The police official who purportedly took part in a 2005 operation to steal and switch election returns (ERs) kept at the House of Representatives now says he carried out an order directly given to him by then Philippine National Police Director General and now Zambales Gov. Hermogenes Ebdane Jr.
Senior Supt. Rafael Santiago said it was Ebdane who asked him during a meeting at a Quezon City coffee shop to coordinate with an election “operator” to replace the ERs with fakes.
The alleged scheme was supposed to ensure then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would still emerge the winner in the 2004 elections in the event of a recount.
In an affidavit expected to be submitted Thursday to the Department of Justice (DOJ), Santiago said it was Ebdane, then serving as national security adviser to Arroyo, who personally introduced him to Ruel “El” Bello, who he later learned was an election operator.
In his first narration to the Inquirer last week, Santiago stated that Ebdane was at the meeting but did not categorically say that the latter had given him the direct order.
“It was not intentional that I failed to mention it, but sometimes there are details that get lost in the process,” Santiago explained in an interview on Wednesday.
The whistle-blower recalled that the meeting took place at a Figaro coffee shop on Commonwealth Avenue on Jan 19, 2005, from around 6:45 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
“Ebdane, being familiar with me, (we) having been together… during the December 1989 failed coup, introduced me to my supposed counterparts in the operation which I clearly recall as one El Bello and a certain Arnold,” Santiago said in his affidavit.
He said Bello arrived at the coffee shop ahead of him and that then PNP Special Action Force (SAF) chief, Supt. Marcelino Franco, was also at the meeting.
Santiago recalled that, at the start of the meeting, Bello told Ebdane that his father—former Election Supervisor Roque Bello—was also supposed to join them but could not make it as he was sick and bedridden.
“It was all right with him (Ebdane) since the responsibility, he said, had been delegated to Mr. El Bello,” he said,
Santiago said Ebdane also told the group “that the operations must be implemented not later than the last week of January.” The alleged Batasan break-ins were carried out on Jan. 23 and 29, and Feb. 5 and 27, 2005.
Franco, he said, also reminded him to fast track the operations.
“We were told by Mr. El Bello that their requirement was for the SAF to provide access and security for his group to be able to enter the Batasang Pambansa complex and penetrate the enclosed and secured area at the lobby of the south wing building,” Santiago added.
He said he became uncomfortable with what was being discussed, but that he just kept quiet.
“I was very much surprised by the nature of the operation after listening to Mr. El Bello, that I started to feel cold,” he added.
After the meeting, Santiago said, he and Bello exchanged phone numbers.
Later, he said, Franco made repeated follow-ups and asked for updates on his “coordination relative to the impending operations.”
Santiago also said Chief Insp. Ferdinand Ortega, the SAF commander detailed at Batasan at the time, was recruited in the operation, and that he later gave El Bello’s phone numbers to Ortega.
Also on Wednesday, President Aquino said the controversial report that looked into the military’s involvement in alleged election cheating in 2004 stopped short of implicating former President Arroyo, and that it apparently held back on this sensitive issue.
“I don’t recall … that it was pointing in that particular direction,” Mr. Aquino said when asked whether the so-called Mayuga Report, which had never been released to the press but whose two-page summary he had read, had implicated Arroyo in the alleged poll fraud.
“The issue seemed to have started on that track which would have led to that direction, but the questioning on this line stopped and the topic was changed,” he told reporters.
Mr. Aquino said a review made by the Presidential Management Staff showed that “when it came to delicate topics, the line of questioning was being diverted.”
He doubted, though, whether it was deliberate on the part of those who prepared the report. “Difficult to say deliberate, because you’re talking of intentions,” he said.’
In 2005, a five-member panel led by former Philippine Navy chief, Vice Admiral Mateo Mayuga, cleared top generals of involvement in the ‘’Hello Garci’’ poll rigging scandal that cast a shadow over Arroyo’s 2004 victory.
The President also vented his frustration over the fact that the government could no longer go after the election-related violations as revealed in the report since the prescription period for these cases had expired in 2009, a year before he came into office.
“May pagka-bakla (half-cooked),” was how Justice Secretary Leila de Lima described the report’s synopsis.
“Like what the President said, there were some gaps on topics that were sensitive and these were being diverted in the course of the investigation,” De Lima told Palace reporters.
Not keen on knowing
At the House, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said the chamber was not keen on knowing who really won in the 2004 presidential race and would leave the matter to appropriate agencies like the Commission on Elections or the DOJ.
Belmonte stressed this when asked about a committee investigation that he called on the supposed Batasan break-in.
“I told the committee that it can go ahead and look at it not so much on its impact on the national elections but on the fact that it happened here, how it happened, and how we can prevent it from happening in the future,” he said. With a report from Cynthia Balana