Jose Miguel Arroyo has denied allegations that he and his wife, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, ordered the rigging of election results in 2007 in favor of the administration’s senatorial candidates. “My wife was not running for president in 2007 and neither was I. So why should we order cheating?” he said. “It defies both common sense and logic.”
If it were merely a theoretical exercise, the former first gentleman would be quite correct. But seen in the context of the political situation at the time as well as his wife’s previous record of manipulating election results, the allegations of cheating in 2007 certainly make a lot of sense. Maybe Arroyo will see how cheating makes perfect logic if we jog his memory.
In 2007, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was trying to beat off attempts to impeach her from the presidency, after the “Hello, Garci” tapes were made public in June 2005. In her battle for political survival, Gloria was deploying every resource at her command and employing all means, fair or foul. She had loyal lawmakers or private lawyers beating the opposition in filing weak or faulty impeachment complaints so that she could be inoculated against impeachment for the rest of the year. She was buying off local officials and even bishops so that they would not join calls for her to step down or be impeached. And she was keeping congressmen happy and loyal by fattening their pork barrel allocations and sometimes distributing paper bags containing cash right in Malacañang.
But although she had an overwhelming majority of congressmen in her pocket and she could count on them to mindlessly claim that impeachment was nothing more than a numbers game, she wanted to take no chances. If things went wrong at the House of Representatives, the Senate would have been the next battle ground. She had to make sure she had enough votes to avoid conviction if ever the impeachment case would be sent to the Senate for trial. Her handpicked senatorial candidates had to win, by hook or by crook.
Which was exactly what she told Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. shortly before the May 14, 2007 elections, according to Norie Unas, the governor’s right-hand man and provincial administrator. Unas narrated in a sworn affidavit that during a meeting in Malacañang with her senatorial candidates, governors and other local officials, Gloria appealed for a 12-0 result for the administration’s senatorial candidates. Later as the guests were filing out, Unas continued, Gloria pulled Ampatuan aside and told him, “We need 12-0 in Maguindanao, even if that means you have to fix or change the result.”
Unas also said that the following day he and Ampatuan went to Mike Arroyo’s office in Makati where the latter reiterated the order to produce a sweep by administration candidates. He quoted Ampatuan as saying, “We have to do this because I don’t want to be embarrassed before FG and the President.”
Unas was the first witness to claim personal knowledge of the Arroyos’ involvement in election fraud. While a number of other witnesses have implicated some of the Arroyos’ close associates like Benjamin Abalos and Hermogenes Ebdane in cheating operations in the 2004 and 2007 elections, and others have assumed the instructions they got were from Malacañang, only Unas claims to have heard the order to manipulate the poll results straight from the former president’s mouth.
His testimony has been deemed so credible and damaging that both Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes are now talking of wrapping up the investigation and charging the Arroyos with electoral sabotage before the year ends. Brillantes said that once probable cause is established and charges are filed, the Arroyos could be arrested immediately.
If by December the case is filed and the Arroyos are jailed, it would be a wonderful Christmas gift to the Filipino people. At the very least, it would show that the wheels of justice are starting to turn and catching up with those who, while holding positions of power, carried on like they were above the law.
But does the government have enough evidence to convict? Brillantes doesn’t seem too sure. He has called on others present at the Malacañang meeting to make amends and corroborate Unas’ story. If there are still loose ends to be tied, the government could not rush the filing of the case. This is the one case it should not lose.