Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. V,    No. 20      June 26 - July 2, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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How and What If?
On the taped conversations, the legitimacy of the GMA presidency, and the validity of the laws signed by GMA

The controversy generated by the surfacing of CDs containing taped conversations allegedly between President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano has provoked a debate on whether the presidency of Malacañang’s current occupant is legitimate or not. If it is found to be indeed illegitimate, are the laws and executive orders Macapagal-Arroyo signed since assuming office in 2004 then void?


The controversy generated by the surfacing of CDs containing taped conversations allegedly between President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Commission on Elections (Comelec) official Virgilio Garcillano has provoked a debate on whether the presidency of Malacañang’s current occupant is indeed legitimate.

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. 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.” Ong said his source was military intelligence agent T/Sgt. Vidal Doble, who denied this.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales had dismissed the content of the tapes as obtained from wiretapping.

The Anti-Wiretapping Law declares it unlawful for any person, “not being authorized by all the parties to any private communication or spoken word, to tap any wire or cable, or by using any other device or arrangement, to secretly overhear, intercept, or record such communication or spoken word by using a device commonly known as a dictaphone or dictagraph or dectaphone or walkie-talkie or tape recorder, or however otherwise described.”

The Department of Justice (DoJ) has been assailed for not investigating the conversation itself. Gonzales has also been criticized for claiming that the tapes were obtained by wiretapping without showing sufficient proof.

Is there need for an investigation to find out whether the contents of the tape were obtained in violation of the Anti-Wiretapping Law?

Which leads to another question. If it is eventually found that Macapagal-Arroyo assumed the presidency by fraudulent means, are all the laws and executive orders she signed rendered void?

Since her assumption of office following a hotly-contested election last year, Maqcapagal-Arroyo has signed a number of controversial laws and executive orders. Among these are the law increasing the coverage of the value-added tax, as well as an executive order pushing for a national identification system.

The new VAT law has been criticized as an added burden to ordinary people who are already weighed down by high prices of commodities and low wages, while the national ID system has been assailed as a violation of the right to privacy and a prelude to a surveilled society.

Bulatlat interviewed lawyer Neri Javier Colmenares for this article. A convenor of the Pro-People Lawyers’ Network (PLN) and the Committee for the Defense of Lawyers (Codal), Colmenares wrote a paper on the country’s party-list law for the book Subverting the People’s Will: The May 10, 2004 Elections published late last year by the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG). He has done post-graduate work in law at the University of Melbourne.

Below are excerpts from the interview:

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales says the contents of the taped conversation cannot be used as evidence in court because they were obtained by wiretapping. However, lawyer Marvic Leonen said in a previous interview that it was only Secretary Gonzales who said they were obtained through wiretapping and it still has to be found whether or not they were indeed obtained through wiretapping.

In fact, NBI chief Reynaldo Wycoco, in yesterday’s (June 23) hearing at the House of Representatives, himself admitted he did not know whether the conversation was wiretapped. Actually, they have no proof that it was wiretapped except whistleblower Samuel Ong, who said the tape came from the ISAFP (Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines).

Attorney Leonen says of Secretary Gonzales that by declaring the tapes to have been obtained by wiretapping, he admits that there was such a conversation.

Technically it’s correct.

What are the elements of RA 4200? There are three: first, there was a private conversation; second, it was tapped; and three, there was no consent from all parties.

So when Gonzales said that the conversation was wiretapped, under RA 4200 he’s admitting to the three elements.

Gonzales is rather stupid. You can quote me on that, Gonzales is rather stupid.

Attorney Leonen also said that by admitting to the existence of such a conversation, Secretary Gonzales places upon himself – as justice secretary – the burden of having to investigate the conversation itself.

You know, that is what shows the bias of the justice department and the NBI which falls under it.

Look, the tape is presented to you as a destabilization attempt. It is said to be a conversation involving President Macapagal-Arroyo. The first thing you’re going to do is to try to research whether or not it’s true or not.

What did the NBI do? Did it investigate? It did not.

The moment you prove that it’s not Macapagal-Arroyo and Garcillano who were caught on tape, that’s one question answered.

But they did not do that. What did the NBI do? Nothing. They just declared that the tapes were both tampered.

In fact the Department of Justice can be sued for dereliction of duty. There was an open call from government to investigate a crime of such magnitude, and you fail to investigate? That is tantamount to dereliction of duty.

Is the current investigation in Congress a possible venue for determining whether the contents of the tapes were obtained through wiretapping or not?

There are many possible venues.

The congressional investigation right now is – it’s really all Bunye’s fault – because he said there are two tapes, one is real and the other is fake, and the fake one is part of a destabilization plot by the opposition, so Congress reacted. The opposition in Congress argued that Bunye’s accusation had to be investigated.

House Minority Leader Francis Escudero delivered a privilege speech and the matter was referred to a number of committees and a hearing is now being conducted to find out whether the accusation is true or not.

Does Congress have the right to do it? Of course, yes.

Malacañang accused the opposition of destabilization, so they called for a congressional hearing. They have a right to do that.

What is being heard here is not whether the tapes are authentic, but whether it is true that the opposition has a destabilization effort against the government.

The problem is, instead of presenting the tape as evidence, the accusers say the tapes are inadmissible as they were obtained through wiretapping. What is that? You accuse and you should show all the evidence you have, but you’re the one saying the evidence is inadmissible. In the first place your accusation turns out to be baseless.

There can be other venues for determining whether the tapes were obtained through wiretapping.

If it is found out that the contents of the tapes were not at all obtained through wiretapping, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidency turns out to be really illegitimate as militant groups and other opposition forces say, do the laws and executive orders she signed retain their validity?

Yes, they’re valid. Under the Constitution they are, unless repealed. All laws are valid unless repealed. We have presidential decrees from Ferdinand Marcos that remain valid because they were not repealed specifically.

Is it because they were signed under the presumption that her presidency was legitimate?

Yes. So they remain valid and Congress has to repeal these.

That’s what sad about that. She has signed so many bad laws and executive orders and it turns out she may not have the right to sign these after all.

We just hope that Congress will repeal the VAT law and others. Bulatlat




© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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