Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why doesn’t P-Noy just leave the prosecution of graft in the past administration---and in his own turf---to the dynamic duo of Morales and De Lima, and the electoral fraud to the Comelec?

The legal spokesperson of former President Arroyo, Atty. Raul Lambino, recently expressed the fear in the media that his client would no longer get a fair trial in the courts of law, in view of the “massive trial by publicity against her” in various exposes of “alleged whistle-blowers under the supervision of top government officials.” Lambino stressed, “There is a day of reckoning, but the rule of the law, due process and rights of the accused must prevail.”

He was obviously referring to the noisy lawyering that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has been doing for the group of Police Senior Supt. Rafael Santiago, such as acting as their personal witness as they broke their story exclusively to the Inquirer on their alleged break-in at the Batasan in January-February of 2005, in order to deliver fake election returns allegedly on behalf of GMA. De Lima also liberally quoted Santiago’s allegation that former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo funded his group, even though the whistle-blower himself admitted he only heard this claim from another source.

Lambino must have been referring also to Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes who stressed to media that Santiago’s group was, as the Inquirer put it, “the one he had been seeking when he was pursuing the election protests of (Fernando) Poe and runningmate Sen. Loren Legarda.”


Now De Lima and Brillantes have stated that they will conduct a formal inquiry into allegations of fraud in the 2004 and 2007 elections. But how can this be impartial when they have already lent credence to the story of Santiago’s group EVEN BEFORE it has executed its affidavits (its  members are taking their sweet time in accomplishing it---nauna na ang storya sa media!);  in fact they didn't even sign their statements released to DOJ and media. 

In so doing, De Lima and Brillantes are obviously following the script of Malacanang's left-wing Presidential Political Adviser Ronald Llamas, who finally emerged from the shadows yesterday on the cases. Llamas has marshaled his leftist party-list attack dogs in the House to file charges against Arroyo officials.  As Lambino put it, all these stories of fraud and corruption swirling in the media are under the SUPERVISION of top government officials.


Given these circumstances, what kind of impartial inquiry can the citizens expect? Can the lawyers of the DOJ go against Boss De Lima? Can the lawyers of Comelec go against Chair Brillantes? Given the direct intervention of Malacanang in the accusations against P-Noy’s predecessor, can De Lima and Brillantes go against P-Noy and Llamas?

There is the rightful clamor of citizens for the truth to surface in the elections under question, in order to put all the accusations of fraud behind us as a nation. But under the above circumstances, wouldn’t any inquiry be just a moro-moro, at the expense of the constitutional human rights of the accused to a fair hearing in court?  What's going on is a scandalous trial by publicity.


There is outright condemnation of Arroyo and other officials of the past administration, judging from media statements of ranking Aquino officials, even without a formal inquiry and while still bereft of sworn statements by so-called witnesses.  On the other hand, there is the tremendous double standard of the Aquino administration.

For example, P-Noy, in no less than his SONA, accused the past administration of Pagcor of spending P1 billion in coffee, which at first blush looks mind-boggling (except that a more honest picture would have been to state that it was for a ten year period in 13 casinos where the high-end Figaro Coffee Shop catered to an average of 25,000 patrons daily). Yet, nothing was heard from the Palace about the accusation by House Deputy Minority Leader Danilo Suarez that Pagcor lost P400 million in three different casinos to a foreign gambling syndicate in just one week last May 2011---in P-Noy's first year in office. In addition, said Suarez, the members of the syndicate, who are holding Malaysian and Chinese passports, were allowed to post bail and can no longer be located to account for their theft. 

Citizens are also questioning why retired Gen. Gaudencio Pangilinan, Jr., a friend of the President, was appointed head of the Bureau of Corrections when he was accused by AFP former budget officer George Rabusa of amassing many millions in military funds while serving as executive assistant to the late Chief of Staff General Arturo Enrile. Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda was quoted as saying that Pangilinan should be given the benefit of the doubt until proved guilty; yet Gen. Angelo Reyes, who was generally regarded as instrumental in the swing of the military to GMA at Edsa 2, was persecuted for Rabusa's very same allegations, until he was led to commit suicide.


Citizens doubtless have followed the media blitz of SPO Santiago in the supposed Batasan break-ins from January to February 2005, but to them certain points just don’t wash. To begin with, former Speaker Jose de Venecia and then Majority Leader (later to succeed JDV as Speaker) Prospero Nograles have denied in the media any break-in into the House, as attested by close-circuit TV and the House Chief Security.  JDV was on record as having asked the House Security to investigate the allegation  of a break-in when a news-magazine first wrote about it in 2005; no breach was established.

But assuming that, as Santiago claimed, his group was able to break into the Batasan at night on first try, on the pretext that there was a bomb threat, how were they able to pull the second, third and fourth break-ins without arousing suspicion? Would the “bomb threat” have worked subsequently?


In law it is important to establish the credibility of the witness.  Santiago’s group is not credible because, as Comelec Chief Brillantes himself was quoted in ABS-CBN, they approached him when he was lawyer of Sen. Loren Legarda, FPJ's runningmate, in her protest case against Lakas VP candidate Noli de Castro, to sell its video tapes to Loren's camp as evidence. Brilliantes said he turned down the offer because it was too expensive. Legarda recently attested to this offer but said she refused it outright, as she “didn’t see why I have to buy evidence.” 

I recall that this group also tried to peddle its fraud wares to another ranking official three years later, but he also nixed it as “suspicious.”  Obviously the Palace bought this “evidence” that it’s now peddling to the people via the media.


This fraud-for-sale story is reminiscent of the many complaints from defeated local candidates that surfaced in weeks of hearings held by the House Committee on Suffrage and Election Laws in the 14th Congress, chaired by former Rep. TeddyBoy Locsin, after the 2010 elections. The losers recounted how they were propositioned by various manipulators to fork out certain amounts (some running into millions) in exchange for sure victory, but which they all turned down.

I recall election lawyer Romulo Macalintal’s reaction at that time---that these losers deserve to lose because they did not entrap or expose the syndicates who approached them. Perhaps Sen. Legarda and lawyer Brillantes should have exposed the fraud-peddling of the Santiago group late in 2004.


With regard to the claim of SPO Santiago’s group that Comelec manipulators faked 6,000 election returns (ERs) in favor of GMA and the police unit facilitated the exchange in the Batasan break-ins, it is good to remember that in the protest case filed by FPJ against GMA, he questioned the ERs in 40 provinces while in ten provinces the ballots would have had to be re-counted---except that FPJ died in December 2004. Subsequently, the Supreme Court denied the petition of FPJ’s widow, Susan Roces, for a recount on the ground that she couldn’t substitute for him.

With the sudden death of FPJ in December 2004, would the Arroyo camp have taken pains and risked all to fake 6,000 ERs and have it smuggled into the Batasan in the middle of the night in January to February 2005, given the huge unlikelihood that there would be a recount? 

But even assuming that following Santiago’s fantastic tale, a recount was undertaken, surely hot-shot election lawyers such as Leila de Lima (FPJ’s lawyer) and Sixto Brilliantes (Loren’s lawyer) would have noticed the discrepancy between the fakes and the genuine ones, as they were holding ONE of the six or seven copies of the ERs as the dominant opposition party. Surely such fake ERs would never have passed undetected before their eagle eyes and they would have screamed to the world had the fraud been attempted. 

All these are questions that seasoned lawyers would be asking in a trial in a court of law, but of course in the mass media it's trial by publicity. 


The problem with this administration is that it’s totally obsessed with putting GMA behind bars for whatever reason--graft or electoral fraud, or both---with the help of all-too friendly media. But my unsolicited advice to P-Noy, now that he has appointed his very own Ombudsman, is, why doesn’t he just leave the prosecution of graft in the past administration---as well as in his own turf---to the dynamic duo of Conchita Carpio Morales and Leila de Lima and the courts, and the tall tales of electoral fraud to the Comelec, so that they can be more independent and credible? With Morales as the “pitbull against graft,” P-Noy should now attend to the pressing problem of solving poverty and hunger and getting those crucial PPP projects started to move the economy. And yes, the growing unrest in Hacienda Luisita.


Catch our dzRH show tonight at 8 pm., as Cecile Alvarez and I dissect the SONA of P-Noy with the irrepressible veteran journalist Tony Lopez. 

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