Thursday, March 16, 2006

Faking It

Faking It

It could have been the spark that those wanting to bring down President Arroyo were waiting for.

On the evening of February 26, while Marines Col. Ariel Querubin was holding out at Fort Bonifacio, one of NEWSBREAK's sources for a story on the 2004 election cheating decided to bring out photographs of how they did it for Ms. Arroyo.

The pictures, taken through a cell phone camera and published on this page, show how fake election returns (ERs) were manufactured and filled up during the Christmas week of 2004 allegedly by the group of Roque Bello, a former regional elections director and private elections lawyer at the time.

The source said Bello's operators weren't aware that a fellow operator was documenting the process. He didn't explain why an operator, still working for the President at the time, would try to acquire such evidence. Another administration operator said it was possible that they did it to protect themselves later, when proof would be needed to confirm their participation or the accomplishment of their mission.

As NEWSBREAK reported in its Sept. 12, 2005, issue ("Cheats Inc."), the Bello group accomplished 6,000 fake ERs so that these would reflect numbers of votes that, when totaled, would correspond to the figures in the certificates of canvass (COCs) that the group of Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano supposedly tampered with during the canvassing in 2004.

The "corrected" ERs were taken to the Batasan during four break-ins from January to February 2005 to replace the genuine ERs in the ballot boxes being held there for the possible re-canvassing for Fernando Poe Jr.'s election protest. (Poe died in December 2004, but the Supreme Court dismissed his protest only in March 2005, or the month after the Batasan break-ins.) The opposition had alleged—and our administration sources later confirmed—that in the administration's haste to cheat Poe in those
areas, his bailiwicks, Garcillano's group simply switched the votes of Arroyo and
Poe in the COCs. They left the ERs untouched.

The NEWSBREAK source, who went into hiding after our September report came out, got in touch with us again at the height of the anti-Arroyo rallies on Friday, February 24. He was scheduled to give us the photos the following morning, but said several urgent, hastily called meetings prevented him from doing so.

On the Sunday of the Marines standoff, he informed us that his group—which included "disgruntled members of the Bello group"—was giving the photos to TV networks ABS-CBN and GMA-7. The group was expecting that if the photos were shown and explained on TV during those crucial hours, it would outrage the viewing public. The networks decided against airing the photos. The source said later that the broadcasts would have emboldened civilians to rally around Querubin at Fort Bonifacio, the Catholic bishops to finally issue a statement asking Arroyo to resign ("this was the evidence they
were looking for"), and the top military leadership to withdraw its support from
the President.

The source disclosed that his group is in possession of more damaging evidence—the video showing the actual switching of ERs inside Batasan—but said they intend to show it to the nation only "after the storm" or when reformist soldiers shall "have won."

—Miriam Grace A. Go

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