Hello Garci,10 years later: Never again

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Grace Poe yesterday vowed anew to work for electoral reforms in the country 10 years after the “Hello, Garci” wiretap controversy in connection with the 2004 elections where her father, the late action star Fernando Poe Jr., lost allegedly because of poll fraud.

It was a flashback to 2004 when Poe presented to her colleagues a video that aired the controversial phone conversation between election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and a woman said to be former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Arroyo’s voice was distinct in the tapes, where she supposedly directed Garcillano to give her a one-million margin to ensure victory against the late action star, popularly known by his initials FPJ.

Sen. Loren Legarda, who was FPJ’s vice presidential candidate in the 2004 elections, took the floor and recalled how she struggled after losing against fellow broadcaster Noli de Castro.

Sen. Vicente Sotto III, one of FPJ’s campaign managers, also spoke about the late actor’s ways and demeanor during the campaign period.

Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara recalled he was with FPJ’s ticket when he first ran as congressman for Aurora province.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, the son of Poe’s best friend Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, also had good words for the late action star.

Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, for his part, discussed how one should vigorously fight for justice, citing his case where he was cheated but won back his seat after a long-drawn out election protest.

Electoral reforms

In a privilege speech, Poe sought her colleagues’ support in passing measures that would address the new dynamics of automated elections and reformulate outdated laws.

Poe said this could only be achieved by creating a new set of penalties for computer-aided, technology-driven election offenses.

“We need to prevent high-tech election fraud from making a mockery of our electoral system,” she said.

The Senate probed the controversy but only after FPJ had died.

Former National Bureau of Investigation deputy director Samuel Ong had exposed the election fraud on June 10, 2005 by claiming he possessed the original tapes of the wiretapped conversations between Arroyo and Garcillano.

“In our country many wrong-doers do not get punished while good people are made to suffer when they come out and speak the truth,” said Poe, who topped the Senate race last year.

“We all know what happened to Arroyo and her cohorts. But almost all those who were involved in the ‘Hello, Garci’ tapes have not been charged to date, much less spent a single night in jail,” she said.

Poe said some of the major players in the controversy are still in government.

“Whatever happened to these individuals who figured in the ‘Hello, Garci’ scandal,” she asked.

Poe referred to Garcillano, former elections chief Benjamin Abalos Sr.; election officers Lintang Bedol; Rey Sumalipao and former presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye.

Poe also wanted to know what happened to the people who risked their lives, their families and careers to speak the truth, referring to retired general Francisco Gudani, military intelligence agent Sgt. Vidal Doble and Michaelangelo Zuce.

Gudani was the head of Task Force Lanao who was replaced during the elections. Vidal, on the other hand, was the military intelligence agent who leaked the wiretap tapes, while Zuce is Garcillano’s nephew who testified on the alleged payoffs he made.

Poe also mentioned Abdullah Daligdig, the election watchdog official who exposed the discrepancies of the elections results in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao where in some areas, Poe supposedly got zero votes.

Ong, the NBI deputy director who exposed the Garci tapes to the media, was charged with sedition under the Arroyo administration. He died on May 24, 2009.

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