording surfaced alleged to be of former President Arroyo, who was compelled by public outrage to apologize for phoning then elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, who is believed responsible for the purported poll fraud that resulted in Arroyo’s presidential victory in 2004. Bedol expressed willingness to testify on the alleged anomalies that resulted in Arroyo’s election as president even as Garcillano denied any involvement in the 2004 election fraud. The “Garci tapes” scandal was the focus of impeachment complaints filed against Mrs. Arroyo during her term.
Furthermore, other witnesses have surfaced to corroborate both statements. A cover up was also allegedly perpetrated for the 2004
fraud when ballot boxes stored at the House of Representatives were switched and that original ballots were replaced with fake ones. An actual video footage of the January 2005 break-in has been circulating in public and has been attested to by then PNP-SAF SSupt.
Rafael Santiago, who acted as security escort during that time. Other witnesses who have surfaced in recent days to corroborate and dispute the alleged fraud in both elections are Pagalugan, Maguindanao BEI Faizal Kalantugan, and Namfrel Lanao del Sur Chairman Hadji Abdullah Lacsaman Dalidig. In 2004, opposition lawyers moved to set aside the canvass results of Maguindanao during the national canvassing in PICC using the testimonies of Kalantugan and Musa Dimasidsing, a DepEd District Supervisor for Maguindanao. However,
Comelec canvassers continued to canvas the results upon instructions of senior Comelec officials.

Bedol claimed he wanted to surface after hiding for almost four years so that he could expose the anomalies, but he feared for his safety, believing he could suffer the same fate as Comelec law department director Alioden Dalaig, who was shot dead on Nov. 10, 2007. A few months earlier, Dimasidsing was also shot dead in June 2007 after he exposed the fraud in his province. These incidents have deterred witnesses to surface to corroborate the allegations of fraud.

Comelec has since arrested and detained Bedol who is facing six months imprisonment for failing to produce election documents supposedly in his custody such as election returns, certificates of canvass and statements of votes in the 2007 midterm elections in Maguindanao.

Poll probe body formed

A joint Department of Justice (DOJ) – Comelec fact-finding committee was formed last week to investigate allegations of fraud in the 2004 and 2007 elections. The investigation will pursue only the criminal aspect of information arising from these new testimonies. It will not determine the results of these elections since this is the jurisdiction of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) and the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET).

Once the pieces of evidence and facts are established, the DOJ will take over the case and prosecute those found to be involved. Any adverse finding on the results of the 2004 elections would be ineffectual since then presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. died in December 2004 and the substitution petition of his wife, Susan Roces, did not prosper. Moreover, the findings would be sufficient to correct historical facts for posterity purposes.

The formation of the body settles an earlier debate on whether Congress should be the main body to conduct the probe as Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares and Rep. Teddy Casino filed a manifestation to investigate the 2004 and 2007 elections. Despite the formation of the poll probe body, this would not hamper the conduct of separate inquiries by the Senate and the House.

Both Chairman Sixto Brillantes and DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima had inhibited themselves from the investigation as both were legal counsels for the opposition candidates during the past election period.

Among the implicated individuals to be summoned during the hearings besides Ampatuan and Bedol are the Arroyos, former Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos, former Comelec Commissioners Nicodemo Ferrer and Virgilio Garcillano, retired General Francisco Gudani, and alleged "bag man," former Sha’riah Court Judge Nagamura Moner.

Victims of election fraud and the Maguindanao massacre cautioned against accepting the offer of Ampatuan to divulge information since they view this as a move towards a plea bargain and to absolve him from his alleged involvement in the Maguindanao massacre.

Futility of investigating the 2004 fraud was raised since it is beyond the five year prescriptive period for filing of an election fraud case based on the Election and Penal Code. However, Comelec Chairman Brillantes opined that the prescriptive period starts once the term of former President Arroyo ended in 2010 since during her term in office, she was immune from any suit. The election sabotage law, which extends this period to 20 years, only covers violations committed after the law was passed in 2007.

Zubiri resignation provides relief

Last week's resignation of Sen. Miguel Zubiri and his subsequent withdrawal of his motion with the SET renders moot the plans of Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III to file an election sabotage case against him but not over the people involved in the cheating during the 2007 elections. The SET is expected to release its promulgation and declaration of Pimentel as Senator this week.

Ampatuan and Bedol claimed that Zubiri was the main beneficiary of the 2007 election fraud. Zubiri was proclaimed as the 12th and last winning senator after questionable Maguindanao votes were included in the national tally for senatorial bets (Pimentel was 13th).

Namfrel and other non-government organizations have also alleged widespread poll fraud in Maguindanao in the 2007 senatorial elections. In 2007, Namfrel did not include any tally from Maguindanao since volunteers there were prevented from obtaining the sixth copy of the election return and from performing their tasks to conduct their monitoring and the parallel count.

(Read Namfrel-Maguindanao's statement of May 19, 2007 HERE and the 2007 Namfrel Senatorial Count Results HERE).

Proceeding with caution and seeking justice

It is noteworthy that the Palace reacted with caution to assess and verify these poll fraud revelations. Namfrel welcomes that it has coursed the fact-finding inquiries through appropriate means with the formation and appointment of a joint DOJ-Comelec panel to investigate the poll fraud. However, appointees to the panel must pass probity and be beyond reproach to ensure the credibility of the results from the probe body’s work. DOJ Sec. de Lima is correct when she instructs the legal team to “carefully assess these two people’s allegations for
their probative value, plausibility, verifiability, quality and their being capable of being corroborated”.

And like what was left in Pandora’s jar – Hope – it is with hope that the voting public would realize that the these revelations would lead to the reform and strengthening of electoral institutions and that justice would be served to those who violate the sanctity of our vote.