ONE name keeps cropping up in the supposedly wiretapped conversations of Elections Commissioner Virgilio O. Garcillano: “Bedol” (misspelled “Vidol” in the transcripts). Bedol who?
Atty. Lintang Bedol was the provincial election supervisor of Maguindanao until he was reassigned to Sultan Kudarat shortly before the May 10, 2004 elections. He also sat as chairman of the Cotabato City board of canvassers in last year’s polls. The counts in the two areas turned out to be highly problematic.
According to the congressional tally, President Arroyo beat Fernando Poe Jr. in Sultan Kudarat, 126,622 to 40,714. Congressional records showed that opposition senators Aquilino Pimentel, Tessy Aquino-Oreta and Sergio Osmeña III objected to the certificates of canvass (COCs) and demanded a return to the election returns (ERs) amid charges that massive “dagdag bawas” (vote padding and shaving) took place in the province.
The minority said in a report that the President got an additional 53,158 votes in eight towns, while Poe’s votes were reduced by 60,014. The “dagdag-bawas” in the towns involve a swing of 113,172 votes, it said. The eight towns: Palimbang, Kalamansig, Lambayong, Lebak, Bagumbayan, Esperanza, Sen. Ninoy Aquino and President Quirino.
There was problem, too, at the canvassing for the gubernatorial election. Opposition candidate Angelo Roncal Montilla was leading Pax Mangudadatu — until the votes from the last three of the province’s 12 towns came in. Mangudadatu had gotten nearly all the votes cast in Palimbang, Lutayan and Lambayong Mariano Marcos towns. Montilla at first filed a poll protest with the Bedol-led board of canvassers, but later elevated his case to the Comelec office in Manila (SPC No. 04-132) after the board dismissed it outright.
In Cotabato City, it was not the canvassing for the national elections but for the hotly contested mayoral race that landed Bedol and his board of canvassers a case now pending before the Office of the Ombudsman. On the petition of Koalisyong Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) candidate Estrellita Juliano, who was then running against administration candidate Muslimin Sema, the canvassing to the Comelec had been transferred to the national office in Manila. The Bedol board — which also included Remlane Tambuang and Elisa Gasmin — had scheduled the canvassing in the afternoon of June 2, and then decided to hold it a day earlier, supposedly without notifying Juliano and her counsel.
If the taped conversations are to be believed, the 51-year-old Bedol (he turns 52 on June 23) — an accounting graduate of the Philippine Harvardian College and law graduate at the Notre Dame University who was admitted to the bar on May 9, 1984 and to the Shariah bar on Oct. 7, 1991 — was entrusted several interesting tasks during the elections, besides reporting the results to Garcillano.
In the conversation that supposedly took place between Garcillano and the President at 9:47 a.m. on May 29, 2004, Arroyo wanted to know the extent of her defeat in Cotabato City. The elections commissioner replied, “Hindi ho siguro sosobra ng (It probably wouldn’t exceed) forty, Ma’am. Nag-usap na kami ni Atty. Bedol….Kami ni Atty. Bedol, nag-usap ho ngayon (Atty. Bedol and I talked just now). But I’ll give you the exact figure ma’am in a little while, para ma-ano ninyo.” The final outcome: Arroyo: 8,510; Poe, 29,417.
Meanwhile, a certain Danny, apparently worried about the Cotabato count, asked Garcillano in a phone conversation on May 25, 2004: “Sir, ano kaya, nagawan kaya ng paraan ni Bedol (Did Bedol manage to do something about this)?”
Former senator Robert Barbers, who purportedly called up Garcillano on May 29 to inquire about the Comelec en banc’s resolution transferring the canvassing venue from Cotabato City to Manila, was told, “…Bine-verify ko, pero si Atty. Bedol, yung ating tao dun, hindi makontak (I’m verifying it, but I can’t contact Atty. Bedol, our man there).
Bedol, who sources from the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) describe as very close to Garcillano (the commissioner spent most of his 43 years in Mindanao), obviously wielded some power. The sources identified the voice of a woman complaining about Bedol to Garcillano as that of Comelec Region 12 Clarita Callar. She is heard saying, “Ba’t inaaway ako ni Bedol (Why is Bedol picking a fight)…”
In a complaint filed last Feb. 15 before the Office of the Ombudsman seeking the immediate suspension and eventual dismissal of Bedol, Tambuang and Gasmin, KNP’s Juliano said the Bedol-chaired board of canvassers sent on May 29, 2004 notices to the parties setting the canvass of election returns on June 2, 2004 at 2 p.m.
Juliano said the board of canvassers, however, convened on June 1, 2004 and canvassed the returns for both the national and city positions without serving her notice and in her and her counsel’s absence. The Bedol board proclaimed Sema winner at 5 a.m. of June 2.
In a radio interview later that day, Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos said he did not authorize Bedol to canvass the local election returns on June because the canvassing was scheduled in the afternoon of June 2. Bedol later claimed that a new notice on the June 1 canvassing was issued on May 30.
But the recorded conversations supposedly between Garcillano and Gasmin and Bedol on June 1 indicate that Juliano had not been notified. The three are heard discussing how and where to serve the notice and Garcillano ordering that it be served immediately so the canvassing could begin.
The Ombudsman has endorsed Juliano’s complaint to the Comelec, where it is now pending before Alioden Dalaig of the Law Department.
(Juliano is the widow of Sen. Mamintal Tamano and the daughter of Teodoro V. Juliano, the first Christian ever elected as mayor of Cotabato and who held office for 20 years until his death in 1984.)
Records show that Bedol was the third election officer named as chairman of the Cotabato City board of canvassers in the May 2004 elections.
The first board, chaired by Yogie Martirizar, was replaced after the opposition complained that he refused to conduct the inventory in front of all parties. The Martirizar board had declared 567 election results already in its possession and one missing. It later corrected itself, saying three election returns were missing.
The second board, chaired by Jubial Surmieda, reviewed Martirizar’s inventory and found 56 election returns missing. It ruled it would count only 521 election returns. On May 22, however, the members inhibited themselves and returned to Manila.
Bedol was appointed chairman of the Cotabato City board of canvassers on May 25 despite the objection of Juliano, who cited his “not only very unsatisfactory but dubious as well” performance in Sultan Kultan as election supervisor. She said Mangudadatu was “prematurely declared” governor of Sultan Kudarat even when the returns from the province were still incomplete and errors were found in the SOVs and the election returns. The appointment led Juliano to request for a change of the canvassing venue.
A Comelec en banc resolution granting Juliano’s petition apparently caught Garcillano by surprise. The recordings show he learned about the change of venue from Bedol and a certain “Teng” in the afternoon of May 29. The elections commissioner expressed surprise that he was not asked to sign the resolution. He told Bedol, “Eh bakit hindi man lang ako pinalaman eh nandyan naman ako sa opisina (Why didn’t they let me know when I was at the office)?” The reply: “Nasa official business ka daw dun sa (You were on official business)… eh.”
On the same day that Sema was proclaimed, Juliano filed a protest with the Comelec (SPC No. 04-245/255) seeking to nullify the proclamation. Besides the failure to serve her notice on the canvassing date, she contested 108 election returns purportedly prepared by one person and the inclusion 54 election returns that the Surmieda Board had agreed not to count.
In dismissing her petition, the Comelec second division, composed of Mehol Sadain, Florentino Tuason Jr. and Manuel Barcelona, said notices were issued on June 1. It also said Juliano was represented by her counsel, Atty. Ronaldo Javines, and several watchers.
The division justified the inclusion of the 108 election returns in the canvass, saying the Bedol board could not determine if these were spurious at the time. It added that the Martiirizar board had accounted fro the 54 election returns.
In her motion for reconsideration, Juliano pointed out Javines was not her lawyer but that of former Maguindnao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen, whose wife Zeny ran against Sema’s wife Sandra for the congressional seat. Her counsel of record, she said, is Jose M. Estaniel. Javines also submitted to the Comelec en banc an affidavit to that effect.
In addition, Juliano told the poll body that the SOVs were signed only by Gasmin, and not by Bedong and Tambuang. Plus, she said, Bedol did not follow a provision in the Election Code to wait for 24 hours after the close of canvassing before proclaiming the winner.
Interestingly, the Comelec, sitting en banc, was deadlocked on Juliano’s motion for reconsideration. The second division stood pat on its decision. But two of the three-member first division — Resurreccion Borra and Rufino Javier — ruled otherwise, along with Abalos.
The deadlock could not be broken because Garcillano, the third member of the first division, decided against taking part in the proceedings. He gave no reason. Because of the tie, the poll body en banc ended up affirming the second division’s resolution.
In recommending the reversal of the second division’s ruling and nullification of Sema’s proclamation, Javier, Borra and Abalos all concluded that the notice of the June 1 hearing was not served to Juliano. The proof of service, they observed, was not attached to and did not form part of the records of the proceedings.
On the 108 supposedly spurious election returns, Abalos and the two commissioners said it was within the power of the Bedol board to “conduct an incisive investigation and receive evidence aliunde for a judicious determination of the authenticity and reliability of the election returns.”
Abalos wrote a separate concurring opinion in which he stated, “The lack of notice of the resumption of the canvassing on June 1, 2004 given to candidate Juliano surely deprived her of the right to be present at the said proceedings, thus negating due process in her favor….” He stressed the importance of correcting a perceived wrong.
Juliano has since raised her case to the Supreme Court (G.R. No. 167033). Records from the Commission on Appointments (CA) also show that she was the only one who filed an opposition to Garcillano’s and Barcelona’s appointments. The CA has bypassed their appointments. And since the scandal over Garcillano’s phone conversations broke, President Arroyo has not reappointed either.
And Bedol? He is now concurrent election supervisor of Sultan Kudarat and Maguindano.
(Garcillano’s conversations with and about Bedol appears in the next post.)