THE president's voice sounded urgent. She was muttering under her breath. This morning, using sound enhancement, we listened again to the "Hello, Garci" recording and heard clearly for the first time what Mrs. Arroyo told election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano in a conversation that took place at 11:17 p.m. on May 31, 2004.
That phone call began with the President relaying to Garcillano the information that the opposition was trying to get Namfrel (National Citizens Movement for Free Elections) copies of municipal certificates of canvass. Garcillano reassured her that Namfrel is "now sympathetic to us."
The president's reply is garbled in the recording, as she lowered her voice and muttered. We asked a sound engineer to enhance the sound for us. We listened again and this is what we heard her telling Garcilliano: "… Namfrel does not tally… pero yun nga, yung dagdag, yung dagdag (but you know, the padding, the padding)."
[PCIJ didn't put this in earlier versions of the transcript because we were not sure until now.]
This is the only time in all the 15 phone calls that Mrs. Arroyo made to Garcillano between May 26 and June 10 that she actually used the word, dagdag.
Some of the president's calls dealt with her anxiety about the count and her winning margin ("Will I still get more than 1 M?" she famously asked "Garci" at 9:23 a.m. on May 29).
The May 31 phone call was more direct. She actually referred to votes being padded. While she did not directly say that she had directed the padding or that she knew her votes had been padded, the purpose of the conversation appears to be to assuage her worry that the padding would not discovered if the Namfrel documents did not tally with the certificates of canvass.
Many of the presidential calls in the Hello Garci tapes dealt with Mrs. Arroyo's concern that the count reflected in various election documents — statements of votes and certificates of canvass — did not match. She expressed this worry about the documents from Basilan, Lanao del Sur and Sulu. She was worried because the mismatch in the figures might be seen by the opposition and used by them in alleging fraud by the ruling party.
The particular conversation where she talked about dagdag seems to be along the same lines. She was fretting about the possibility that the opposition would get hold of Namfrel documents (Namfrel gets the sixth copy of the precinct-level election returns) and discover that these do not match with the certificates of canvass, which contain the aggregated counts of all the precincts in a municipality, city or province.
This is why Garcillano had to reassure the president that Namfrel is "now sympathetic to us."
In her reply, she wanted more reassurance. "Pero yun nga, yung dagdag, yung dagdag," she said.
When this call was made on May 31, most of the certificates of canvass had already been submitted to Congress. It would have meant trouble if the count reflected in these certificates were questioned either by Namfrel or the opposition, based on their own copies of the election returns. At this point, the president seemed to be concerned about two things: 1) that the spurious documents would not be discovered; and 2) that the counts in the places where special elections were held and the counting delayed would show her as the winner.
Special elections were conducted in late May in some towns and barangay in Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. Some of the president's phone calls dealt with the counting in these places.
Conversation between Gary (V. Garcillano) and an unidentified female believed to be GMA (Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) on 31 23:17 hotel May 2004
Garcillano: Hello, ma'am.
GMA: Hello, tsaka ano yung kabila, they're trying to get the Namfrel copies of the Municipal COCs.
Garcillano: Namfrel copies ho?
Garcillano: Ay wala naman, ok naman ang Namfrel sa atin. They are now sympathetic to us.
GMA (mumbling): Oo, oo … (garbled) …Namfrel does not tally. Pero yun nga, yung dagdag, yung dagdag.
Garcillano: Oho, we will get an advance copy ho natin kung anong hong kwan nila.
GMA: Oo, oo.
Garcillano: Sige po.