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Susan Roces: Let those with details finally come out

The widow of actor Fernando Poe Jr. said she welcomed the fresh claims of fraud in the 2004 presidential election in which her husband lost to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

“This should never happen again,” actress Susan Roces said in commenting Monday night on allegations of cheating during the 2004 polls. She also said reports of a possible inquiry into the purported fraud were “welcome news for all of us voters who are in search of the truth.”

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“We have waited for this for a long time. Let the people who know details about this issue finally come out,” she said.

Sen. Francis Escudero called last week for a Senate inquiry into the matter and raised the possibility of Poe being posthumously declared winner of the 2004 election if the evidence would prove it.

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Escudero, who had served as Poe’s campaign spokesperson, filed on Tuesday a joint resolution seeking the formation of a superbody to finally put to rest allegations that the results of the 2004 polls were manipulated to favor Arroyo.

But Roces said Poe’s possible proclamation was “not important anymore” because “he has already passed on.” The actor died of a stroke in December 2004.

“But if this should happen, then thank you,” she said. “What is important now is to make sure that our right to vote and elect the right candidate will never be violated again.”

Roces made the remarks at the opening ceremony of the Ronwaldo Reyes Retrospective at the 7th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Pasay City.

She attended the opening of the retrospective event with her daughter, Grace Poe-Llamanzares, who chairs the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board. “Matimbang ang Dugo sa Tubig,” which Poe wrote and directed, was the featured film on Monday night.

Truth commission redux

Escudero’s proposed fact-finding body has the appearance of the failed Philippine Truth Commission, which was to have looked into alleged corruption during Arroyo’s nine-year presidency but whose creation in 2010 had been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

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Joint Resolution No. 11 seeks to empower President Aquino to designate a retired Supreme Court justice to head the new commission. The members will include the justice secretary, an election commissioner, the Ombudsman, a senator and a representative. The leaders of the Senate and the House will serve as ex-officio members.

“This move is geared toward setting the record and correcting history. It is not about prosecuting or persecuting former President Arroyo,” Escudero said.

He reiterated that the proposed inquiry was also meant to give “corresponding recognition” to Poe if it would be proven that the latter had indeed been elected president.

“The ghost of 2004 has continuously haunted our democratic system and electoral processes. We need to establish a fact-finding commission, define its powers and functions to enable it to make recommendations on who to recognize as the true 15th President of the Republic,” Escudero said.

Under Joint Resolution No. 11, the commission will be empowered to “issue subpoenas, compel the attendance of witnesses and production of evidence, and cite in contempt any person who shall disobey any of its issuances, orders or resolutions.”

For historical reasons

Calls for an inquiry into the 2004 election results were aired after former Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and former Maguindanao Election Supervisor Lintang Bedol offered to testify on alleged cheating in the province.

But even if it were proven that the 2004 election results had been rigged, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) cannot undo Arroyo’s proclamation as winner.

“We have no jurisdiction to annul any proclamation. In the first place, that’s a presidential election. She was already proclaimed by Congress acting as the National Board of Canvassers for the presidential race,” Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. said on Tuesday.

Also, Brillantes said, any annulment would serve no practical purpose because Arroyo had finished her term and Poe had passed on.

“If Poe was found to have won, how can we proclaim him when he’s already dead? So there’s no issue for us [in Comelec] with regard to 2004,” Brillantes said.

Asked about the benefit of a determination that the 2004 election results were faulty, he said: “Maybe for historical [reasons] or [for] posterity. At least we’d all know that Arroyo did not win, if that’s really true.”

Brillantes was Poe’s counsel in the 2004 election. Poe filed an election protest against Arroyo but he died before it could be resolved.

Once only

In Philippine history, the national legislature annulled a presidential proclamation only once.

On March 24, 1986, the Batasang Pambansa passed a resolution nullifying the proclamation of Ferdinand Marcos and Arturo Tolentino as the winners of the presidential and vice presidential “snap” elections in February of that year.

The legislature ruled that Corazon Aquino and Salvador Laurel were the real winners of the snap elections. But by that time, Marcos was already in exile and Aquino had been sworn in as President.

In Malacañang, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the Department of Justice was still studying whether it would look into the alleged election fraud.

But if it does, it will focus, not on the real winner of the 2004 election, but on the extent of the cheating, De Lima said, adding: “We won’t renege from any responsibility as this is covered by our mandate to investigate any and all violations of the law.”

Waiting for concrete evidence

De Lima admitted that so far, only information on the purported fraud had reached her office.

“What we’re waiting for is concrete evidence—for example, sworn statements, evidence like the paper trail…” she said.

De Lima said it was necessary for the inquiry to lead to something, “especially in terms of accountability.”

“We may not be able anymore to undo what happened in 2004. Definitely, we cannot go back because the term of the supposed winner of the presidential race has ended. But at least we can now find out the truth on who should be held accountable under not only election laws but also other laws like the Revised Penal Code and the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act,” she said.

How far did it go?

According to De Lima, the justice department is “laying the groundwork for an investigation, not to declare who was the true winner, but to find out what cheating transpired and how massive.”

“And the most important is accountability, as to [how far the fraud reached],” she said.

De Lima said Bedol was “right there in the thick of things.”

“He knows many things, which is what we’ll be looking at. But it can’t be him alone; there has to be someone who gave him orders,” she said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he was hoping that Bedol and Ampatuan, along with former Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, would “collaborate and cooperate all together in favor of the truth about the mockery of our country’s electoral process as institutionalized by … Arroyo.”

Electoral sabotage

“While [the effort] may not cure the fraudulent Arroyo presidency, it could very well land her and those responsible for the mockery of the elections of 2004 and 2007 in jail for life for the crime of electoral sabotage,” Lacson said.

Garcillano is believed to have been the official that Arroyo phoned to ask whether she would still lead the presidential race by “one million votes.”

She later apologized to the nation for the phone call, but she never identified Garcillano as the person at the other end of the line. With reports from Jerome Aning and Christine O. Avendaño

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TAGS: 2004 and 2007 national elections, 2004 Presidential Election, electoral sabotage, Fernando Poe Jr., Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Lintang Bedol, poll fraud, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Susan Roces
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