MICHAELANGELO "Louie" S. Zuce, nephew of controversial former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, presented today a paper, as well as a mobile-phone, trail that pointed to how his uncle, with the blessing of the Arroyo administration, got election officials in Mindanao to support her candidacy in May 2004.
In a sworn statement executed today, Zuce charged that payoffs were made to Comelec field personnel in Mndanao, but none of the documents annexed to his statement so far showed the election officials had actually been bribed.
What the paper trail clearly shows is that Zuce, then a presidential staff officer and related to Garcillano by marriage, was instrumental in bringing Garcillano to the attention of his boss, presidential liaison officer for political affairs Jose Ma. A. Rufino.
Garcillano eventually organized the consultation meetings with Comelec field workers that got him into the president’s good graces and clinched his appointment as elections commissioner. The documents attached to Zuce’s affidavit indicate that the consultations took place and that Garcillano was reporting directly to the president through Rufino on the support Comelec officials in Mindanao were willing to provide to her candidacy.
Several documents also list the Comelec officials who took part in the “consultations.” Some of these officials later figured in the “Hello, Garci” conversations.
The consultations were apparently the offshoot of Arroyo’s instructions given during her visit in Iligan City on Sept. 26, 2002 to Rufino’s office to “approximate the electoral pulse and secure a workable game-plan for the 2004 elections.”
A confidential memo from Rufino to the president dated Oct. 10, 2002 proposed a P2.4-million budget for the nationwide consultations "under the stewardship of Atty. Virgilio O. Garcillano." Of the amount, P875,150 was allocated to the Mindanao meetings. The memo referred to Garcillano as the “General."
Zuce said in his statement that the Luzon and Visayas meetings did not push through because Arroyo had announced on Dec. 30, 2002 that she was not running for president (although she subsequently changed her mind).
But as early as November and December of 2002, Virgilio Garcillano, who had just retired as Comelec director for Region 10, quietly organized three consultation meetings with election officials in Mindanao to evaluate President Arroyo’s chances of winning should she run in the May 2004 elections.
“The survey or consultation was undertakened (sic) for the purpose of getting the pulse of the electorate at (sic) this early,” Garcillano wrote the president in a Jan. 8, 2003 memorandum he submitted through Rufino. “With the abundant challenges or pressures from the opposition, we cannot afford to be complacent, set (sic) idly and do nothing. We do not have the luxury of time and time (sic) to move is now.”
Garcillano also stated in the memo that he “scrupulously” planned the meetings to avoid arousing the suspicion of politicians and even his bosses that he was “pressuring” Comelec field personnel on the forthcoming elections.
A year later, a small planning meeting of regional directors and provincial election supervisors of Mindanao was held at the Grand Boulevard Hotel on Roxas Blouevard to discuss the president’s candidacy, according to Zuce.
Then, on Jan. 10 of 2004, Garcillano, through Rufino’s office, organized another meeting with 23 Mindanao election officials, again at the Grand Boulevard Hotel. On both these occasions, envelopes containing cash were given to the attendees (see “The messenger sings”).
Who were present
In his Jan. 8, 2003 memorandum to the president, Garcillano reported that he met 12 Comelec officials in Tubod, Lanao del Norte on Nov. 27, 2002; 10 election officials and staffmembers in General Santos at an unspecified date; and 10 Comelec officials and staffmembers in Tubod on Dec. 13.
The memorandum showed that Zuce and Ferdinand Mahusay, political officer for Region 9, were in the Nov. 27 meeting in Lanao. Zuce also attended the General Santos meeting along with Ricardo Ochea, political officer for the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Garcillano’s memorandum listed the following Comelec personnel as being present. Some of these would eventually surface in the “Hello, Garci” tapes:
Nov. 27 meeting: Renato Magbutay, Region 9 acting assistant director; Teofisto Elnas, provincial election supervisor (PES) of Zamboanga del Sur; Jay Balisado, Zamboanga Sibugay PES; Lordino Salvaña, Bukidnon PES; Matias Baclig Jr., Camiguin PES; Ray Sumalipao, Lanao del Norte PES; Francisco Pobe, Misamis Occidental PES; Arthur Mercado and Reinero Niese, representing Carlito Ravelo of Misamis Oriental; Deogracias Dumaguit of Dumalinao; Arnold Panuncialman of Pagadian City; Helen Mercado of Region 10; and Sarah Ebdalin, election officer of Tagaloan, Misamis Oriental.
General Santos meeting: Pedro Reganit Jr., Region 11 assistant director and Davao del Sur PES; Remlane Tambuang, Davao Oriental PES; Michael Abas, Saragani PES; Lintang Bedol, Sultan Kudarat PES; Kasan Usi, Maguindanao officer in charge (OIC); Dante Parenas, North Cotabato OIC; Marianne Magundadatu, Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao election officer; Elsa Otinen, Buluan Citing acting election officer; and two staffmembers of the Sarangani PES Office. (Region 11 Director Lirio Joquino and Region 12 Director Callar were supposed to be in the meeting. Garcillano said, however, Joquino, was out of the country at the time while Callar “is still under observation.”)
Dec. 13 meeting: Borromeo Patangan, Zamboanga del Norte PES; Reynaldo Pescadera, Sulu OIC; Idlana Mangona, Tawi Tawi OIC; Daryl Kenaso, Basilan OIC; Macmod Pangandaman, Lanao del Sur OCI; Rogelio Gongob, Agusan del Sur PES; Benedict Chee, election officer of Esperanza, Agusan del Sur; Egene Lanzaderas, a computer technician and two other statffmembers.
Zuce, who signed the P31,250 contract for the three-hour evening function at the Grand Boulevard Hotel on Jan. 10, 2004, annexed to his sworn statement the attendance sheet that bore the following names: Pobe, Reganit, Pescadera, Elnas, Balisado, Salvana, Ravelo, Bedol, Chee, Abas, Usi, Tambuang and Sumalipao. Also on the list were Wilfredo Daraug of Basilan, Derwin P. Salasa of Tawi-Tawi; Joseph Cuevas of Camiguin; Ronnie Arado of Camiguin; Melicano Ganan of Quirino; Roland Edayan, Agusan del Norte PES, Cirlio Nala of Surigeo del Sur; Datusalangit Macalaba and Maombao Pandi, both of Lanao del Sur.
Zuce did not provide a list of those present at the late 2003 meeting at the Grand Boulevard and at the La Vista dinner with the president.
Garcillano’s conversations with a number of Mindanao election officials were recorded in the controversial “Hello, Garci Tapes.” These included:
- Atty. Lintang Bedol, PES, Sultan Kudarat
Arroyo beat Fernando Poe Jr. in Sultan Kudarat, 126,622 to 40,714. But most of the taped conversations Garcillano had with or about Bedol were about Cotabato City, where the latter was subsequently assigned as chair of the Board of Canvassers.
In the conversation that supposedly took place between Garcillano and the president on May 29, 2004, Arroyo wanted to know the extent of her defeat in Cotabato City and was assured that it would not exceed 40,000 votes. The elections commissioner said he and Bedol had already talked.
- Renato Magbutay, then acting assistant director, Region 9
Magbutay, who was the Comelec director for ARMM until the Gloriagate broke, is believed to be the “Boy” who discussed with Garcillano on June 5, 2004 the kidnapping of Rashma Hali, election officer in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan. Hali had voluntarily made an affidavit on the poll fraud allegedly perpetrated in the town.
It was also Boy who raised the possibility that Patangan, who chaired Basilan’s board of canvassers in last year’s election, might be suspected of reversing the count at the provincial level.
- Rey Sumalipao, then Lanao del Sur PES
This Comelec official was identified by Garcillano in his phone conversation with Arroyo on June 8 as the supervisor whom he would ask to answer Namfrel Abdullah Dalidig’s allegations of "dagdag-bawas" (vote padding and shaving) in Lanao del Sur. Sumalipao and Garcillano are heard discussing on another occasion a move "to continue the canvassing but suspend the proclamation." Sumalipao will be in charge of the ARMM elections this Aug. 8.
On Nov. 28, 2003, Rufino endorsed Garcillano’s appointment to the president. In a handwritten marginal note to the president, he said of Garcillano, "He will be a great asset to you. He has proven track record and can deliver!"
In his letter applying for the post of Comelec commissioner, Garcillano reminded the president that he was one of those approached by her husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, when she ran for senator in 1995. He was then Comelec director for Region 10.
The letter also cited his role in monitoring and protecting the votes of Lakas senatorial candidates in Mindanao in the 2001 elections.
Garcillano reminded the president that it was at a dinner at the Palace after the 2001 elections that Arroyo mentioned her intention to appoint him commissioner. "If given the chance, I will not put (sic) your Excellency down," he said.
Arroyo appointed Garcillano Comelec commissioner in February 2004.
Zuce said that on Feb. 13, 2004, he received from the personal secretary of Lilia "Baby" Pineda, wife of alleged jueteng lord Rodolfo "Bong" Pineda, a mobile phone that was to be the "hotline" where the president, the Pinedas and other promiment people would be calling Garcillano.
He said Garcillano had asked to him to pick up the package from Pineda’s house in Greenhills, San Juan.
He said the box containing the phone was already opened when it was handed to him. Pineda’s secretary then explained that a SIM card had been inserted into the unit.
Zuce said his role in the May 2004 elections was to monitor Comelec officials and employees in Mindanao to ensure Arroyo’s victory. Before he left for Mindanao prior to the polling, his uncle gave him P500,000. Of this, P100,00 was set aside for his family; P100,000 for his Mindanao expenses; P50,000 for Comelec’s Oscar Rabanes to whom Pineda was reportedly asked to issue the vehicles to be used in the special operations in Mindanao.
He said he got the help of Butch Paquingan who he said was reporting directly to then Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo.
Ernesto "Butch" Paquingan told Sun-Star Cagayan de Oro last July 8 that he and Garcillano are both members of the Knights of Rizal and admitted having done PR work for Comelec officials.
He said he also worked for politicians in Mindanao in the 2004 elections, including Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas. He told Sun-Star he now works for Sen. Serge Osmeña as a consultant in a cocofarm project and the congressional oversight committee on Agriculture and Fishers Modernization in Mindanao.
Paquingan, who was identified as having conversed with Garcillano in the “Hello, Garci” tapes, said there was no proof that it was his voice in the tapes.
In the tapes, Garcillano is also heard instructing a certain Louie, said to be Zuce, and George Goking to proceed to his house for a meeting "para hindi na ako ma-expose (so I won’t be exposed)." In that conversation, Louie addresses the commission as “’cle,” short for uncle.
Goking is a Chinese-Filipino businessman based in Cagayan deo Oro who was appointed by Arroyo as Pagcor director and Cabinet officer for regional development. He is said to be one of the president’s fund-raisers in Cagayan de Oro.
Goking told Sun-Star Cagayan de Oro he believes the “Hello, Garci” tapes had been doctored.