Nagamura Moner, a former Shariah court judge in Mindanao, jolted last Monday a Senate inquiry into the alleged cheating in the 2004 and 2007 elections: he asserted that the late Fernando Poe Jr. would have defeated Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the 2004 polls by “at least a million votes” if his group had “not facilitated” fraud in seven Mindanao provinces.
Moner was the latest witness to testify in the Senate joint committee hearing on the poll fraud, but his testimony was reckless, not backed by corroborating evidence, and anchored on highly speculative assumptions. It followed the testimonies of a parade of “new witnesses” to the alleged irregularities—testimonies that have turned the Senate into a Court of Star Chamber, notorious in British parliamentary history for its oppressive methods. Moner’s testimony came after an affidavit submitted by former Maguindanao administrator Norie Unas in early Oct. 4 to a joint inquiry conducted by the Commission on Elections and the Department of Justice. The affidavit stated that a few days before the May 2007 senatorial election, Arroyo called a dinner-meeting in Malacañang during which she told former Maguindanao Gov. Datu Andal Ampatuan, “We need 12-0 in Maguindanao, even if you have to fix or change the result.”
According to Unas, the governor replied “Opo (Yes) Ma’am.” Incumbent Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes presented Unas to reporters, saying he was providing the first direct evidence against Arroyo in the joint inquiry. Both Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Brillantes concluded that Unas’ “direct knowledge” and “first-hand account” would be a strong piece of evidence against Arroyo and her husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, to back a possible case of “electoral sabotage,” a crime described by the justice department as “heinous”—which means it is non-bailable and punishable by life imprisonment. This prospect has prompted both De Lima and Brillantes to declare with exuberance that they could wrap up their inquiry by Christmas, with the Arroyo couple behind bars, that is, without bail, if the panel found “probable cause” that they were behind the rigging of the 2007 senatorial election.
Acting on this assessment, President Aquino told foreign correspondents on Oct. 12 that charges would be filed against the Arroyos by November, but De Lima backpedaled, saying that the DOJ had no definite date for the filing of cases against the Arroyos.
There appears to be a public clamor for the government, with its punitive powers, to produce a single successful prosecution, instead of tormenting its targets with relentless trial by publicity. The government has already filed five plunder cases against the former president, but none of these has reached the trial stage.
There is little doubt that the Moner testimony at the Senate represents a tightening of the noose around the former president in the effort to send her to jail, at least before the end of the year. The effort is rushed and crude, and it shows little respect for due process. With all the crushing weight of the investigatory powers of both the executive department and the legislature deployed against Arroyo, legal circles have begun to ask such questions as: how many more cases does the government need to prosecute the past president and send her to jail?
Is the Aquino administration and even the Senate not undermining institutions in the eagerness to go after the Arroyos? Are congressional and executive inquiries being used as inquisitorial instruments?
Although Moner claimed his group facilitated fraud in Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Cotabato City, Maguindanao, Tawi-Tawi, Sulu and Sultan Kudarat, to ensure Arroyo’s victory, his credibility was questioned by some senators, who pointed out that Moner was “ready” to spill the beans as early as 2005 but changed his mind, allegedly after being given a hefty sum by the Arroyo administration.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada pointed out that prior to his appearance in the Senate hearing on Sept. 13, Moner had made public statements on two previous occasions giving contradictory versions. “How do you expect me or the committee to believe you? Is there anything that we can hold on now to ensure you are now telling the truth, that you will not flip-flop with your decision?” Moner said he was not “required” to swear on the Koran in his Senate appearance on Dec, 8, 2005, when he maintained there was no cheating in the 2004 election. Does the Koran make a dishonest man honest?
Moner claimed that the votes shaved off from FPJ added up to 1 million, which approximates the returns reported by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal. Moner’s testimony on the shaving-off operations requires corroboration from other witnesses. He has to present proof and details of where and how many election returns were tampered with in the provinces he cited.
If the purpose of the Senate and the government’s inquiries is to go to the bottom of the truth of the fraud allegations, I’m afraid they have opened up a bottomless pit in an open-ended investigation.
What’s the point of pinning down Arroyo for rigging the elections? The legitimacy of her government had been wiped out by those election fraud scandals. It’s President Aquino’s turn to confirm the legitimacy of his government with concrete results—in the successful prosecution of the Arroyo cases and in economic management. And in alleviating the poverty festering outside Hacienda Luisita.
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