Two municipal election officers and an aide have corroborated Lintang Bedol’s claims of massive cheating in Maguindanao province during the 2007 senatorial race to favor Arroyo administration candidates, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said on Wednesday.
Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. released copies of the affidavits of Magsaysay Mohamad and Saliao Amba, poll officers of Sultan sa Barongis and Shariff Saydona towns, respectively, and Salonga Edzela, a computer voters’ list technician assigned to Bedol.
The affidavits appear to support the claim of Bedol, a former Maguindanao poll supervisor, that election documents with falsified results were used to put the administration candidates on the winning column.
Mohamad and Amba tagged then provincial administrator, Norie Unas, as the leader of the operation.
“I observed everything but I just kept quiet,” Mohamad said in his account of how, on Election Day, May 14, Unas’ men seized the election returns (ERs) for national candidates from the board of election inspectors (BEIs), who were then asked to sign and thumb-mark unfilled documents.
“I just kept silent because I know that it would be dangerous for me to say my observations,” Amba said in his affidavit, which recounted how Unas’ people, led by a certain Butch, put doctored ERs in the ballot boxes after the voting ended.
Based on the two statements, no actual counting for the national candidates took place because the ERs were in the possession of Unas’ men and these were filled up by the time the BEIs turned over their ballot boxes.
Amba said the canvassing in his town showed then opposition Senatorial candidates Benigno Aquino III, Panfilo Lacson and Alan Peter Cayetano got zero votes while the administration’s Luis “Chavit” Singson topped the list.
Mohamad and Amba said that after the canvassing, they submitted the dubious ERs to the provincial board of canvassers (PBOC), led by Bedol. However, around three days later, they learned that Bedol’s office had been ransacked and the election documents to be transported to Manila were stolen.
The two said they were later instructed by the Comelec main office to submit their extra copy of the ERs.
Amba said he no longer had the copy so Unas prepared one for him, which Amba later signed.
Mohamad said he took the copy of the ERs that was posted in the canvassing hall and noticed that it was not the same paper he submitted to the PBOC. He said the results also were different.
The two poll officers went to General Santos City and turned over the ERs and other documents to then Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos Sr. and Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer, who, they said, certified the documents as authentic.
Abalos and Ferrer were members of Task Force Maguindanao that was formed by Comelec to recover the copies of the election documents after Bedol reported the theft to the main office.
However, Amba and Mohamad made no attestation if the ERs submitted to Bedol, even with falsified results, were genuine in the first place.
Edzela recounted how Bedol told him to verify a report that Bedol’s office had been ransacked and all election documents were stolen.
He also related how he accompanied Bedol to General Santos. He said Bedol, unwilling to swear to the authenticity of the election documents submitted by Amba, Mohamad and other poll officers, opted not to attend the hearing conducted by Abalos and Ferrer.
Brillantes said the supporting affidavits “appear to have basis” because it was based on events observed by the witnesses. “The things they’re saying can have some credibility provided they’re supported also by documents,” he said.
He said the document submitted by Bedol was a mere “rehash” of statements he had made in an interview with ABS-CBN last week.
Asked if he regarded Bedol a credible witness, Brillantes said:
“Not yet. Actually for practical purposes all that he said could not have been true. Maybe some of them might be false but we’re not saying that falsehoods were deliberately put in the affidavit. You have to consider the fact that this was four years ago. We won’t be able to recall everything that happened in 2007. That’s why we sent our lawyers to assist him in recalling the incidents.”
Brillantes, a former election lawyer for the opposition, said Bedol’s claim that Arroyo ordered the rigging was “hearsay.”
Bedol claimed it was then Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. who told him that Arroyo ordered that Aquino, Cayetano and Lacson get zero votes.
In an unsigned affidavit, Ampatuan’s son Zaldy, the former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, also made the same claim.
In this document, Zaldy said his father told him that Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel had ordered the vote-padding.
The Ampatuans are in jail pending trial for the massacre of 58 people in Maguindanao. Zaldy had offered to turn state witness against his father and brother.
Brillantes said that if Zaldy submitted a signed affidavit, this may provide the “connecting link” between Bedol and Arroyo.
“The link to former President Arroyo is only the statement of Bedol that it was mentioned to him by Ampatuan. That’s the only link. If that is the only link, that to me, as a lawyer, is simply hearsay as far as Bedol is concerned. If Ampatuan collaborates that statement, then that is no longer hearsay,” he said.
Brillantes said Arroyo could be charged with election sabotage, a nonbailable offense punishable by life imprisonment.
However, with Bedol’s affidavit remaining unsubstantiated and the Comelec unsure about his credibility, Brillantes said he could not even say if the poll body could conduct a preliminary investigation at all.
“If we’ll find basis, then we’ll go to the formal preliminary investigation,” Brillantes said.
“We’re still gathering facts so that we can get one general picture that cheating really took place and that the testimonies are clear. We’ll be looking for documents to build the case. It’s difficult to launch an investigation with the respondents getting hurt even if we have not yet built our story. Only one witness has come out—Bedol.”