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Comelec tells AFP: Give us full report

But military insists there was no cover-up
/ 01:41 AM August 19, 2011

TOP SECRET COVER-UP. There’s nothing in the 10-inch-thick Mayuga Report that would warrant the “secret” classification. But what was obviously kept secret for the past 5 years was that the probers into military involvement in the 2004 presidential poll did not really probe but merely went through the motions.

The joint panel of the Department of Justice (DoJ) and Commission on Elections (Comelec) formed to look into alleged election fraud in 2004 and 2007 will summon an official copy of the Mayuga Report from the military, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on Thursday.

De Lima said “there is some validity” in the statements of some lawmakers that the report was kept from the public as part of a cover-up to insulate then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from further controversy.

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“There were sensitive matters elicited in the course of the proceedings of [the Mayuga panel] that were never used or taken into consideration in the crafting of the report,” she said.

De Lima said at a news briefing that the fact-finding panel led by Prosecutor General Claro Arellano “should review” the controversial report that cleared the so-called “Hello Garci generals” of fraud in the 2004 presidential election, “especially the annexes.”

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“They should look for the gaps and deficiency,” she said.

De Lima said the panel should also check “if there is really a cover-up, as claimed by some.”

“And if they need to add to or refute some of the findings, then they must do that,” she said.

In a statement sent by text message, Sen. Francis Escudero called the Mayuga Report an “incomplete document” because resource persons were questioned in a manner “designed to cover up instead of ferreting out the truth.”

“The people who interviewed the soldiers shifted to other topics when they should have pursued the questioning on electoral fraud,” he said.

Escudero, as a former chair of the Senate national defense committee, was given a copy of the Mayuga Report declassified by the military on Tuesday, five years after its completion.

“Now that the [DOJ-Comelec] panel has been convened, I intend to give them a copy of the report and all its annexes including a list of the key personalities and soldiers who were interviewed so that the proper questions can be asked of them,” he said.

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House probe

The report was prepared by then Vice Adm. Mateo Mayuga and his panel members—Major Generals Raul Relano and Romeo Alamillo, Comm. Emilio Marayag and Col. Caridad Aguilar.

All of them will be invited to a House inquiry into election fraud, along with other military officers and civilians who were questioned by the Mayuga panel, according to Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares of the party-list group Bayan Muna.

Along with his Bayan Muna colleague, Rep. Teddy Casiño, Colmenares has filed a resolution calling for the inquiry. The resolution is pending in the rules committee, but Colmenares said it would be referred to the committees on suffrage and electoral reforms, national defense and good governance.

Colmenares sought a copy of the Mayuga Report during earlier deliberations at the House on the proposed 2012 budget of the Department of National Defense (DND). But defense officials refused, saying it was marked “secret” and had yet to be declassified.

In response, Colmenares moved for the suspension of deliberations on the proposed defense budget until the report had been submitted to Congress. The military declassified it on Tuesday.

200 pages of annexes

Colmenares said the 15-page summary of the report had 2,000 pages of annexes containing the leads that the panel should have pursued to establish the extent of military participation in poll fraud.

“I’m studying the testimonies and I’ve finished reading 500 pages of annexes, which is still a long way to go,” he said.

Colmenares said that among the leads in the annexes that were not pursued by the Mayuga panel and that were not included in the report’s summary was the testimony under oath of Air Force Col. Rene Pilapil.

A tactical operations group commander in Sanga Sanga, Tawi-Tawi, in April-June 2004, Pilapil testified that two helicopters sought to land in a military camp in Mindanao shortly after the May 2004 election on the request of an alleged lawyer of Arroyo’s husband.

“The Mayuga panel [members] are military men supposedly good at investigation and interrogation. But their failure to pursue the trail of evidence in the testimonies of witnesses is suspicious,” Colmenares said.

Military defense

But the Armed Forces, through its spokesperson, Comm. Miguel Rodriguez, defended the Mayuga Report.

“We don’t see any cover-up … We don’t see any intent for a cover-up,” Rodriguez told reporters at a briefing on Thursday. “We believe in the presumption of regularity of the report. Admiral Mayuga was asked to do an official report. We believe what he did was regular.”

But Rodriguez also said the AFP was not necessarily supporting the findings of the Mayuga panel, which absolved then Lt. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. (who later became AFP chief of staff), and three other ranking military officers of culpability in any election anomaly “despite undocumented reports dragging their names” into the fraud scandal

The four military men were given the moniker “Garci generals” because their names were mentioned in wiretapped phone conversations supposedly between Arroyo and then Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano about poll cheating.

“We’re not backing any report. We’re backing anything that would retain the credibility of the Armed Forces because that would make us effective,” Rodriguez said.

Also on Thursday, the DND said it had submitted to President Aquino the initial findings and recommendations of a committee led by Undersecretary Honorio Azcueta reviewing the Mayuga Report.

Report submitted to President Aquino

The DND spokesperson, Col. Hernando Iriberri, said in a separate briefing that the report was submitted on Monday. He declined to give details.

Rodriguez said the AFP did not see the controversy as particularly damaging to the institution.

“We have turned this around. We have been transparent as far as the activities of the [AFP] are concerned. We’ve allowed the flow of information [as] a right of the people because we are utilizing the resources of the people,” he said, adding:

“The chief of staff (Eduardo Oban Jr.) said we should be accountable for our actions whether right away or five years from now. We have to be accountable for what we do, especially for the resources given us.

“[Our] thinking is when one of us is involved, it’s not like we should all say ‘Mea culpa (It’s our fault).’ … Maybe some [military] people [are involved], but the Armed Forces as a whole has nothing to do with it.”

Time of reckoning

In a lengthy statement, former Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim said he was not surprised by the claim that the Mayuga Report had been watered down.

“There is nothing shocking about this. It only confirmed our nagging suspicion that the report will be used as a tool to conceal the previous administration’s crimes while paying false tribute to truth and accountability,” said Lim, a former rebel officer.

He added: “The entire truth must be unearthed, even it means revisiting a dark and despoiled past, resurrecting ghosts and opening up old wounds. The truth is the only thing that will put closure to this issue and the only thing that will restore the real values and principles of the uniformed service. It is the only thing that will keep the soldiers in the barracks, performing their duty to professionally serve and defend the Filipino people.

“Some will call it witch-hunting, while others will brand it as an excuse by the incumbent administration to ‘cover up’ its own ‘failings.’

“But President Aquino must not waver. They call it persecution. The country calls it justice. The Aquino government must not vacillate in its search for the truth and from making Arroyo and her cohorts account for their crimes against the people. Now is the time of reckoning.”

PMS analysis

At a briefing, Mr. Aquino’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Malacañang agreed that evidence of fraud during the 2004 presidential election was not in the Mayuga Report itself but in the annexes.

Lacierda said this was the analysis given to Mr. Aquino by the Presidential Management Staff (PMS), which had studied the report on the latter’s instruction.

He said this was why Mr. Aquino had directed the DND to look into the documents thoroughly—a task that Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin assigned to his undersecretary, Pio Batino.

But Lacierda, echoing what the President said as early as last month, said the government could no longer file charges in court because the five-year prescription period to do so had expired even before Mr. Aquino assumed office in June 2010.

The President had earlier said the Mayuga panel failed to follow through on the leads raised by witnesses and resource persons.

In reaction to the PMS analysis, Mr. Aquino has instructed the DOJ to look into possible violations other than election-related ones based on the report and its annexes.

Among the possible leads he cited were allegations that either a top official or someone influential during the Arroyo administration had visited some military camps and issued illegal directives.

Lacierda said that as directed by Mr. Aquino, the government would release the Mayuga Report to those requesting a copy.

‘Mutual corruption’

Former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., himself a victim of dagdag-bawas (vote-padding and -shaving) in 1995, said the very existence of the Mayuga Report confirmed “the institutional involvement of the military” in election fraud, “especially in the Moro areas.”

This is because of the “tendency” of the residents in these areas to “play ball with the military [so they will not be harassed],” Pimentel said in an interview.

The former senator from Cagayan de Oro said military collusion with Comelec officials in Mindanao in 2004 would not be surprising.

“It might not necessarily be the military [alone], but some corrupt Comelec officials are [known to be] doing this thing … It might be a mutual kind of sharing in corruption,” he said.

In 1995, Pimentel and other losing senatorial candidates blamed Comelec officials in Mindanao for launching “Oplan Dagdag-Bawas.”

It is widely believed that the project caused the entry of some undeserving candidates into the “Magic 12” that were later sworn in as senators in the 10th Congress.

Pimentel said that had the Mayuga Report not been kept under wraps for so long, his son, now Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, would not have had to undergo the agony of an electoral protest after his loss in the 2007 senatorial elections.

“An early disclosure of the report’s contents would have had a deterrent effect. Had we known, we would have made extra precautions. We would have realized that we did not have protection in those areas,” Pimentel said.

“In some instances, the military is looked up to as a power center higher than the Comelec. During the election period, they are always deputized by the Comelec [to help keep the peace],” he said.

Pimentel said he had not read the Mayuga Report. “But its existence shows you how impunity can work in a country,” he said.

He added that the military and the DOJ “must immediately start the prosecution of the people involved.”

No value

But Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV dismissed the Mayuga Report, saying: “We can throw it away because it has no value… It has no use or bearing. The report was watered down, a whitewash actually.”

Trillanes, who was involved in a failed uprising against Arroyo in 2003, said “Mayuga just tarnished his name [and showed] that he was willing to be coopted by the past administration.”

He said this was a “sad” development because Mayuga was “a decent officer.” Reports by Marlon Ramos, Cathy C. Yamsuan, Cynthia D. Balana, DJ Yap, Christine O. Avendaño and Christian V. Esguerra

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TAGS: 2004 presidential election fraud, 2007 senatorial election fraud, Comm. Emilio Marayag and Col. Caridad Aguilar, Commission on Elections (Comelec), cover up, Department of Justice (DoJ), Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, joint panel, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Major Generals Raul Relano and Romeo Alamillo, Mayuga report, military secret file, Sen. Francis Escudero, Vice Adm. Mateo Mayuga
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