Hello Garci scandal

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Image:Ignacio bunye.jpg
The crisis first became public on June 6, 2005 with the press conference held by Presidential Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye. Here he is pictured showing CDs containing wiretapped conversations.

The Hello Garci scandal (2005—present) (or just Hello Garci) is a political scandal and electoral crisis in the Philippines.

The scandal involves incumbent president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who allegedly rigged the 2004 national election in her favour. The official results of that election gave Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Noli de Castro the presidency and vice-presidency, respectively. Hundreds of national and local positions were also contested during this election. The scandal and crisis began in June 2005 when audio recordings were released. This escalated, when a minority of the lower house of Congress attempted to subject Arroyo in an impeachment trial. This was blocked by Arroyo's coalition allies in September 2005. No trial has taken place thus far.

Allegations against Arroyo and her accomplices in government are many, including electoral fraud and a subsequent cover-up. The administration has denied some of the allegations and challenged others in court. The House of Representatives, which is dominated by Arroyo's coalition allies, denied attempts for an impeachment trial. Arroyo's most well-known alleged accomplice from the electoral commission, Virgilio Garcillano, was missing for a few months, but has returned to the capital in late 2005. Allegations persist regarding possible conspirators from the government who helped in his escape, and another alleged cover-up. Garcillano denied any wrongdoing, before his disappearance, and after his return.

Events history

Samuel Ong, a former deputy director of the country's National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), declared in a June 10 press conference that he possessed original recordings of a wiretapped conversation between Arroyo and an official of the Commission on Elections, who was alleged to be Virgilio Garcillano. In the following weeks, the media analyzed contents of the tapes. The Ong recordings allegedly proved that Arroyo rigged the 2004 national election to maintain her presidency and the political success of her allies. Arroyo denied the accusations of election rigging in a television broadcast on June 27, but acknowledged that it was her voice on the tape. Protests occurred frequently during the crisis either in favour or against Arroyo and her administration. Attempts to impeach Arroyo failed on September 6.

Public opinion

During the scandal, various polls and surveys conducted by Social Weather Stations, CNN/ Time, and Pulse Asia measured public opinion regarding the allegations and other related issues.

According to a CNN/Time poll, 57.5 percent of the people surveyed said that Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should not finish her term. . A Pulse Asia survey released on Philippine news on July 12 showed that 57% of the people wanted incumbent president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to resign from office.


Ong recordings

Two recordings were presented to the public: the Ong recordings and the government endorsed version of the recordings. Uncut copies of the Ong recordings managed to become widespread. The first recordings to be released to the press were used in the Congressional inquiry on the crisis. The second set of recordings, described by the government as the original, was more easily accessible in the Philippines as the government did not restrict the media from airing it. However, the media aired both sets, focusing on the Ong recordings. A transcript is available here, but its lack of government censorship has yet to be determined.

Shortly after the scandal broke, Randy David, a nonpartisan columnist of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, cited two excerpts from the Ong recording in an article. Sheila Coronel, of the Philippine Centre of Investigative Journalism, was able to decipher some of the garbled parts of the tape, which allegedly implicated Arroyo in the scandal. David analyzed the tapes using ethnomethodology and came to the same conclusions as did Coronel. His analysis described one of the speakers as a female coming across as a person speaking to her subordinate. Later, Arroyo acknowledged that it was her voice on the recording. However, no trial took place regarding Arroyo's intentions with her conversations in the recordings. According to Philippine law, both recordings are part of the public domain and are freely distributable.

In his editorial on June 12, 2005 for the Philippine Daily Inquirer , Randy David said,

"On the surface it does look like an innocent exchange. The key word here is "nagco-correspond"-a gloss that refers to the practice of fixing canvass results at, say, the provincial level so that they are not at variance with precinct election returns or statement of votes for municipalities. The other gloss is the question "Kumpleto?" This is not a harmless inquiry. Given the kind of response it elicits, it is an urgent demand to make sure the doctoring is done with care".

David described Arroyo's subordinate as a "man...not in the business of counting votes; he produces them."

Sheila Coronel, described not only electoral fraud, but also the involvement of the independent watchdog group Namfrel. In her analysis, Coronel alleged that corruption was clearly evident. She also commented on the garbled portions of the tape, which were digitally enhanced for clarity. . Allegedly, Arroyo whispered "Yung dagdag, yung dagdag" ("The addition, the addition"), implying fraud and mentioned Namfrel's sympathy for her. In her blog, she said,

"The conversations, after all, provide damning proof that Garcillano was, in the words of a Comelec official, “the plotter for electoral fraud, the overall supervisor and commander in chief” of the manipulation of the count in favour of the administration. The recording points to systemic and institutional fraud perpetrated by the Comelec. Does this mean that the President, by confirming her phone calls to the commissioner, also provided, albeit indirectly, a virtual confirmation of the fraud?"

Other evidence

After the Ong allegations surfaced, many others also claimed to have evidence of cheating by the Arroyo administration; however some of those facing the additional allegations have not been given opportunity to provide solid evidence. Rashma Hali, an electoral official from Basilan, who can claims that Arroyo is related to a kidnapping operation. Michael Zuce claimed that he was present in an incident where Arroyo allegedly bribed officials from the Commission on Elections. Retired general Francisco Gudani claimed that he can prove military involvement in Arroyo's alleged acts of electoral fraud. Roberto Verzola, leader of the Philippine Greens and an IT expert, also claimed that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo cheated and the citizens' election watchdog, National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) was also involved. Jay Carizo, from the Institute for Popular Democracy, developed the election cheating indicators. Other sources claimed fraud in several other government positions, as well as the murder of political opponents by incumbents. There were also eyewitness claims as well. Loren Legarda-Leviste also claimed that she had evidence of being cheated by Noli de Castro also won the vice presidency, in 2004.

Fraud techniques

Electoral fraud in the country was usually done by manipulating the ballots. However, a new technique has arisen which just involves the manipulating the election return or ER, which is a summary of the votes in precincts. Evidence exist showing that the 32,000 sets of overprinted ERs of the Commission of Elections could manipulate an election by as much as three million votes. Such number of votes could change a result.

Pop culture


There is also the wide spread use of a portion of the contents in Ong tapes as a mobile phone ring tone. The ring tone starts with Hello, Garci? Hello Ma'am. This is common among the youth, especially with the start of the new school year in June. It became one of the world's most downloaded ring tones. There are also more various varieties of ring tones derived from the wiretapped conversation aside from the original ring tone.

Partisan propaganda

A poster of President Arroyo being Valentina, a villain of the popular television series Darna, was in circulation. It is entitled "President Evil", alluding to the popular film and video game series Resident Evil. Another poster depicts a fictional film as it was called "Destabilisasyon: Ang Pagbabalik ni Asyong Salonga." (translated as Destabilisation: The Return of Asyong Salonga) The poster depicts the following people as its characters, Joseph Estrada, Laarni Enriquez, Samuel Ong, Sandra Cam, and Francis Escudero. These people are either opposition leaders and political opponents, or for Ong and Cam, whistleblowers. The two posters are definitely partisan either in favour or against Arroyo, and as propaganda, uses pop culture in aiding the cause of one side. And just recently, Arroyo's name in some Philippine 100-peso bills was changed to "arrovo" which can be roughly translated to "thief". The words "robo" and "dorobou" are the Spanish and Japanese terms for "robber" respectively.


Accountability and legitimacy

The evidence carried with it great consequences. The Ong tape were neutrally authenticated by foreign companies Uniquest (Australia) and Voice Identification (United States). Also, Arroyo's spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, as well as the president herself, acknowledged that it was indeed Arroyo's voice. The protesting public insisted that the tapes and CDs proved electoral fraud, and that Arroyo cheated and rigged the 2004 elections. A sizable number of people wanted the results of the 2004 elections to be made invalid. The Supreme Court withheld judgment on the matter, refraining from actions toward invalidating the election. The administration said the Ong recordings were inadmissible in court, since the audio was taped without consent.

Initially, there were two possible outcomes for the government; Arroyo could have either resigned or be ousted through a constitutionally accepted process. These actions could only take place after addressing the current state of the faulty electoral system. The other outcome was for Arroyo to be cleared of any wrong doing. Neither outcome occurred, and hence no final course of action was taken to resolve Arroyo's legitimacy or to prevent electoral fraud. Those unrealized possible outcomes could have resolved definitely the legitimacy issue, and could have made Arroyo accountable for any wrongdoing. However, Philippine law and the country's flawed electoral rules complicate the legitimacy and accountability problem. The law only mentions impeachment followed with a conviction as a possible way of removing certain serving legitimate government officials. The law however is unclear on how to prosecute and convict the sitting official if illegitimacy is the problem, due to allegations of vote rigging. Conrado de Quiros, a strong advocate of electoral reforms, argues that a special presidential election must be done in coinciding with midterm elections to resolve legitimacy

"It is not enough that the elections next year [2007 midterm elections] be turned into a referendum on Arroyo, it is imperative that the elections next year be turned into an occasion to vote for a real president."
"At the very least, a loud and universal call for special presidential elections next year will let it be known that we are serious about doing something about screwing the voters. No, more than that, about the deceitfulness and lying that are spreading everywhere in this country faster than karaoke. In the end, none of the safeguards against cheating will matter if there is no public vigilance against the threat and no outrage against the commission."

Whether the special presidential elections occurs or not, a significant number of incumbent politicians who are allied with administration and who were elected during the tainted 2004 elections may be deposed by voter backlash in the upcoming 2007 midterm elections, assuming the election to be free and fair. The electorate would use the upcoming election as a referendum on accountability and legitimacy for Arroyo and her political supporters. All of the seats of Arroyo's supporters in the House of Representatives, half of the Senate, and all local government positions are to contested.

Electoral system

The Philippines, according to experts, has a reputation for having political issues based on patronage politics and personality politics. To some experts, what is unique about the crisis is that it addresses the greater issue of electoral fraud and an allegedly faulty election system that allows cheaters to win and get away with it. This is manifested in a humorous local saying that, "There are two types of people in elections. Those who win and those who get cheated out of office." Politically outspoken student groups mention that this is rather new for Philippine politics, and shows a gradual development of the voting public, the electorate.

According to pundits, the past 60 years of the Philippine history already has a reputation of electoral fraud, proven or otherwise. It is just that no one ever gets caught or punished. Analysts assert that the people have always been desensitized to their politicians cheating during elections. Accordingly, people generally doubt their leaders' mandates. The people are often suspicious of the winners, especially in close poll results, but do nothing. Constituents generally allow their leaders, assuming proven acts of cheating, to get away with it until the scandal erupted. Roberto Verzola supports punishing candidates guilty of fraud as the first step for electoral reforms. He said that, "the system can be slow or fast but there will still be cheating unless you punish the cheats." The reforms sought for the electoral system are still clouded with uncertainty.

Attempts for an impeachment trial

On June 27, human rights lawyer Oliver Lozano filed an impeachment case against Arroyo on the grounds of "betrayal of public trust". Ten minutes later, Jose Rizaldo P. Lopez, a private citizen, filed a similar impeachment complaint. The mainstream pro-impeachment bloc in Congress advocated an amended version of the Lozano complaint.

On August 23, the justice committee delayed a vote on the impeachment complaints, instead focusing on a vote on procedures. The committee eventually sent Report 1012 to the rest of the House of Representatives. The report suggested that impeachment proceedings should cease altogether. Both chambers of Congress and the justice committee are dominated by Arroyo's coalition allies.

On September 6, the minority could not garner the 79 signatures to send the amended impeachment complaint to the Senate. A vote of Report 1012 commenced in favour of the report. Impeachment proceedings ceased, preventing a trial for Arroyo for at least one year.

The following year in January 16, Lozano re-filed the amended impeachment complaint. However, this came with stiff opposition from opposition members in the House, most notably House Minority Leader Francis Escudero, who threatened him with a complaint with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. This was after the opposition claims they plan to file a stronger complaint, calling Lozano's tactics "illegal and unethical", especially because the opposition did not consent to the filing of the complaint. In June, one whole year after the beginning of the scandal, several impeachment complaints were also filed by different groups.


After the failure of impeachment, a broad coalition of protesters engaged the government in peaceful protest for several days, which was reminiscent of the People Power Revolution of 1986. Some of those protesters included former president Corazon Aquino and former vice president Teofisto Guingona. Due to the lack of protesters that took part in common venues, the government's hard line approach in regulating traditional protesting venues in Mendiola and EDSA, and other factors, the protests did not affect the outcome in Congress. Thus, its power soon diminished. Lingering protests remain, accompanied by a campaign to present evidence directly to the electorate, since such evidence were restricted from use in trial. Arroyo eventually pressed on with certain reforms, albeit unrelated to the crisis, that included new taxes that will shrink government's fiscal deficit. The economy has been described as resilient, especially since it's recovery was not affected by the scandal. Despite Arroyo's preservation of her hold onto authority, and a resilient economy, most analysts agree that the scandal has failed to address its root causes - pervasive electoral fraud conducted by candidates during elections, the faulty electoral system, and the Commission on Elections that encourages fraud. Accordingly, confidence in Arroyo has declined as explained by Amando Doronila of the Philippine Daily Inquirer who said .

"The quashing of the complaints is an empty victory for the administration. It merely demonstrated that the administration has the capacity to deploy the advantages of incumbency to save the president from being unseated. Until the president stands trial where she can defend herself and where it can be shown that the accusations are false and do not constitute impeachable offenses, it would be hard for her to regain public confidence and reestablish the legitimacy of her government."

The crisis has arguably ended with the failure of both the impeachment process and the people power movement to have Arroyo face a public trial. However the scandal persists, with the electoral fraud issue still unresolved. This is a factor that led to the use of emergency powers by Arroyo in early 2006.

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