Is the noose beginning to tighten around her neck? With fresh allegations of poll irregularities against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, calls for the reopening of investigations into the 2004 and 2007 elections have mounted. There appear to be two venues for the inquiry: the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and a special fact-finding body proposed by Sen. Francis Escudero. If the Comelec opens its inquiry, Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. said he’s prepared to inhibit himself and testify that cheating took place in the past presidential and senatorial elections. He had been opposition lawyer in the two previous polls. He said that he himself might become a witness.
In the Senate, Sen. Francis Escudero said he plans to file a resolution creating a fact-finding body to investigate the fraud claims. The body could be headed by a retired Supreme Court justice with representatives of the Department of Justice, Comelec, Office of the Solicitor General and legislators as members.
Interest in the controversial elections has been renewed because of the claims of Lintang Bedol and Zaldy Ampatuan that they had been instructed by Arroyo and her husband, former first gentleman Mike Arroyo, to rig the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Both Ampatuan and Bedol are very controversial, to say the least. Ampatuan is the suspended ARMM governor now facing multiple murder charges in the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre of 58 people. Bedol is the former Maguindanao supervisor of the Comelec who vanished after he was summoned to appear before an inquiry into poll irregularities in 2007. He has surfaced and alleged that former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. had ordered him to give zero votes to then opposition senatorial candidates Benigno Aquino III, Panfilo “Ping” Lacson and Alan Peter Cayetano. Bedol added that Arroyo was the main beneficiary of election cheating in Central Mindanao during the 2004 presidential election.
There seems to be a consensus that the new revelations should propel new investigations. If the Arroyos are found indictable for cheating in the 2004 and 2007 polls, they would be charged with electoral sabotage, a non-bailable offense and punishable by life imprisonment under Republic Act No. 9369, or the Automated Election System Act, which was enacted only in 2007. Only one person has been charged with election sabotage: former provincial election supervisor Lilia Radam, who was accused of tampering with poll documents that padded votes in favor of administration senatorial candidates in 2007.
The task now is for the government, especially Malacañang, to determine whether to gamble on the claims of Ampatuan and Bedol. Ampatuan’s claims about election fraud seem to be an attempt for him to curry favor with the government. Bedol has resurfaced in order to backstop Ampatuan’s claim and perhaps win for himself a reprieve.
As expected, the Arroyos have questioned the integrity of Bedol and Ampatuan. Raul Lambino, their spokesman and lawyer, said there was no need for a congressional investigation because all issues pertaining to the 2004 presidential election had been resolved by the results of the official canvass conducted by Congress. He pointed out that the Supreme Court sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal had also addressed the issue in the electoral protest case filed by Sen. Loren Legarda against former Vice President Noli de Castro in connection with the vice presidential contest.
But considering the new revelations, as well as continued public dissatisfaction with how election fraud cases before had been settled, there should be a way to renew the inquiry into the controversial elections of 2004 and 2007. Perhaps in order to check whether Ampatuan and Bedol have the goods against the Arroyos, they should be asked to provide evidence for their claims. If the Maguindanao polls were rigged in 2004 and 2007 to favor Arroyo and her senatorial candidates, they should come out with proof and evidence. But of course, since the charges come from characters who are themselves accused of committing crimes, there’s a need to check these out carefully. Their claims are controversial enough, but there should be a way of determining if these have something beyond the merely tinsel and tantalizing.
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