From fair-haired boy to whipping boy, from a position of influence to becoming a disgrace – such is the fate of Commissions on Elections (Comelec) Chair Benjamin Abalos Sr.
BY BENJIE OLIVEROS
Vol. VII, No. 34, September 30 – October 6, 2007
From fair-haired boy to whipping boy, from a position of influence to becoming a disgrace – such is the fate of Commissions on Elections (Comelec) Chair Benjamin Abalos Sr..
Three years ago, or right after the May 2004 elections to be exact, Abalos was the most influential person in the country. Why? Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was declared winner of the presidential elections in spite of suspicions of massive electoral fraud committed against her rival the late actor and presidential aspirant Fernando Poe Jr.. While suspicions were very strong then and protests against electoral fraud were starting to snowball, the Macapagal-Arroyo administration was able to nip it in the bud, or so it thought, by coming down hard on the supporters of Fernando Poe Jr. who were holding a rally at Welcome Rotonda. The protesters were chased up to a popular fastfood chain breaking its glass frontage in the process. The late Fernando Poe Jr. was stunned. And not having the stomach or guts of a politician – who can kill, pillage, and plunder to win – he hesitated to call for more protests to claim his rightful place against the usurper of power in Malacanang.
When suspicions of massive electoral fraud were confirmed in 1995 with the surfacing of the “Hello Garci” tapes featuring conversations between Macapagal-Arroyo and former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, Abalos was still left unscathed. Former Pres. Fidel V. Ramos was able to break the trend of fall outs within the ranks of the ruling coalition. And Macapagal-Arroyo with the help of one of her most reliable allies House Speaker Jose De Venecia was able to block two impeachment complaints against her. As for the public, it was former Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano who took the brunt of the people’s anger.
Massive electoral fraud was again committed during the May 2007 elections to favour the administration’s senatorial ticket and also directed against progressive party-list groups such as Bayan Muna (People First), Gabriela Women’s Party, and Anakpawis (Toiling Masses). But despite this, the administration’s Team Unity was trashed and progressive party-list groups were able to land seats mainly because of the overwhelming discontent of the Filipino people.
Abalos even tried to make life more difficult for progressive party-list groups by implementing the First Party rule or the Panganiban formula which limited the granting of three seats, regardless of the number of votes, to the party that garnered the most number of votes. This ruling was in existence since 2001, when Bayan Muna topped the party-list elections, but was never implemented before.
This time, it was Lintang Bedol, the infamous Maguindanao Comelec supervisor, who took the brunt and was detained for the flimsy charge of contempt.
Abalos’ s turn
And now, it is Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos’s turn. He is clearly doomed. The first testimonies implicating him in the NBN-ZTE deal were damning enough. There was the expose’ of Phil. Star columnist Jarius Bondoc which was corroborated by the testimony of Jose De Venecia III. Media people are careful about exposes’ involving powerful persons because of the threat of libel. So when media people expose something, it is usually backed up by research. Jose De Venecia’s accusation, on the other hand, was likewise damning because it came from the son of one of the most trusted and loyal allies of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
If Jose De Venecia III’s expose’ was damning, the testimony of former National Economic Development Agency (NEDA) Director General and current Secretary of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Romulo Neri that Abalos tried to bribe him with P200 million was the death knell. Neri was able to provide details of his meetings with Abalos, which the latter claimed as “chance encounters.” Second, Neri is very credible given that he is viewed as a technocrat who does not dip his fingers into politics. And third, he did not hide the fact that all of the things which he revealed were cleared first with Exec. Sec. Eduardo Ermita. That is why when questions that would link Malacanang, or Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to be precise, to the corruption-ridden National Broadband Network (NBN) contract with ZTE of China was thrown at him, Neri hid behind the cloak of “executive privilege.”