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How to nail ‘Garci’

/ 07:49 PM August 09, 2011

The man was shrewd—a model of cunning. He designed his criminal empire in such a way that nothing seemed to lead directly to him. Even as he oversaw a reign of crime and terror that left law-enforcement authorities often outmaneuvered and outgunned, nothing stuck to his person. It appeared the Mafia don was indeed untouchable. But he had one weakness. He liked to live lavishly, to display the wealth his illicit enterprise had afforded him. The government saw an opening and looked at his taxes. Bingo! They didn’t match the ostentation on view. Al Capone, invincible until then, was hauled in and convicted of tax evasion. He never got out. In the end, what brought him down wasn’t his brutal gangsterism, but something more innocuous: his cheapskate ways.

This classic story of successful law enforcement by indirect means comes to mind now that we are dealing with a figure as elusive and wily as Capone, though the man may not live as flamboyantly, and his crimes do happen to be of an entirely different bent.

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Unlike America’s fabled gangster, Virgilio Garcillano has not been linked to murder, smuggling, prostitution, drug running and the like. What he has been charged with is something far worse, if you think about it. Garcillano is alleged to have been the architect of a campaign to rig the results of the 2004 presidential election in favor of then-reelectionist President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. By stealing the vote for his patron, he precipitated a titanic political crisis, the malignant effects of which the nation has yet to recover from, seven years after the fact.

The cheating wasn’t mere conjecture. It turned out that Arroyo was caught on tape calling a person whom she addressed as “Garci,” with instructions to protect her lead of one million votes over her closest rival, movie actor Fernando Poe Jr. Weeks later, as the conflagration threatened to bring down her government, Arroyo admitted on national television that it was indeed her voice on the wiretap, and apologized for her “lapse in judgment.” She did not identify who she was talking to. But only the most rabid of her supporters, or the plain mad, would deny that it was then Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

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It was the foulest, most blatant case of election-rigging the country had ever seen—and yet, through cunning and ruthlessness, Arroyo would survive the scandal and ride out the rest of her presidency. As for the man who had thrashed the nation’s democracy to its foundations? Garcillano lost his Comelec position soon after “Hello, Garci,” but he never saw the inside of a prison cell for his felonious actions. He faded from view a free man.

He would not be heard from again in a significant way until, with the advent of a new administration in Malacañang, the long-buried stink began catching up with the old dispensation. Among them, the mother of all election frauds Arroyo had perpetrated, and the hatchet man at the heart of it.

Unfortunately, even as the government trumpeted clumsily that Garcillano himself had sent  “feelers” about coming out and finally revealing what he knew of the 2004 poll swindle, the man would surface only to deny he had anything more to say, leaving Malacañang with egg on its face. He never even confirmed it was his voice on the tape. And that was that. Case closed.

How do you solve a problem like Garcillano? This recalcitrant holds the key to unraveling and finding closure to the country’s gravest political scandal, and yet he remains smug, unrepentant, untouchable. His ability to evade official sanction is a poke in the eye of this nation’s ability to enforce the law and punish the lawless—especially in this case, already gifted as it is with “smoking gun” evidence that should make throwing the book at him much easier.

Perhaps it’s time to do an Al Capone on Garcillano. If he cannot be pinned down for now on election fraud, why not revive the charges against him for perjury, falsification of documents and violations of the passport law, as Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares has suggested? Garcillano apparently lied to Congress in 2005 when he said he did not leave the country at the height of the “Hello, Garci” uproar, even producing a blank passport to prove his claim. The Singapore government, however, has attested that Garcillano arrived in that country on July 14, 2005 and left the day after for London.

The penalty for passport tampering alone is 15 years. Lying to Congress would add a few years to his jail term.  Clap Garcillano now in jail, and the prospect of rotting inside might finally make him reconsider his criminal obstinacy.

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TAGS: arroyo, crimes, Editorial, election rigging, opinion, Virgilio Garcillano
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