Henry Magbutay

‘Hello, Garci’ boys well entrenched for May 10 polls

‘Hello, Garci’ boys well entrenched for May 10 polls
By Aries Rufo
abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak

MANILA, Philippines—The men who worked closely with disgraced former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano as he rigged the 2004 presidential elections are still well entrenched for the May 10 polls this year.

Together, the so-called “Hello, Garci” Boys control Mindanao, which is home to more than 10 million registered voters.

“Hello, Garci” became a popular phrase to refer to how President Arroyo addressed the commissioner when she was caught on tape asking Garcillano to ensure her a lead of at least 1 million votes over her rival, Fernando Poe Jr.

Except for the high-profile Lintang Bedol, who is in hiding, the Garci Boys are positioned either as regional election directors (RED) or provincial election supervisors (PES).

Easily identifiable is Ray Sumalipao, who has been transferred as RED of Davao Region (Region 11) from his previous post as RED of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Replacing Sumalipao in ARMM is RED Remlane Tambuang.

The influence of the infamous group is intact in ARMM, however, as Renault Macarambon retains his positions as assistant RED (ARED) of ARMM.

Transfers
Sumalipao and Macarambon were Garcillano’s errand boys at the height of the canvassing of the May 2004 of the votes for national positions. At that time, Sumalipao was the chair of the provincial board of canvassers in Lanao del Sur when a Namfrel official there threatened to make an exposé poll fraud.

Arroyo, learning of the threat, called up Garcillano to defuse the tension. “We will try to make him say something. I will tell him to talk without letting the people know that I am the one who will address it,” Garcillano assured the President.

Macarambon, then the vice chair of the Lanao del Sur provicial board of canvassers, was mentioned by Garcillano as the one who was supposed to ensure the victory of a senatorial candidate allied with the administration who was in a neck-and-neck race for the last spot with an opposition candidate.

The cheating attempt, however, was foiled when the opposition candidate went to the area to protect his votes.

A source from the Commission on Elections said that Macarambon might be assigned to Maguindanao as acting PES. The Comelec, however, has yet to release the resolution.

An election lawyer observed that Sumalipao’s transfer from ARMM to Davao Region might have done more damage than good “since this means he has control over a new territory. His men are already in place in ARMM, so removing him from there does not do any good.”

More of them
Another Garci man, Henry Magbutay, is RED of Northern Mindanao (Region 10).

Magbutay’s subordinates include Cirilo Nala Jr., who Comelec sources say is also a Garci follower. Nala is PES of Misamis Occidental.

Magbutay’s voice was caught on tape as the “Boy” who told Garcillano that an election official who knew about the irregularities was in hiding. “Boy” even suggested that they kidnap the concerned Comelec official, but Garcillano rejected the idea.

Another RED who was caught on the Garci tape is Francisco Pobe, who is in command of the CARAGA Region. Pobe, whose nickname is Danny, had called Garcillano asking for results in Cotabato City. Pobe, who was then the PES of Agusan del Sur, was acting on behalf of a senatorial candidate.

Although he was not on tape, Michael Abbas, the current RED of SOCCSKSARGEN (Region 12), is also known as Garcillano protégé who tampered with the votes of Arroyo’s rival, the late Fernando Poe Jr., in Tawi-Tawi during the 2004 race. Abbas was the PES of the province.

Now his coverage includes North Cotabato, Sarangani, South Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat.

More authority
The ARMM has about 1.88 million registered voters; Northern Mindanao, 2.4 million; Davao Region, 2.55 million; SOCCSKSARGEN, 1.98 million and Caraga, 1.37 million.

Garcillano’s men, in effect, collectively have control over more than 10 million votes.

Separately, they are power brokers in their own right. They are not accountable to any Comelec commissioner at the head office, as the en banc decided that there will be no more commissioners-in-charge (CIC) of regions in the elections this year. In past elections, each commissioner was made in charge of a certain number of regions, exercising control over the regional directors.

A commissioner told abs-cbnnews.com/Newbsreak that Comelec chair Jose Melo “did not like the idea of the commissioner having their own fiefdoms during the elections.”

The CIC system, as practiced in previous elections, allowed the poll official concerned to call the shots and make decisions without consulting the en banc, as an initial remedy to problems that required immediate attention.

However, the CIC system, while it decentralized decision-making, allowed the types of Garcillano to manipulate the elections with ease.

A Comelec source, who is privy to the assignments of poll officials, said that the Garcillano Boys were spared from the disgrace brought by the “Hello, Garci” tape because no one came forward to file a complaint against them.

The Comelec faced a blank wall when it initiated an investigation since there were no complainants and that the evidence—the wiretapped conversations between President Arroyo and Garcillano—linking them to irregularities could not be used as evidence in the first place.

Of the Garci Boys, Bedol was not as lucky after their 2004 adventure. Charges have been filed against him for his participation in the 2007 rigging of Maguindanao votes. (abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak)