Did AFP divert 2004 election fund to cheating?
By ARIES RUFO
EXCLUSIVE: A 2004 military document shows AFP used bulk of its P101-M election funds on ‘intelligence.’
MANILA, Philippines—Did the military use its election budget to rig the vote for former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the 2004 presidential race?
We raise this question amid fresh moves to reopen probe on the alleged massive cheating in the May 2004 elections. Newsbreak and other media organizations had previously chronicled such allegations, including reports that some military officers bribed election officials in Mindanao in an effort to alter votes for the former president.
(Our investigation into
the alleged 2004 cheating can be found in the following stories
the alleged 2004 cheating can be found in the following stories):
- Who wiretapped the conversations of former Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano with former President Arroyo at the height of the counting of votes for the 2004 elections? And the bigger question: who ordered the wiretap? Read the full story: In the Shadows
- Garcillano’s recorded conversations with certain people matched real events. Read: The Shoe Fits.
- Four groups conducted separate operations to manipulate the 2004 vote. All their leaders had direct links to then President Arroyo. Read the full story of Madame Operator.
- At least 11 provinces were the “sources” of allegedly stolen votes in 2004. They were the following: Cebu, Pampanga, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Bohol, Southern Leyte, Zamboanga del Sur, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sultan Kudarat, and Basilan. Read the full story here of Cheats Inc.
- Cebu was the cheating battleground in 2004. Read the full story here.
- Another operator like Garcillano delivered the votes. Read about Roque Bello.
Last week, ABS-CBN interviewed former election official Lintang Bedol, suspected mastermind of cheating in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Bedol confirmed that he did cheat for Arroyo administration candidates, but has so far not presented any other evidence—beyond talk—to prove his claim.
But a classified report that Newsbreak obtained last May, while we were finishing a book on military corruption, showed that P80 million of the P101 million given by the Commission on Elections to the Armed Forces of the Philippines for its election duties in May 2004 landed in the hands of J2, the office of the AFP deputy chief of staff for intelligence.
Another P6 million went to the Intelligence Service of the AFP (Isafp), the favorite military agency of Arroyo which, ironically, was also the prime suspect behind the Hello Garci wiretapping. [Read: Isafp’s suspected involvement in the wiretap scandal]
Why would the intelligence community get the bulk of supposed operational funds to maintain peace and order in the crucial days before and after the elections?
Comelec officials said that the military was able to liquidate the fund allocation for the 2004 elections. Unfortunately, the poll body could not produce the itemized liquidation report, saying it could have been among the papers damaged when the Comelec’s main building in Intramuros, Manila, burned down in 2007.
But in documents we obtained about the status of Comelec Fund in May 2004, the P101 million was distributed to the following:
- P80 million – J2, implementing 6 intelligence projects:
- Jupiter Sierra – P15 M
- Starbucks – P12 M
- Nescafe – P8 M
- SONA – P18 M
- Turban – P20 M
- Salakot – P7 M
- P6 million – Isafp
- P10 million – Army
- P5 million – Navy (Marines)
A partial breakdown of the amount showed that some of the funds were spent on-ground operations, individual allowances of reservists, communication services, logistics support services, maintenance of sea crafts, air operations etc.
But the bulk of the budget was vaguely itemized, identified only as allocations to the major commands.
In our 2005 investigation into the alleged cheating, an election officer told Newsbreak then that military officers in Sulu bribed and intimidated teachers and election officers to rig the results in favor of Mrs. Arroyo (Read: Operation Gloria)
A female election official disclosed then that an Army captain gave her P50,000 to tamper with the canvassing of the results in the municipal and provincial levels. Fearing for her life, she accepted the money but claimed she later deposited it in the bank account of the captain.
In the transcripts
of the“Hello, Garci” tape, dated May 29, 2004, a woman who sounded like Arroyo expressed concern that the opposition was threatening to expose poll cheating in one area. Talking on the other line was former election commissioner VIrgilio Garcillano, who blamed one “General Habacon” for the foul-up. [Retired Maj. Gen. Gabriel Habacon was commander of the Army’s 1st infantry division and Task Force Comet in Sulu during the May 2004 elections.]
The woman who sounded like Arroyo would again talk to Garcillano on June 2, 2004, based on the transcript. In that particular phone call, Garcillano would draw comparison between how the military carried out cheating operations in Sulu, Basilan and Lanao del Sur, saying what happened in Sulu was quite problematic.
“Alam nyo naman ang mga military, dun e, hindi masyadong marunong kasi silang gumawa. Katulad dun sa Sulu (You know the military there [in Basilan and Lanao del Sur], they’re good… unlike those in Sulu),” Garcillano was recorded as saying.
Deputies for cheating?
Every national election, the Comelec deputizes the AFP, the National Police and other government agencies for election duties. As deputies, the AFP and the Police get additional budget for election-related activities such as security augmentation and maintenance of peace and order.
Eric Alvia, secretary general of the poll watchdog National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), said the budgetary requirement would come from the agency concerned, the AFP, for instance, backed up by an operational plan.
The proposed budget is then submitted to Comelec, which seeks a supplemental budget from Congress. The Comelec then transfers the money to the agency.
In 2004 national race, the Comelec budget for the AFP was P101 million. In the 2010 national elections, the Comelec budget for the AFP jumped to P280 million.
Comelec deputies are supposed to be non-partisan in electoral exercises. A briefing report prepared by the AFP for the 2004 national polls showed that the AFP higher-ups were aware of such mandate.
Apart from providing security in polling places and safety of election officers, the AFP is mandated to provide logical support, such facilities, communication systems and equipment for the delivery and retrieval of election paraphernalia and documents in polling precincts, especially those that are hard to reach.
The AFP briefing report for the 2004 elections, a copy of which was obtained by
Newsbreak, said that among the military’s duties were to monitor armed groups and assist Comelec in implementing election rules and regulations.
Under Task Force Hope (Honest, Orderly and Peaceful Elections), the AFP divided its duties into 3 phases: pre-election, election day, and post election day.
It reiterated that the AFP “shall be insulated from partisan politics” and that “no member of the military shall engage, directly or indirectly, in any partisan political activity, except to vote” as stated in the Constitution.
But to some military officers, such mission and vision were only on paper.
Former Comelec commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer said it was up to the AFP how they spent the money for elections, adding the poll body assumes good faith in dealing with its deputies.
“It is up to them how to use the funds. We only require that the logistics are there when we need them, he said.
Like all government funds, the AFP election budget is subject to the regular auditing and accounting procedures. “We require them to render an accounting,” he added.
But beyond this, “we do not have the power to compel them to account for the funds,” Ferrer said. Such job belongs to the internal AFP auditor, which then informs the Comelec finance department and the Comelec internal COA whether such funds had been properly liquidated.
Included in the election budget are the per diem of soldiers, food and other expenses related to their election duties.
Former Comelec executive director Jose Pio Joson, who was also a longtime operations director of Comelec, told Newsbreak that he has doubts whether the election funds were actually spent for the intended purpose.
In most cases, Joson said it is Comelec that shells out money to augment the requirements of soldiers, from food, allowances and sometimes, gas provisions.
“These soldiers would come to us asking for budget. The Comelec has budget for such contingencies,” he said.
If this the case, what happened to the rest of the funds?
For the 2004 national polls, only P15 million went directly to the major service commands: P10 million for the Philippine Army and P5 million to the Navy.
A Namfrel official, commenting on the report, said that the Comelec fund should have been given to J1
(deputy chief staff for personnel) and J3 (deputy chief of staff for operations), not J2 (deputy chief of staff for intelligence).
It’s the J-3 that oversees Task Force Hope. In 2004, the J3 and Task Force Hope commander was then Maj. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, who was also implicated in the “Hello,Garci” scandal but who nonetheless was named chief of staff after.
The head of the J2, the office that received P80 million of the P101-million Comelec fund, was then Maj. Gen. Pedro Ramboanga, a classmate of Esperon at the Philippine Military Academy (Class 1974). The Isafp commanding general at the time was Rear Admiral Tirso Danga.
“It raises serious questions why the Comelec funds were handled by an intelligence division,” the Namfrel official said.
Moreover, in the AFP’s organization chart for TF Hope, neither the J2 nor Isafp was part of the major command sectors identified as mandated to carry out AFP’s election duties. The major command sections in the chart were Personnel, Security, Operations, Logistics, Comptroller, CMO (Civilian-Military Office) and Reservists Affairs.
The easy explanation for this is the practice in the military—predominant in the Arroyo regime—of using “intelligence projects” as cover for big cash disbursements, as the soon-to-be-launched book The Enemy Within: An Inside Story on Military Corruption, would reveal.
But once the budget turned into intelligence projects, it would be difficult to trace where it really went. The intelligence community is not obliged to provide details of its expenses. To meet government requirements, heads of the AFP intelligence units put receipts and documents in sealed envelopes that go directly to the Commission on Audit and the Office of the President.
The military leadership under Arroyo denied that some key commanders cheated for her. But the allegations were among those cited by mutinous officers behind a botched mutiny in 2007. —Newsbreak
(Written by Glenda M. Gloria, Aries Rufo, and Gemma Bagayaua-Mendoza, The Enemy Within: An Inside Story on Military Corruption will be launched in September. Updates will be made on www.newsbreak.ph and our Facebook page)
TAGS: , 2004 elections, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Commission on Elections (Comelec), elections, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, poll cheating, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo