President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s June 27 televised admission that it was her voice that is in the controversial taped conversations widely believed to be dealing with rigging the 2004 presidential election has, as the oft-repeated phrase goes, raised more questions than answers. As such, it has aggravated rather than solved the present presidential crisis.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s (GMA) June 27 televised admission that it was her voice that is in the controversial taped conversations widely believed to be dealing with rigging the 2004 presidential election has, as the oft-repeated phrase goes, raised more questions than answers. As such, it has aggravated rather than solved the present presidential crisis.
Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye had released June 6 two CDs 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, southern Philippines. One of them, Bunye said, was a version purportedly altered by the opposition to make it appear that Macapagal-Arroyo had cheated in the 2004 presidential election.
Both “original” and “tampered” have portions in which a woman – said to be Macapagal-Arroyo – was asking a man (“Gary” in the “original” version, “Garci” in what Bunye called the tampered version) if she would still win by a million votes. The “Garci” in what Bunye said was the tampered version of the tape is widely believed to be Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.
Macapagal-Arroyo won by a million votes over her closest rival, Fernando Poe, Jr.
Days later, lawyer Alan Paguia, counsel for deposed President Joseph Estrada, came out with a longer tape, and after a few days he would be followed by National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agent Samuel Ong who claimed to possess the “mother of all tapes.”
For several weeks Macapagal-Arroyo kept mum on the issue, leading even some of her allies like Vice President Noli de Castro to urge her to break her silence. Public pressure mounted and mounted to the point where she had to make her June 27 television appearance, admit that the female voice on record was hers, and asked the Filipino people to forgive her.
Days after the admission, pressure on her is not easing: if any, it has continued to mount as shown by the steady swelling of rallies calling for her ouster.
Opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who was one of Macapagal-Arroyo’s opponents in the 2004 election, described the apology as intending to confuse the people. Bayan Muna (People First) Rep. Teddy Casiño would chide Macapagal-Arroyo in a June 28 forum at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Manila for making an apology without saying what it was she was apologizing for.
Even as they come from different ends, Lacson and Casiño both hit it on the head. There are just too many questions that the admission and apology leave unanswered, which explains the increasingly difficult situation Macapagal-Arroyo finds herself in even after her June 27 appearance.
A million votes
“I was anxious to protect my votes and during that time had conversations with many people, including a Comelec official,” Macapagal-Arroyo said. “My intent was not to influence the outcome of the election, and it did not.”
With this line of argument, Macapagal-Arroyo fails to explain whether all the resources at her disposal as an incumbent President running for a fresh term were not enough for her to build and maintain a strong electoral machinery that could protect her votes without her having to call an election official several times, whether or not it was Garcillano – an act that violates of election laws according to several legal experts.
Macapagal-Arroyo also conveniently evaded the most crucial issue concerning the tape, the one that reinforces public suspicion that there was massive fraud in the 2004 election and she was among its beneficiaries. In both “original” and “tampered” versions of the tape, there is a part where Macapagal-Arroyo is heard asking a man whether she will still win by a million votes.
The President has a lot of explaining to do on why she knew she was going to win by a million votes. Without a credible explanation, Macapagal-Arroyo will not be able to stop the public from suspecting that she knew she was going to win by a million votes because there was a script that said so. Not even the most accurate surveys have been able to predict election outcomes as accurately.
And what did she mean when she said – even in the “original” tape – that her lead “cannot be less than 1 million”? With this sticking out, it is very difficult for her to prove that she did not intend to influence the outcome of the election.
“And as you remember,” she hastened to tell the viewers, “the outcome had been predicted by every major public opinion poll, and adjudged free, fair and decisive by international election observers, and our own Namfrel (National Movement for Free Elections).”
She is not helped by the fact that the 2004 presidential election, which international observers sent by the U.S. government and indeed even the Namfrel adjudged as free, fair and decisive continues to be haunted by the specter of election documents containing glaring discrepancies in the figures – many of these with signs of tampering.
The credibility of the entire electoral exercise of 2004 is at the crux of the matter surrounding the taped conversations.
The question of Macapagal-Arroyo’s legitimacy had never been resolved, and the fact that her proclamation was “done in the dead of night,” as a June 24 statement by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) put it, only made things worse for her.
End of the line
Instead of appeasing the people, Macapagal-Arroyo’s apology only led to an increase in the tempo of public outrage. Instead of salvaging whatever may be said to remain of her much-vaunted “Strong Republic,” Macapagal-Arroyo’s apology has only brought her closer to the edge.
The danger signs are already there. Anti-GMA alliances are sprouting everywhere, and it is no longer just the Left and the Fernando Poe, Jr. forces that are hitting her.
Support for her from the country’s particularly influential sectors like the Church, academe, and the business community – once seemingly solid – is fast eroding, and as of last July 1, Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales has been reported to have issued a statement calling on the President to face her accountability. Her political allies appear to be flying away: Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez has resigned from the ruling coalition and called for her resignation, while Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap has quit his post.
In attempting to pull herself away from the end of the line, Macapagal-Arroyo has only pushed herself closer to it. Bulatlat