GenSan, Sarangani, SouthCot officials favor congressional probe on Maguindanao poll fraud

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/21 July) – Local officials here and in  the nearby provinces of Sarangani and South Cotabato have expressed full support to a proposed congressional investigation over the alleged massive fraud in Maguindanao province involving former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her allies during the 2004 and 2007 elections.

City Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio said it is now time for the Congress to make a big push for the long-delayed inquiry and redeem itself for failing to properly act on the matter when the controversies surfaced after the 2004 and 2007 national and local elections.

“It’s time to cleanse and reform our electoral system. We need to know the truth about these controversies and see to it that they will not happen again,” she said.

Custodio was a member of the House of Representatives’ minority bloc when the alleged vote-padding and vote-shaving (dagdag-bawas) took place in Maguindanao in the 2004 presidential elections in favor of then incumbent President and now Pampanga Rep. Arroyo.

Several wiretapped phone conversations during the elections allegedly between Ms. Arroyo and Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano had surfaced but the probe launched by then administration-controlled Congress eventually fizzled out.

Former Maguindanao election officer Lintang Bedol, who had figured in the wiretapped phone conversations, surfaced last week after more than four years of hiding to confirm the massive cheating in his area during the 2004 and 2007 elections.

Custodio said she is personally endorsing a congressional inquiry into the matter to facilitate the needed reforms with the electoral system and in the Comelec.

“It will shed light to the reforms that can be done at the Comelec and hopefully all those involved will be exposed and properly charged in court,” she said.

Vice Mayor Shirlyn Nograles said the proposed congressional inquiry is very important as it will help expose how the alleged vote-padding and vote-shaving schemes were done in the previous elections.

“We should learn from the past, especially how these fraudulent schemes were done, so we can prevent them from happening again in the future,” she said.

Sarangani Gov. Miguel Rene Dominguez said the probe should be done to correct the mistakes of the past elections, especially in the 2004 presidential race.

“If FPJ (Fernando Poe Jr.) indeed won and that is proven in the courts, then let us rewrite history,” said the governor, who was a former national president of Lakas-Kampi-CMD party that backed the candidacy of Ms. Arroyo in the 2004 elections.

For his part, Koronadal City Mayor Peter Miguel said Congress and the Comelec should also include in their investigation all local election officials assigned in other areas who were involved in the election fraud.

He specifically cited former South Cotabato election officer Lilian Radam, who was earlier slapped with electoral sabotage charges over the uncovered switching of election results in South Cotabato in favor of an administration senatorial bet during the 2007 polls.

“This is very damaging. Among us, politicians, we can’t help but ask what will happen to us in the future if we don’t know people like Bedol or Garci (Garcillano),” he said.

Bedol was earlier accused of manipulating election results that later gave the reportedly statistically improbable 12-0 victory of the administration’s Team Unity, as well as the zero votes received by 18 senatorial bets in Maguindanao back in the 2007 midterm polls.

Bedol said it was the former President who masterminded the election fraud, claiming Arroyo ordered to give zero votes to three opposition senatorial candidates – Benigno Aquino III, Allan Peter Cayetano, and Panfilo Lacson. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)