“Pinpoint the mastermind behind the Hello Garci scandal and prosecute all those who participated in this shameless act”. These are the exact words of deposed former president and convicted plunderer, Joseph “Erap” Estrada regarding allegations of cheating in the 2004 Presidential elections. His statement reeks of vendetta. It seemed like a good idea then, but former President and now Congresswoman Gloria Arroyo must be regretting her decision to pardon Erap now.
We all know that it was former President Gloria Arroyo who took over the Presidency after Erap was deposed. The House of Representatives back in 2005 already wasted a lot of their time “investigating” the alleged cheating scandal involving Arroyo and her cohort former Comelec commissioner Virgilio “Hello Garci” Garcillano but it resulted in nothing more than a failed impeachment procedure and a disorganized “People Power” led by the late former President Cory Aquino.
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Now it seems that Senator Francis Escudero wants to waste more of the taxpayer’s time and money by mounting a futile battle. In his own words, Escudero said, “We just want to set the record straight” and “We are doing this not because we are after [Arroyo]. We just want to know who won, so we can correct history”.
If setting the record straight is the only thing he is after, he just needs to look at the records in Congress about the said investigation that was held. They couldn’t even convince Garcillano to show up for the occasion so why even bother? The odds of probers pulling another “star witness” out of a hat after all these years is, suffice to say, quite slim.
Yet somehow they have. Escudero suddenly found a “renewed allegation of poll fraud” made by former Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and election officer Lintang Bedol who is also implicating Arroyo in the alleged electoral fraud in the 2007 election in Mindanao. It is not difficult to understand why after being silent for several years, the two are willing to talk. Could it have something to do with the charges currently being made against them?
And besides, if Escudero is not really after Arroyo and if they really want to uncover electoral fraud, why stop at the 2004 Presidential election?
We all know that the first automated polls held in 2010 did not stop all the talk of alleged electoral fraud that has come to haunt every election held in the Philippines. In fact, Erap who came second in the race was one of the presidential candidates who cried foul immediately after the election last year. In a news item dated a week after the 10th of May election, his lawyer was adamant they had strong evidence to support election fraud:
George Garcia, Estrada’s lawyer, said yesterday the compact flash cards used in the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines might have been pre-programmed to make certain candidates win.
“We have strong evidence that there were flash cards that were pre-programmed to reflect desired results instead of real results or real votes,” he said.”
Garcia said they will submit the evidence of irregularities to Congress when it convenes as a National Board of Canvassers on May 31.
“The duty of Congress is not ministerial, it is not mechanical,” he said. “Their duty is to find out the truth and protect the sovereign will and voice of the Filipino people.”
Indeed. But even calls by the second most popular political figure in the country could not do anything to unravel the mystery behind who really won the presidential election in 2010. Unfortunately, the media played a big role in dampening calls for a thorough “investigation” of the matter. In a previous article, I wrote:
“Presidential candidate Nick Perlas has issued a letter warning people to be more discerning about what the media is reporting. This is an excerpt from his letter:
Beware and Overcome Media Manipulation
21 May 2010
Readers beware! If you want to get the truth regarding the recent national elections, go beyond what you get from the mainstream media. Do your own research. Check the facts on the ground. Ask what your friends experienced. Connect the dots yourself. Come to your own conclusion. In this way, you will protect your mind from being manipulated by unseen powers that lurk behind the country’s media establishment.
Immediately after the May 10, 2010 elections, the Filipino public was brainwashed with stories about a stunningly successful election.” ‘Birth pains’ of poll automation over”. “Fast count stuns nation”. “Stocks surge as markets cheer successful elections”. “Villar conceding proves Comelec credible”. “Take a bow, Filipino voters”. “US, EU praise RP for elections; peso, markets buoyed”. “Comelec proves critics wrong”. “Filipinos carry on love affair with PCOS machines”.
Most Filipinos would readily dismiss Perlas as a sore loser but a growing number of thinking Filipinos are calling for the reinvestigation of the 2010 election. Another group calling themselves Tanggulang Demokrasya (Tan Dem) claims that “cheating was at its gravest during the 2010 national and local elections”:
Tanggulang Demokrasya (Tan Dem) claimed that results of the May 2010 elections were clouded by serious doubts because of grave election law violations by the Comelec and operational glitches in the automated system.
TanDem is a network of information technology experts, overseas Filipino professionals, political reform advocates, onshore citizens and taxpayers groups calling for the comprehensive review of last year’s polls.
“While we hail the move to revisit the 2004 and 2007 elections, the review process should go beyond. The 2010 elections should also be scrutinized,” the group said.
It believed that the safeguards in the automated system used in last year’s elections were illegally disregarded and election returns were deliberately left without signatures, opening the electoral process and results to fraud that undermined the legitimacy of the poll results.
Some of these were the suspension of the digital signature of the Board of Elections Inspectors (BEI); the suspension of the use of the Ultraviolet Scanners, which were designed to authenticate the ballots being fed into Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines; the suspension of the PCOS function to show on the screen the voter’s ballots, instead of merely the word “Congratulations”; and the disregard of the law’s provision on “data retention” when the Comelec destroyed memory and compact flash cards as early as May 15, 2010.
The problem is, since members of the Supreme Court are considered luddites or among those who fear technology, they are slow to act on any petition that challenges the legitimacy of the election results. They did order the Comelec to compel Smartmatic TIM to make public the source codes used to run and operate the equipment. They simply refused and that was that.
Even a Senate investigation last year of how Smartmatic TIM conducted the 2010 elections, failed to provide clear answers as the company evaded questions on how the PCOS machines work. It is obvious they could get away with it because the Senators are hopelessly inept at making sense of the technical jargon.
Allegations of election fraud in 2010 fell on deaf ears. They were immediately dismissed as sour grapping even when more than one whistleblower came to speak out. According to a news item from The Daily Tribune:
The 4th whistleblower was interviewed by ABS-CBN reporter Sheryl Mundo and shown on TV Patrol, saying that the votes of Gilbert Teodoro were shaved by 5 million, Erap Estrada by 4 million and Eddie Villanueva by 2 to 3 million. The unidentified whistleblower’s video was presented by Buddy Cunanan, son of Belinda Cunanan and a Manila Times columnist at a CBCP forum. He said their cheating scheme was planned and in place three months before the elections and they were offering guaranteed votes at P20 per vote. At least seven candidates have already revealed that they were offered guaranteed votes by brokers representing the syndicate.
Cheating during elections in the Philippines is nothing new. The People’s International Observers Mission, in a press conference on the conduct of the 2010 elections in the Philippines, revealed that the “clean” and “smooth” election reported by the media was not what they saw. Even with the automated polling machines, serious and systematic irregularities were rampant as in every election ever held:
– Vote buying
– No privacy in polling stations
– Strong police and military presence inside polling stations.
– Party workers inside the polling centres usually filling in the forms for the voters
– Strong intimidation and harassment by the military and civilians who have no business being in the polling stations.
If Senator Escudero and Erap really want to find the mastermind behind the election fraud, they ought to include finding the mastermind behind those irregularities as well because it has become accepted as part of every election scene. Otherwise, most rational people would assume they are just after Arroyo.
In life, things are not always what they seem.