Immediately, Malacañang denied the existence of Oplan Mercury Rising – Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita calling it “figment of the imagination” and Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo accusing media of reporting without verifying the exposé of Bantay Boto.
The Association of Generals and Flag Officers, through its chairman retired Brig. General Jaime Echiverria, called the exposé an attempt to “vilify” the military. So did Ermita. The generals are divided. Ermita and the Bantay Boto convenors are all generals and members of AGFO.
Is Bantay Boto a fake? Is its exposé a hoax and a vilification of the military?
By all indicators, Bantay Boto is genuine and credible. Its conveners, all retired generals, came out in the open and the seven organizations in the coalition, all from the military and the police, were named. The conveners were top brass while in active service.
Its mission is defined: To monitor the conduct of the election from the precinct level to the national canvassing. It seeks to align with the PPCRV (Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting) and Namfrel (National Citizens Movement for Free Elections). PPCRV and Namfrel should be happy to work side by side with Bantay Boto.
That Bantay Boto has intelligence network should not be a surprise. What would be surprising is if it has none. The member organizations are composed of military and police persons in active service and retirement.
Bantay Boto has identified 12 provinces – Ilocos Sur, Pampanga and Camarines Norte in Luzon; Cebu, Bohol, Leyte and Eastern Samar in the Visayas; and Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Davao del Sur, Maguindanao and Shariff Kabunsuan in Mindanao — with 14 million voters where election will be rigged in favor of the administration candidates.
Obviously as alleged, the cheating will be in the form of dagdag-bawas — subtracting votes from one candidate to be added to that of another. Targeted is the senatorial election. Huge cash incentives have been offered to local government and Commission on Election officials to deliver a 12-0 win in favor of the administration’s TEAM Unity.
Dagdag-bawas will also be done in military camps where the canvassing of votes will be held. Bantay Boto has information that the office of Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, AFP chief of staff, had issued verbal instructions to all military commanders to ensure a 12-0 TU win.
From Malacañang, Ermita dismissed the exposé as “just a figment of some people’s imagination” with the assurance that “the Armed Forces would not be involved in poll fraud” because together with the police they are “very patriotic” and “would not allow themselves to be used in poll fraud”. The first assails the integrity of the retired generals behind Bantay Boto. As will be seen later, AFP officials have contradicted the second.
Saludo said Oplan Mercury Rising does not exist because it is “not government policy to use its personnel, whether soldiers or teachers, to influence the outcome of the election”. Citing policy is routine denial that may collapses in the face of facts to the contrary.
AFP information chief Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro admitted “some individuals in the military” could be “involved in partisan politics” but not the entire AFP” – eliciting the question: Only the top brass? “Let’s not drag the AFP into something it is not doing,” he appealed.
Reports coming from sources including soldiers tend to prove correct Bantay Boto’s information about General Esperon’s alleged verbal instruction to his commanders to ensure a 12-0 win.
- In Tarlac, Samar and Davao Oriental, on verbal orders from Army Commanding General Romeo Tolentino, the soldiers were instructed to vote straight TU for senators and for pro-administration party-lists during the absentee voting in the AFP on May 4 to 6. A Davao source corroborated the Davao Oriental episode.
- Ranking military officials in Mindanao and General Tolentino were visiting soldiers in various camps campaigning for TU and party-lists allied with the government particularly that of retired Gen. Jovito Palparan.
- Major Ernesto Torres, spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command, said that the military while not campaigning for the pro-administration candidates was only “educating soldiers” through a “guideline” to vote for candidates who could “help the military carry out it mission” and who are “sympathetic to the morale and welfare of the military” The admission negates the denial.
- Zaynab Ampatuan, chair of party-list Suara Bangsamoro said the military, aside from telling voters, including soldiers, to junk militant party-lists, are harassing those critical to the Arroyo administration. This was done by the 66th Infantry Battalion to his group in Malita, Davao del Sur.
- Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Obaniana, chief of Eastmincom, admitted campaigning personally against party-lists that are supporting the New People’s Army but denied campaigning for pro-government candidates and party-lists. That does not absolve him from indulging in partisan politics.
Back to the questions: Is Bantay Boto a fake? Is its exposé a hoax and a vilification of the military?
The organizers should attest for what the organization is. Gen. Romeo Dominguez (ret) was AFP chief of Northern Luzon Command under President Arroyo. Gen. Recaredo Sarmiento (ret) was PNP director general under President Fidel V. Ramos. The other organizers: Commodore Ismael Aparri (ret), Navy Capt. Salvador Paron (ret).
Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, also a retired general and former AFP chief of staff, was guest speaker at the launching of Bantay Boto. He warned, “God forbid, because if there is again massive cheating in the 2007 elections, this could trigger another round of political instability” – a reference to the malingering Garci tape scandal.
The tape contained the tapped telephone conversations of President Arroyo and one “Garci” – believed to be Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano – and others including military generals. The President was anxious about the outcome of the 2004 election and wanted a guaranteed one million-vote lead over Fernando Poe Jr.
At the height of the political crisis that was about to topple her, President Arroyo spoke on television nationwide expressing regret in what she called “lapse of judgment” on her part; but, paradoxically, she has refused unto this day to own the voice in the tape.
With the administration and the military blocking and derailing the congressional investigation of the Garci tape, the scandal has remained the strongest and most historic evidence of dagdag-bawas done at the behest of the President involving the military and Comelec. That lends credibility to the Bantay Boto exposé of Oplan Mercury Rising.
The exposé is an old refrain with a new title sang by a new singer. The refrain has always been in the air. The new singer only has given it a new impetus. It’s the song that enthralls, not the singer, although a new good singer can make it more enthralling.
Is the exposé a vilification of the military? In denying it, the top military officials, including the AFP chief of staff, have lent credence to it.
An irony related to the Garci scandal will continue to vilify the military. The generals who kept their mouths shut were promoted. But two bemedaled, ranking Marine officials – Brig. Gen. Francisco Gudani (ret) and Lt. Col. Alexander Balutan – are being court-martialled for testifying on the Garci tape before Biazon’s Senate Defense Committee.
Will wholesale vote-buying through dagdag-bawas happen on Monday and in crucial days following as forewarned? Regardless of the singers – as there are several — the song should keep the nation awake and vigilant.
("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.")