Garci says “Malacanang people” pressured him to admit 2004 poll fraud

BAUNGON, Bukidnon (MindaNews/30 July) — After disappearing from public view for several weeks, former election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano told a press conference in his farm here Saturday afternoon that Malacanang had tried to convince him to testify that the Presidential election in 2004 was rigged to favor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Garcillano said Malacanang officials led by Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Ronald Llamas sent several emissaries and text messages to convince him to retract his testimony during a Senate investigation that Arroyo won in the 2004 elections.

Garcillano figured in the “Hello Garci” controversy involving wiretapped telephone conversations between him and President Aquino while canvassing of the votes were going in May-June 2004. The tapes were exposed in June 2005, prompting Garcillano’s disappearance from public view. He surfaced in November that same year.

Llamas said Garcillano, a central figure in the “Hello Garci” scandal, could help solve how the cheating was done in the 2004 elections.

He made this observation two weeks ago after he announced receiving “surrender feelers: purportedly from Garcillano expressing willingness to talk about the 2004 poll fraud.

Garcillano vehemently denied this.

“I did not send any feelers to Malacanang. Why should I surrender? I have nothing more to say,” he said.

He said Llamas sent his people to visit him here days after he celebrated his 73rd birthday on July 5.

Garcillano identified the Malacanang emissary as Maj. Jason Aquino, one of the key Army officers accused of mutiny during the February 2006 protests against Arroyo.

“He came to my house once and he went to my other house in Subic, Zambales later,” Garcillano said.

MindaNews sources said Aquino’s visit to Garcillano in his Subic house so unnerved the former Election Commissioner that he called some of his friends in the middle of the night to tell them about the visit.

“He (Aquino) texted Garcillano around 9pm that he would be coming for a visit. Although he (Aquino) brought a bottle of wine, it still unnerved the old man (Garcillano),” the source said.

Garcillano’s lawyer, Ed Tamondong, also confirmed Aquino’s midnight visit but said Garcillano did not let the Army officer in.

To prove Malacanang’s incessant text messages and visits, Garcillano showed reporters a copy of a text message allegedly coming from a Jasper Zuniga, another Malacanang emissary.

The text reads: “ Please read Inquirer. Tell ur Friend there is still time to rethink his position. Pakisabi nakikicooperate na si Ricky Razon. My helping hand is still available.”

Tamondong said Malacanang is bent on the prospects of turning Garcillano (into a state witness) because the former Election Commission “is at the center of their fictitious story” to prosecute President Arroyo.

“They (Malacanang) wrongly perceived that Garcillano can be turned (into a state witness). They are wrong. He has nothing more to say,” Tamondong said.

Llamas denied knowing Zuniga and that he was an emissary sent by him. He also stood by his story that Garcillano sent him “surrender feelers.”

Garcillano said Llamas was wrong in believing that he will retract the earlier testimony he had given in the Senate investigation that followed the “Hello Garci” controversy.

“If they want to build a case against former President Arroyo, they should collect their evidence but not at my expense, he said.

MindaNews sources said three Malacanang lobby groups are fighting to have Garcillano on their side. The group of Llamas is identified with the Balay group. The Samar group has also sent emissaries to convince Garcillano but failed.

The third group, reportedly led by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, had also sent personnel from the Intelligence Services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines led by a certain Major Marquez, to convince Garcillano to admit to the fraud.

They, too, failed to convince Garcillano.

Gazmin’s group was aided by a certain “King George,” a Cagayan de Oro businessman, who also figured prominently in the “Hello Garci” scandal.

Saturday’s press conference in Garcillano’s 11-hectare farm, was arranged by Garcillano’s lawyer, Tamondong. The farm is located some 20 kilometers from Cagayan de Oro City.

Noticeable is the new two-storey house that replaced the simple, wooden bungalow where Garcillano and his wife, Grace, lived before.

Parked inside the compound are three SUVs: a Ford Everest, a Toyota Land Cruiser and a Toyota Hilux.

Garcillano said Malacanang’s attention prompted him to disappear from public view for several weeks.

“I avoided the media because I do not want to be the subject of public ridicule again. I was not hiding ,” he said.

“I have spoken enough. I have nothing to fear from Malacanang,” he added.

Garcillano said what worried him was the renewed media glare on his life when he has been living a reclusive life in his farm since he lost his bid for a congressional seat in Bukidnon in 2007.

He said he will not attend any new investigation from Congress unless he is subpoenaed.

“I was already cleared in the 2004 investigation. There was no case filed against me. I do not want to be put in the limelight anymore,” Garcillano said. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)