Alexander Martin Remollino, Bulatlat
ABS CBN News
July 7, 2005
|The contents of President Arroyo’s alleged taped conversation with an election official – believed to be Commission on Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano – could get her as much as 23 –Ö years in prison. And those are only the jail terms.||
Lawyer Neri Javier Colmenares, convenor of the Pro-People Lawyers Network and the Committee for the Defense of Lawyers, said Mrs. Arroyo, if she was the woman on the alleged wiretapped recording, also committed four impeachable offenses: graft and corruption, bribery, betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.
A conviction in any or all of these constitutional offenses could cost her graver punishment.
Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye released on June 6 two compact discs containing audio files of what he said was a taped conversation between the President and a political leader of the administration Lakas-CMD in Mindanao. One of them, Bunye said, was a version purportedly altered by the opposition to make it appear that Mrs. Arroyo had cheated in the 2004 presidential election.
Both “original” and “tampered” recordings have portions in which a woman – said to be Mrs. Arroyo – was asking a man (“Gary” in the alleged original version, “Garci” in what Bunye called the tampered version) if she would still win by a million votes.
Official election results showed Mrs. Arroyo won by a million votes over her closest rival, Fernando Poe Jr.
A few days after Bunye’s press conference, Alan Paguia, a former counsel for deposed President Joseph Estrada, came out with a longer tape, and after a few days he would be followed by Samuel Ong, former deputy director of the National Bureau of Investigation, who claimed to possess the “mother of all tapes.”
Mrs. Arroyo, in a television appearance June 27, admitted that she talked to an election official although she did not directly admitted that she was the woman on the alleged wiretap recording.
According to Colmenares, President Arroyo committed “various violations” of the Omnibus Election Code and the Revised Penal Code.
In the conversation of May 26, 2004, for example, the woman supposed to be Mrs. Arroyo, is heard asking a man on the other line: “Hindi kaya puwedeng ma-delay yung senatorial canvassing until after the voting on the rules tonight?” (Can’t we delay the senatorial canvassing until after the voting on the rules tonight?)
“Under Sec. 231 of the Omnibus Election Code,” Colmenares said, “canvassing should be continuous subject to the availability of election returns or statements of votes and certificates of canvass. Any candidate who tries to delay the canvassing is guilty of an election offense. That is punishable by six years’ imprisonment.”
Colmenares, who has done work for a doctorate in law at the University of Melbourne, also pointed out that Mrs. Arroyo committed undue influence on an election official by asking the election official – said to be Garcillano – to delay the senatorial canvassing.
Colmenares said: “It is she who appointed Garcillano. Whenever Garcillano is bypassed she reappoints him. So she has a hold on Garcillano. Under the Election Code, that is undue influence on an election official. In fact, that violates the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act or Republic Act 3019, which provides that unduly influencing another public officer is a crime punishable by ten years’ imprisonment and permanent disqualification from holding public office.”
Under the Omnibus Election Code, undue influence on a public official is punishable by imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years.
According to Colmenares, it does not matter whether Garcillano delayed the canvassing or not as long as the President tried to influence him to do the act.
Colmenares said Mrs. Arroyo is also guilty of “abetting or tolerating a crime” under Art. 238 of the Revised Penal Code.
He cited a portion of the series of conversations in which the man believed to be Garcillano offered to prevent an election officer from testifying to electoral fraud in Pagutaran, Basilan. The woman on the tape did not comment.
“If the Pagutaran election officer was forcibly taken, that is kidnapping,” Colmenares said. “Still, if the election officer cooperated, that is still an election offense. Mrs. Arroyo was a conspirator there.”
“The fact that she didn’t report or file a case against Garcillano, instead, reappointed him – despite the bare-faced admission of a crime – that is a criminal offense,” Colmenares said. “That is tolerating the commission of an offense.”
Colmenares mentioned two other instances in which Mrs. Arroyo committed the same offense: the portion where she asked whether she will win by a million votes and the election official said “Pipilitin natin” (We will try our best to see to that) and the part in which the election official talked of vote-padding for Mrs. Arroyo as having been done “cleanly” in two Mindanao provinces, Basilan and Lanao del Sur. On both cases, Mrs. Arroyo did not comment.
Under the Revised Penal Code, public officials evading or abandoning the duty of preventing, prosecuting, or punishing a crime are to be meted out the punishment of arresto mayor or imprisonment of one month and one day to six months. If convicted of the three counts of abetting or tolerating a crime, Mrs. Arroyo could get 18 months or one and a half years in prison.
All in all, conviction of all the offenses cited by Colmenares could get the President a total of 23 –Ö years in prison.