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Why House raiders are only coming out now

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It was the way whistle-blowers were treated as “troublemakers” and “used like commodities” during the Arroyo administration that held back Senior Superintendent Rafael Santiago and his men from making public the purported fraud in the 2004 presidential election.

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Santiago said even his superior, then Chief Superintendent Marcelino Franco, the head of the Special Action Force (SAF), contemplated coming forward at one time but wavered because “he could not expect any support and could lose the benefits of long service.”

“Sir Cofrancs believed that the operation [to switch fake for genuine election returns] was morally wrong, and wanted to come out. But there was no opportunity to do so because whistle-blowers were treated as troublemakers during the Arroyo administration,” Santiago said.

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He said he and his men had initially discussed exposing what they knew, with the pilfered election returns as evidence, during the height of the 2005 “Hello Garci” scandal but ultimately decided against it.

Santiago said Franco was the key to their January-February 2005 operation and had “more information about the mastermind.”

“He was taking direct orders from the then PNP chief and he is the one who could say who primarily ordered the operation,” Santiago said.

Under orders

Santiago had earlier named Zambales Governor Hermogenes Ebdane, the then director general of the Philippine National Police, as the one who ordered Franco to switch original election returns with fakes manufactured by the father-and-son team Roque and Ruel (El) Bello.

The purpose, he had said, was to ensure that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would emerge the winner in the 2004 presidential election in the event of a recount.

Santiago said Franco was not aware that he and his men had kept copies of the original election returns stolen from ballot boxes kept at the Batasang Pambansa.

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“We hid this from him. We did not tell him because we did not know how he would react,” Santiago said.

He said he had had no contact with Franco since the latter retired late in 2006: “We did not see or talk to each other again. The last time I heard, [Franco was] working as the chief of security of a bank.”

Moving on

Santiago said that after the “Hello Garci” scandal had died down, the election returns pilfered by his men from the Marlboro cigarette boxes transported in a marked SAF van to the Bellos’ house in Brookside subdivision in Cainta, Rizal, were “momentarily forgotten.”

“We just stopped talking about the break-in at the Batasang Pambansa. It seemed it was no longer important. We moved on with our lives, only quietly thinking that the election returns will just serve as souvenirs or pamaypay (fan),” Santiago said.

“We moved on and did our jobs, this time bearing in mind that we will not be used again and try to live with the powers that be,” he said.

It was only when the cheating in the 2004 presidential election was revived in news reports that he and his men realized again that their experience had to be publicly known.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, himself a former PNP director general and a previous superior of Franco, confirmed the latter’s desire to come out as early as 2006.

Lacson recalled a meeting with the former SAF chief where among the things they talked about was the ER-switching operation at the Batasang Pambansa.

“Without giving specific details, he hinted that he wanted to come out with his knowledge of the switching of ERs at the Batasan. But he was hesitant because he was due to retire that year,” Lacson told the Inquirer in a telephone interview.

He said he had not talked to Franco since 2006.

Santiago said he was aware that he and his men could use their “information” to bag plum posts, but did not do it.

He also said that Antonio Villar, then head of the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group, had offered him a post in the PASG, but that he declined.

“I could have used what I know as leverage but I did not, and I even cautioned my men to be careful in dealing with people like [alleged influence peddler] Joel Pinawen,” he said.

Santiago said Pinawen was able to insinuate himself in the lives of PO2 Norman Ducu and PO2 Rudy Gahar when the two were desperate to leave the SAF, where they remained detailed until early in 20008.

“I learned that they were being peddled around by Pinawen, and that he had been asking for money for them,” Santiago said.

“Pinawen is not authorized to negotiate for and talk about us,” Santiago said. “I had warned him to stop going around town talking about the switching of ERs in the Batasan because we were unnecessarily exposed to harm.”

Loren, Ping, Leila

Senator Loren Legarda confirmed to the Inquirer that Pinawen tried to sell her a video of the Batasan break-in.

“I told them I am not buying evidence of cheating, if they want they can bring it to the Supreme Court. And besides, I don’t have the money.”

She also said she never met Pinawen before this meeting. She found him too glib.

“In our conversation, he never mentioned the name of Colonel Santiago. He just said they have evidence to prove the break-in.”

She added she did not meet with Pinawen’s group again.

Lacson confirmed he met with Pinawen but advised him to present the person who actually took footage of the video.

“Except for a video clip apparently taken by a camera of a cell phone, he did not present any other evidence.”

Lacson also said Pinawen did not ask money or tried to sell to him the video but asked for assistance that retired Inspector Ramon Garcia, who reportedly shot the video, could return to the country.

Even Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told the Inquirer that Pinawen asked to meet her and showed her still photos of the break-in.

First posted 12:07 am | Sunday, July 31st, 2011

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TAGS: 2004 Presidential Election, Batasangate, Bong Pineda, Comelec, election fraud, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Government, Hello Garci Scandal, Hermogenes Ebdane, Marcelino Franco, Politics, Rafael Santiago, Virgilio Garciliano
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