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Palace backs fraud probe

Arroyos return, keep mum on new raps

TALK OF THE TOWN Former President Arroyo and husband Mike Arroyo return home via KLM from Amsterdam and other points unknown amid the loudest whispers that they may have fled to escape the multi-corruption cases and poll fraud allegations against them. JESS YUSON

With former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo back in the country, Malacañang on Saturday said it was “interested” to know what exactly happened during the 2004 and 2007 elections and would back a congressional inquiry into the purported fraud that occurred then.

But Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano warned his colleagues against looking into the fresh allegations of fraud made by Bedol and, earlier, by Zaldy Ampatuan, the suspended governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

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On  Friday, Senator Francis Escudero said he would cosponsor a resolution seeking a Senate inquiry into the alleged election fraud in 2004 so that “history can be corrected.”

President Benigno Aquino III’s deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte also said Malacañang had nothing to do with the renewed allegations of election fraud against Arroyo, now a representative of Pampanga. She said the Palace was “just as surprised” by the emergence of Lintang Bedol, a former election supervisor in Maguindanao, who had implicated Arroyo in the purported manipulation of the 2004 presidential and 2007 senatorial polls.

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“We, along with the entire country, are interested in the truth of what really transpired in the 2004 and 2007 elections amid allegations of cheating,” Valte said in a text message, adding that Malacañang would leave to “the wisdom of Congress” the matter of which chamber should conduct the inquiry.

But House leaders said they should lead the inquiry because it had been alleged that a senator, Juan Miguel Zubiri, benefited from the fraud.

Let DOJ do it

Interviewed over state-run dzRB radio, Valte said it was up to the Senate and the House to settle the issue.

Cayetano said the executive department through the Department of Justice should instead lead the inquiry and immediately file formal charges against the perpetrators.

He argued that some of the personalities allegedly targeted by the poll fraud—Senator Panfilo Lacson and himself—were still in the Senate.

“The alleged beneficiary of the cheating in 2007 is in the Senate. The victims are also in the Senate. That’s why it would be better if the executive department would lead the investigation so a case could be filed right away,” Cayetano said.

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Mum’s the word

Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo arrived Saturday morning in Manila from Europe but dodged questions about the new allegations.

“We have a spokesman,” Arroyo told waiting reporters, referring to lawyer Raul Lambino. Her husband responded similarly.

According to Bedol, Arroyo was the main beneficiary of election cheating in central Mindanao during the 2004 presidential election.

Ampatuan accused Arroyo, her husband and former Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita of ordering election fraud in central Mindanao during the 2007 senatorial elections.

He also accused the then President of pocketing P200 million in kickbacks from three road projects in central Mindanao from 2008 to 2009.

On radio, Valte said it was understandable that Arroyo had nothing to say to reporters asking her about the purported election cheating upon her arrival in the country.

“We respect at the moment why she did not make any statement. Maybe she still has to consult her lawyers,” Valte said. “But as Representative Mitos Magsaysay said … she should answer all the allegations being hurled against her.”

Valte also dismissed claims made by Lambino that the allegations brought against Arroyo with the purported blessings of the Palace had something to do with Mr. Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) on July 25.

“A single Sona does not make or unmake a President. It is the governance for the entire term of a President that makes a mark in history,” Valte said.

No need for inquiry

In a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Lambino said there was no need for a congressional investigation because all issues pertaining to the 2004 presidential election had been resolved by the results of the official canvass conducted by Congress.

He said the Supreme Court sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) had also addressed the issue in the electoral protest case filed by Senator Loren Legarda against former Vice President Noli de Castro in connection with the vice presidential contest in the same year.

“No amount of investigation can overturn these official actions. No finding of any new body or commission can come with an impartial resolution of the issue,” Lambino said.

He said a new inquiry on the result of the 2004 presidential election, which Arroyo won over the late actor Fernando Poe Jr. amid allegations of massive election fraud, would only polarize the nation and foment divisiveness.

“If such a body will be created to tackle the same issues now and will eventually render findings, what will stop the creation of a similar body later to investigate again and again ad infinitum?” he said.

People’s true will

Members of the House had varying opinions on the matter.

Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas Jr., chair of the House committee on justice, said a simultaneous investigation by the House and the Senate would be necessary in order to set the record straight and recognize the people’s true will.

“There are various issues to be discussed involving the two elections,” Tupas said.

He said that aside from legislative measures, the culpability of those involved in the alleged rigging of the 2004 election should be determined for prosecution.

But Valenzuela Representative Magtanggol Gunigundo said there were better things for lawmakers to do.

‘Circus act’

“If there is concrete and strong evidence of election anomalies in the 2004 presidential race, cases should be filed with appropriate courts to bring culprits to justice. The inquiry might just end up as a circus act,” Gunigundo said.

Cavite Representative Joseph Emilio Abaya agreed, saying the better recourse would be for the House to turn over the records and evidence to the Department of Justice so that it could summon new witnesses.

Prosecute to the hilt

“The House has spent time on this. We should move on to filing appropriate cases. I personally feel this should be prosecuted to the hilt and the media should cover this as closely as the Maguindanao massacre [trial],” Abaya said.

He said the Arroyo cases could also be a litmus test of the judicial system.

Representative Sherwin Tugna of the party-list group Citizens Battle Against Corruption (Cibac) said that while he agreed with the idea of a House inquiry, the resulting resolutions would only be recommendatory.

“It cannot undo the proclamation and assumption of office of GMA (Arroyo) in 2004,” Tugna said.

If an appeal were made, only the PET and eventually the Supreme Court could correct history, he said.

No worries

Catholic bishops have also urged Arroyo to air her side in the alleged misuse of funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).

She also faces a new plunder charge before the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly diverting and ordering the release of millions of pesos worth of PCSO intelligence funds from 2008 to 2010.

But despite the litany of accusations, Arroyo did not appear worried and even smiled at and greeted the reporters waiting at the airport.

Dressed in a white top, black pants and red shoes, Arroyo walked directly to the presidential lounge on the second floor, with her husband and the aides who had welcomed them in tow.

Once at the lounge, they went to the lift that brought them down to the convoy of waiting vehicles. With reports from Philip C. Tubeza, Cynthia D. Balana and Christian V. Esguerra

First posted 12:04 am | Sunday, July 17th, 2011

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TAGS: 2004 Presidential Election, 2007 senatorial election, Congress, election fraud, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Government, Lintang Bedol, Politics, Senate, Zaldy Ampatuan
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