Isafp colonel: I was ordered to burn ‘Hello Garci’ tapes
Weeks after the presidential election in May 2004, Colonel Pedro Sumayo of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp) received a number of cassette tapes from his subordinate, Sergeant Vidal Doble.
“Sir, this is important,” he quoted Doble, then a member of the Military Intelligence Group (MIG), as telling him in Filipino.
Sumayo told Tuesday’s joint hearing of the Senate blue ribbon and electoral reform committees that when he began to listen to one of the tapes, he immediately recognized a female voice as that of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“I can no longer recall the details of the conversation, but what I can only say is that … I heard a voice similar to that of … Arroyo and I stopped it already,” he said.
Sumayo said he surrendered the tapes that Doble had given him to Lieutenant Colonel Allen Capuyan, then chief of the Isafp operations and intelligence division. He said that Capuyan ordered him to burn the tapes, and that he complied.
But apparently, Doble made several copies of the tapes. The copies are now known as the “Hello Garci” tapes that recorded Arroyo inquiring by phone from then Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano about the status of her votes in Mindanao.
Not a normal reaction
At the hearing, Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former military officer, questioned Sumayo’s reaction upon hearing the purported voice of Arroyo. He said it was “not a normal reaction” for the head of MIG 21 (Isafp technical surveillance unit).
“If you were sure that it was the voice of the former President, why did you turn [the tape] off? Are you sure it was a genuine copy?” Lacson said.
“I can recall it was a raw copy; there was no annotation,” Sumayo said.
He said that since Doble’s recording was unauthorized, he was hearing “something that was not supposed to be there, so my immediate reaction was to stop [listening] and report what I heard.” He added that his function was to “work on kidnappers, terrorists and destabilizers” and, thus, listening in on the then President’s conversations was not part of his job description.
Lacson observed that Sumayo’s decision not to confront Doble was also “not normal.” He likewise wondered why Sumayo, whose commander was the Isafp chief, had to go to Capuyan.
“If a subordinate hands to you a cassette tape of a wiretapped conversation, shouldn’t you first ask him who did [the tap]? Or confront him why he did something unauthorized and warn him about the disciplinary action that could be taken against him?” the senator said.
Sumayo said he did not accost Doble “because I know for a fact that no one from MIG 21 is trained, or has the capacity, to undertake such operations. No one from MIG 21 is competent to do that.”
In an affidavit submitted to the investigating committees, Sumayo said he did not order Doble “or any other individual to tap the telephones of the personalities mentioned in the … tape[s].”
He claimed that he had no knowledge of how Garcillano’s number was programmed in the Isafp system that enabled it to “intercept and record all calls made to [the number].”
Sumayo also said that later in 2004, he was invited to a party at Wack-Wack Subdivision in Mandaluyong City where Capuyan introduced him to businessman Ruben Reyes.
He said Capuyan described Reyes as “a power broker and a patron of many military officers [in] need of a connection to the Office of the President.”
Sumayo recalled that Reyes was among his guests at his birthday party in 2005. “I witnessed one [military] officer approach … Reyes and ask his assistance to be promoted. Subsequently, the same officer was indeed promoted,” he said.
At the hearing, Sumayo said he had heard that Reyes was a close friend of Arroyo’s brother, Diosdado “Buboy” Macapagal Jr.
Sumayo also claimed to have overheard Capuyan say that he and Reyes “went around the country during the 2004 elections.”
According to Sumayo’s narrative at the hearing, he was assigned as executive officer of J-2 (intelligence) of the AFP on June 8.
Two months later, he was relieved of his duties and responsibilities and was forced to go on leave after Newsbreak magazine reported him as a key player in the “Hello Garci” scandal.
Finding himself virtually unemployed, Sumayo said he once approached Lieutenant Colonel Emil Zosa, an Isafp unit commander, to seek help in his reinstatement.
He said he was surprised when Zosa phoned him days later to say, “Meron ka dito (There’s something for you here).”
After this, Sumayo received a text message from an unidentified number saying an “item” had been sent to him with a bundle missing (“O, may item akong pinadala na pinabawasan ng isang tali.”) To his question of who the texter was, the other party replied: “BB.”
Sumayo said he later met Zosa at the Isafp compound in Camp Aguinaldo.
“There he gave me a green plastic bag. Upon reaching the house, I was surprised to see it contained nine bundles of P100,000 each,” he said.
Sumayo then presented the cash, still intact, to senators. He said he believed that the cash had come from Capuyan.
Members of the joint Senate panel agreed to summon Reyes and Capuyan to a subsequent hearing.
AFP brass surprised
Sumayo’s claims caught top military officers by surprise.
General Eduardo Oban Jr., the AFP chief of staff, said he did not know that Sumayo would drop a bombshell at the Senate hearing on the “Hello Garci” scandal, which had triggered a military attempt to oust Arroyo in 2006.
“This is the first time I’ve heard of this,” Oban told reporters at Tuesday’s launch of a civil society watchdog on the AFP’s counterinsurgency plan Bayanihan.
According to Oban, Sumayo is assigned with the general military headquarters and is “being recommended for another position.”
Per Philippine Military Academy records, Sumayo belongs to Class of 1984 and Capuyan, to Class of 1983.
Major General Emmanuel Bautista, the Army commanding general, also told reporters at the same event that he had never heard of Sumayo’s revelations.
Oban reiterated that the AFP would fully cooperate with authorities “in searching for the truth,” and called on military officers implicated in exposés to tell the truth.
“The truth will set you free, so it’s best to know what really transpired, if it’s true or not. It’s only right that we clarify what really happened,” he said, adding:
“I have always said that if anyone is implicated, they should just come out with the truth so they can clear their name.”
Oban said the military would leave the investigation of the matter to the Senate.
“I assure you that there’s no more partisan politics in the Armed Forces,” he said. “We’ll see what will be the developments in the Senate hearing before we make the next step.” With a report from Dona Z. Pazzibugan