MANILA, Philippines (July 18, 2011) - A cue from a Malacañang legal team that now assesses the “value and plausibility” of the allegations of two key witnesses is all the Department of Justice (DOJ) needs to start the formal investigation of perceived massive election fraud in 2004 and 2007.
This is what Justice Secretary Leila de Lima tells the media yesterday as she announced the readiness of her office to investigate the allegations of former Maguindanao election supervisor Lintang Bedol and former ARMM governor Zaldy Ampatuan, accusing former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and cohorts as the architects of widespread cheating in both the general elections in 2004 and the midterm elections in 2007.
“Cases like electoral fraud and other anomalies... should be looked at. It is important to prove those possible cases,” De Lima said.
The Senate had investigated the alleged anomalies without conclusive results during the term of Arroyo, but this time Congress defers to the DOJ.
Saying that the issue is best left to the discretion of the DOJ, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile rejects calls for the Senate to reopen the investigation into the alleged irregularities in the 2004 and 2007 elections.
“If ever there was cheating then, the proper agency to conduct an investigation is the DOJ, not Congress,” he said.
“It is because there is criminal liability in cheating. Our duty is mainly in aid of legislation,” Enrile said over dzBB radio.
Enrile said the allegations would require executive action even if turns out that an election offense had indeed been committed.
Congressional leaders have expressed interest in reopening the 2004 and 2007 election anomalies after Bedol resurfaced, alleging that massive cheating occurred in the 2004 presidential race won by Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative, over the late actor Fernando Poe Jr.
“What if we find out that FPJ (Poe) won? Then you will also refer the case to the DOJ or to the Ombudsman to let criminal laws to work in this country,” Enrile said.
Enrile also rejected the proposal of Sen. Francis Escudero to create a fact-finding commission via a joint proposal from Congress.
“Why do we need that (fact-finding committee) when we already have the DOJ?” Enrile asked.
“What purpose? To propose legislation? To propose prosecution? Why not let the DOJ create the fact-finding body of all lawyers of government so that they can scrutinize at the soonest time possible the so-called evidence of poll fraud,” he said.
Enrile suggested to the DOJ to form a probe body that will also include experts, and representatives of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), National Bureau of Investigation and even the police “so that charges will be filed” against the persons involved in the anomalies.
Escudero proposed the creation of a fact-finding committee that will solely tackle the reinvestigation of the allegations of poll fraud in the elections of 2004 and 2007 following the revelations made by Bedol and Ampatuan.
Ampatuan, who is among the principal suspects in the Maguindanao massacre in 2009, earlier alleged that the Arroyos instructed their family to ensure that Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Panfilo Lacson and Benigno Aquino III, now the President, would get zero votes in Maguindanao. This benefited Juan Miguel Zubiri who notched the remaininng slot and declared a senator.
Bedol later surfaced and corroborated the statements of Ampatuan, adding that 21 other election registrars in Maguindanao are willing to tell what they know. The election documents used in the Maguindanao elections in 2007 were fake according to Bedol.
Bedol, who was accused of graft for election offenses during the 2007 polls, said he was convinced that Arroyo was behind the anomaly.
To correct history - this is what the supporters of the probe have in mind.
Escudero said he would file a joint resolution for the purpose of gathering representatives of the DOJ and the Comelec once the second regular session of the 15th Congress starts next week.
Escudero recommended a retired justice to head the fact-finding committee.
“The objective is not to establish that ex-President Arroyo indeed cheated in the past elections and not to jail her. The objective here is to establish who really won in the 2004 elections and give the person proper place in history,” Escudero said.
Escudero said the purpose of the committee is not to render void Arroyo’s term.
“This (proposed committee) is not to invalidate President Arroyo’s term. This is a rare opportunity for our country to correct history,” he said.
Escudero said Bedol and Ampatuan should be given the opportunity to reveal what transpired during the 2004 and 2007 elections.
Escudero was quick to defend Malacañang that they are backing Bedol and Ampatuan to spill the beans against Arroyo.
He said neither President Aquino nor Malacañang worked to get Ampatuan and Bedol to make the accusations.
Escudero said Bedol and Ampatuan made the allegations as a result of the sudden turn of events.
He suggested Ampatuan and Bedol may have decided to come out in the open because they believe in the new administration.
“They may have been in fear during the past administration. Let us wait for what they have to say before we judge them,” Escudero said over dzBB.
Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes, for his part, said he might inhibit and turn witness in the investigation into the alleged 2004 election fraud.
He said it would be no problem for him to inhibit and make himself available for investigation by the Comelec over the allegations.
Brillantes was a practicing election lawyer during the 2004 and 2007 polls. He represented numerous political figures that included Poe.
According to Brillantes, the Comelec is the right agency to look into the allegations of election fraud as claimed by Ampatuan.
But he said his decision to voluntarily inhibit himself would depend on Ampatuan’s revelations.
“It would depend on his revelation, but if you will ask me I will say there was really cheating that is why we filed a protest case,” he said.
Brillantes said they have evidence to prove election fraud if only Poe did not die while their election protest case was still pending before the Supreme Court, which was acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.
Last week, the Comelec expressed readiness to conduct a new investigation on the poll fraud allegations made by Bedol and Ampatuan.
Brillantes though noted the investigation is still in the preliminary stages and there is still no need for him to inhibit.
But in the end, the courts would still decide the issue and the Comelec’s role would just have to determine if there is probable cause to file a case, he said.
Supporters of the losing presidential candidate, Fernando Poe Jr., see the the developments as breakthroughs in the quest for justice to the late actor who they see as the real winner in the 2004 presidential election.
Malacañang said it would support any endeavor to investigate the allegations of electoral fraud made by Bedol and Ampatuan.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Malacañang will support any endeavor that would give justice to Poe.
Valte added Malacañang was also interested in finding out the truth behind the scandal that tainted the elections in 2007 following the revelations of Bedol.
“We are also interested in finding out what really happened in 2007 and 2004. If you remember, (then) Senator Aquino was among the reported victims of poll fraud,” Valte said.
Valte made the statement after the Poe family, led by veteran actress Susan Roces and her daughter, Movie and Television Review and Classification Board chairperson Grace Poe, declared they wanted to know what really transpired during the 2004 elections.
On Saturday, Valte said Malacañang would support any endeavor to reopen the investigation into the “Hello, Garci” wiretap scandal that left in doubt the elections in 2004.
It was during the elections in 2004 that Arroyo won over Poe and several months after, the “Hello, Garci” wiretap scandal broke out
The tapes detailed the supposed wiretapped telephone conversations between Arroyo and former election official Virgilio “Garci” Garcillano, allegedly discussing the election operations in Mindanao during the 2004 presidential race.
Arroyo later apologized before the nation for making the call but denied it was for operations to rig the election results in Mindanao.
Poe filed an electoral protest but died even before his petition was resolved.
“We understand their sentiments, especially the family of FPJ (Poe) and also Vice President Jejomar Binay,” Valte said.
Binay, then allied with FPJ through the United Opposition, also wanted the case to be investigated.
Valte though refused to answer queries on what would Malacañang do once irregularities are confirmed.
She said any claims of irregularities committed could be “hypothetical” at the moment.
But she welcomed the statements made by Bedol and Ampatuan who both revealed irregularities in the 2004 and 2007 elections.
“At this point, what we all know is the revelations of Bedol in his interview and beyond that, we have not received any other information,” she said.
“But again, hearing these claims is different from being presented with evidence and testimony. This is something that we are all awaiting, and we will see how it unfolds based on the information coming out,” Valte added.
Valte said these cases do not just need the political will of any government, but the administration will make sure that it has an airtight case against those persons involved, and that the evidence should withstand trial.
The military, for its part, said it is ready to cooperate in the investigation into the allegations.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Commodore Miguel Rodriguez said they want to know the truth about the controversy, saying it has affected the image of the military.
“Of course (we are open to an investigation). Why would we not cooperate with other agencies?” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez believes the retired military officers implicated in the poll fraud would be responsible enough to follow the directives of authorities.
“I think they are responsible enough to heed any summon by the Department of Justice or any entity or agency... But should the AFP... have an opportunity to help, we will,” he said.
A Church-based poll watchdog also joined the calls to investigate the alleged irregularities in the 2004 and 2007 elections.
The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) led by Henrietta de Villa said finding out the truth behind the anomalies in the 2004 and 2007 elections is not only in the interest of the politicians involved but also of the general public.
“They should run after all those who had a hand in the mega cheating in the 2004 and 2007 elections. This could be a breakthrough for the CHAMP or clean, honest, accurate, meaningful and peaceful elections campaign the PPCRV and all responsible citizens have been struggling for,” De Villa said.
Sen. Loren Legarda, Poe’s running mate in 2004, said she is keen on looking into what really happened during the elections.
“It is also important to know what happened... but there is no longer a legal way to address the entire process. Will you invalidate the services of GMA (Arroyo) and (former Vice President) Noli (de Castro)? Can you declare FPJ (Poe), who died because of ill-feelings on this?” she asked.
Legarda said there is the need to go after the people involved in the electoral fraud.
Reacting to Escudero’s proposal, Legarda suggested placing Poe’s photograph in Malacañang, which she said, would be an “unprecedented way of correcting history.”
“I don’t know if that can be legally done. But that would be unprecedented because deep in my heart I really know and I think a majority of the Filipinos who voted in 2004, knows who really won,” Legarda said. (From philstar.com, Vox Bikol)