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Generals in ‘Hello Garci’ election scam face probe

House set to pursue damning leads ignored by Mayuga Report

Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro Casiño. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Certain members of the House of Representatives are determined to pursue the leads uncovered but ignored by the fact-finding panel that prepared the Mayuga Report despite resistance from the majority to revisit the alleged theft of the 2004 presidential election.

Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro Casiño said the House should be able to “tie up all the loose ends” from the previous inquiries into election fraud by subjecting the Mayuga Report witnesses to a fresh round of questions.

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“I believe the House can extract more details, unlike the Mayuga panel [members] who stopped when faced with the opportunity to dig deeper into the truth,” Casiño said.

Ako Bicol Representative Rodel Batocabe said Congress should put the “finishing touches” on the Mayuga Report by inviting at least four of the military officers whose testimonies on election fraud were “suppressed” by the panel members in their report.

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Batocabe, a member of the House committee on justice, named them as then Brigadier General Raymundo Ferrer, Lieutenant General Rodolfo Garcia, Lieutenant Colonel Victoriano Pimentel, and Air Force Colonel Rene Pilapil.

The Mayuga Report has been criticized for clearing the so-called “Hello Garci generals,” including then Major General Hermogenes Esperon, of involvement in election fraud, while inexplicably failing to pursue the claims of other military officers that they were used to favor then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the polls in Mindanao.

Devil in the details

The report was prepared by a five-member panel led by then Vice Admiral Mateo Mayuga.

In the report, which was declassified five years after its completion, the devil was in the details.

Then Basilan Governor Wahab Akbar, a known Arroyo ally, phoned Ferrer, the commanding general of the Army’s 103rd infantry brigade based in the province, and told him to relax security to pave the way for an “operation” against Fernando Poe Jr.

The late actor was then leading the presidential race in “practically all towns” in Basilan.

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Ferrer, now a lieutenant general and head of the Western Mindanao Command, disclosed this to the Mayuga panel in Zamboanga City on Aug. 29, 2005.

But while his testimony was attached as an annex, it was excluded in the official findings, which were ordered released by President Benigno Aquino last weekend.

At that time, Ferrer said, the capital Isabela was the center of attention because it was the venue of the canvassing of votes for provincial and national positions.

‘That’s their style’

Ferrer also said that in another phone call, he was told by “a governor” that the soldiers were “too strict.”

“We can’t operate. Loosen the security. We can’t move. FPJ (Poe) has won in practically all towns,” the governor purportedly said in a mix of Filipino and English.

Ferrer said he did not heed the order, fearing that the governor would create a “scenario” that would involve violence.

He described the governor as “the founder” of the Abu Sayyaf bandit group.

“My worry is I know Akbar. He has a terrorist mind,” he said, referring to the governor who was later killed in a bomb attack at the House in 2007. “If I allow him to create a scenario, there might be bombing and it will scare everybody away or whatever. … That’s their style.”

Ferrer also told of yet another phone call “insinuating” that he favor a certain candidate during the tightly guarded canvassing of votes.

He said the call came from then Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who supposedly complained that ex-Mayor Hajaron Jamiri of Taburan town was not being treated fairly.

He said he “politely” replied that he was being fair to the contending parties in his area of jurisdiction.

“The Mayuga Report is an unfinished tale which raised more questions than answers. To finally put closure to the 2004 presidential election and in the absence of a truth commission, I strongly suggest that Congress be the one to finish and answer these questions,” Batocabe said.

“Our people’s clamor to know the truth and rid the country of the ‘wangwang’ attitude should be supported,” he said, referring to the culture of abuse of power.

Cold shoulder

Casiño admitted that his party-list group’s call for an investigation of the alleged cheating in the 2004 election had been met with a cold shoulder by House leaders.

He said the leaders of the chamber wanted to focus only on the switching of election returns (ERs) at the Batasang Pambansa in 2005, as exposed last month by a team of elite police officers led by Senior Superintendent Rafael Santiago, as a mere security issue.

Dasmariñas City Representative Elpidio Barzaga said the House leaders would hold a meeting on Monday to determine the parameters of the investigation and what committees would handle it.

Barzaga, the chair of the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, said he would support a full-blown probe of election cheating in 2004.

“We are interested in putting closure to this issue, and the Mayuga witnesses should help us achieve this goal,” he said.

Batocabe said the House could conduct a new probe focusing only on the unfinished business of the Mayuga panel, or include this in the proposed inquiry into election fraud triggered by fresh claims by suspended Governor Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and former Maguindanao election officer Lintang Bedol, as well as the alleged ER-switching at the Batasan by Santiago and his men.

It was Bedol who blew the whistle on cheating in the 2007 senatorial elections.

‘Don’t waste it’

The Mayuga panel interviewed 71 military officers and civilians.

Then Lieutenant General Garcia told the panel members that soldiers were convinced that claims of cheating in the “Hello Garci” wiretapped conversations were true.

He bluntly told Mayuga and company: “You have the opportunity to do something. Don’t waste it.”

According to Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, the annexes of the Mayuga Report showed the high-level collusion between military officers and politicians to commit election fraud.

“The interviews reveal a divided and corrupted Armed Forces. Several ranking officers testified about bribery, electioneering and other actions that sought to undermine the 2004 polls,” Reyes said. “These should have been the basis for a thorough investigation into the conduct and criminal liability of some officials. However, the AFP leadership during [Arroyo’s] term chose to look the other way and cover up these incidents.”

Reyes said it was telling that even Garcia, who headed the military’s Task Force on Honest Orderly and Peaceful Elections (HOPE), had admitted irregularities.

Garci tape real

“No less than the officer who headed Task Force HOPE was saying that fraud may have happened and that the contents of the ‘Hello Garci’ wiretaps were real. The Mayuga panel should have pursued this lead, yet there is no mention of this in the recommendations,” Reyes said.

Garcia had said that senior military officers pressured ground commanders to engage in partisan politics. “There are people among us who have allowed themselves to be used. I think everybody knows that,” he said. With a report from Kristine L. Alave

First posted 12:08 am | Saturday, August 20th, 2011

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TAGS: 2004 presidential elections, Congress, election fraud, Fernando Poe Jr., Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Government, House of Representatives, Mayuga report, Military, Politics
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