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Probe ‘Garci boys,’ poll chief told

All that Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. needs to do to know the truth behind the “Hello, Garci” scandal is look under his nose because former Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano’s “boys” are right there, former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said Monday.

Even without the testimony of Garcillano, Pimentel said the Comelec could still find out the truth by investigating Garcillano’s allies occupying key posts in the poll body.

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As the Comelec and the Department of Justice (DoJ) prepared to launch a joint probe into the 2004 election cheating fiasco, the Bureau of Immigration on Monday issued a watch list order to international airports and seaports around the country.

This means Garcillano cannot leave the country without a clearance from the DoJ.

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“These Garcillano boys were implicated one way or another in the so-called anomalies of the 2004 elections, but Garci was able to swing their appointments to very sensitive positions,” Pimentel said in a phone interview.

By “Garci’s boys,” Pimentel was referring to Ray Sumalipao, Comelec regional director for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; Renato Magbutay, director for Central Mindanao; Francisco Pobe, assistant director for Caraga; and Renault Macarambon, now with Comelec’s Election and Barangay Affairs Division.

“They are right under the noses of the people investigating this,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel is the father of defeated senatorial candidate Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who claims he was a victim of cheating in the 2007 polls and has filed an election protest.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Alan Peter Cayetano has also identified Teopisto Elnas and Cirilo Nala Jr. as Garcillano’s “boys.”

All denied involvement in cheating in the 2004 presidential election that was marred by allegations that then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Garcillano rigged the vote.

The allegations were based on wiretapped phone conversations supposedly between Arroyo and Garcillano, who have denied any wrongdoing.

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Flight risk

The immigration bureau sent copies of the watch list order to Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminals 1, 2 and 3, the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport and all other ports of entry immediately after receiving an order from the Department of Justice, Immigration Commissioner Ricardo David Jr. said.

The watch list is valid for 60 days unless revoked or extended by the DOJ.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told reporters she issued the order in preparation for the DOJ-Comelec investigation.

“We want to be on the side of caution that he (Garcillano) might be a flight risk. We just want to be sure,” De Lima said.

“We don’t want to be duped if Garcillano suddenly disappears. Remember he had a history of hiding and we don’t want to look for him. We had a hard time locating him then,” she added, referring to a time in 2005 when congressional probers looking into the “Hello, Garci” could not locate Garcillano for about five months.

Not giving up

De Lima said the alleged irregularities in the 2004 elections “are a matter of national interest.”

The justice secretary did not hide her disappointment at Garcillano’s claim of innocence, saying he remained “evasive.”

“Just like many of us, I’m a bit disappointed with his stance, which he also showed during the investigation of the NBOC (national board of canvassers),” De Lima said.

“Although he’s still evasive, I think we should not give up on him. Who knows? He may suddenly change his mind and decide to cooperate and be true to himself,” she added.

Even if Garcillano refused to talk, De Lima was confident the government could still dig up the truth about the purported massive election fraud.

She said the admission of Senior Supt. Rafael Santiago and other policemen that they helped steal election returns kept in the House of Representatives in 2005 would help the investigation.

Garcillano has balked at testifying in DOJ-Comelec inquiry, saying he has nothing new to say about the scandal.

Connivance

Political analyst Ramon Casiple said the challenge facing Brillantes now was finding the election supervisors who were allegedly bribed by Arroyo in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election.

“You can’t do it without the connivance of Comelec people,” Casiple said in an interview. “He is duty-bound to look into the possible involvement of Comelec officials, who should come out and say their piece.”

Michael Angelo Zuce, the presidential staff officer under then presidential liaison officer for political affairs Jose Ma. Rufino, alleged in 2005 that Arroyo paid off regional and local Comelec officials to ensure her victory in 2004.

Zuce, a nephew of Garcillano’s wife, said at the time that election executives received payoffs from then Pampanga Board Member Lilia Pineda in Arroyo’s presence at her residence in La Vista, Quezon City. He claimed the payoffs were made four months before the elections.

Zuce claimed the payoffs were made during at least five meetings with election officers, including one at a dinner in the La Vista residence of the Arroyos, with the former President herself in attendance.

Sanction needed

Pimentel, now head of the Center for Local Governance at the University of Makati, said the Comelec could compel Garcillano to shed light on the scandal.

“If he refuses to cooperate, obviously the next move would be to sanction him,” he said.

Pimentel, however, said he had “serious doubts” that the Comelec could completely ferret out the truth despite “Brillantes’ good intentions.”

“The Comelec is rotten to the bones, and it’s difficult for Comelec officials to cleanse their own bureau. If they could do it, why is it that Sumalipao, et al. are still there?” he said.

“I think the DOJ and the new Ombudsman can do the job because the Ombudsman has the power to cite people for contempt,” he added. With reports from Jocelyn R. Uy and Norman Bordadora

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TAGS: Cirilo Nala Jr., Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr., Commission on Elections (Comelec), Former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Garcillano’s “boys”, Hello Garci, senatorial candidate Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, Teopisto Elnas, Virgilio Garcillano
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