Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Newsbreak's Expose

'This is the Chairman Calling'
By the NEWSBREAK team

ON May 13, 2004, Efraim Genuino, chair of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), had a dinner meeting with then elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano at the pricey Yura-kuen restaurant at the Manila Diamond Hotel.

It was three days after the national elections and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) was already canvassing some of the provincial and city certificates of canvass for the senatorial and party-list race.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., in a press conference the following day, denounced the meeting. He said it was held "under the circumstances when Pagcor stands accused of funding the President's election bid."

On the run-up to the May 10 polls, Pagcor sources told NEWSBREAK that the gaming agency had been channeling its intelligence funds to finance the campaign bid of President Arroyo. The sources also said Pagcor had been spending hundreds of millions of its public relations and advertising funds to promote Arroyo's candidacy. The intelligence and the public relations and advertising funds combined easily amount to P500 million.

While admitting that he was at the restaurant that night, Garcillano however denied he met with Genuino. He said he did not even know Genuino personally.

But new evidence, courtesy of the wiretapped Garcillano conversations, now reveal otherwise. Moreover, they shared more than a nodding acquaintance, with one casually addressing the other as "padre" or "pare" and their conversations being more than a social chat. The conversations establish Garcillano as an operator and Genuino as a source of pay-offs.

Genuino, through Pagcor spokesperson Dodie King, denied knowing Garcillano personally. He said Genuino never had any business with the Comelec or any of its officials.

Not Mike, not Barbers

Aside from a woman who sounded like President Arroyo, other politicians and election officers based in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao made several calls to Garcillano. But Garcillano had one regular caller: an unidentified male who kept asking him for election updates and, in two instances, possible pay-offs to election manipulators.

In previously published transcripts, the man was identified as losing senatorial candidate Robert Barbers, who barely missed the 12th senatorial slot. In some instances, the man was identified as First Gentleman Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo.

For instance, in a conversation on May 24, 2004, the male voice that asked Garcillano if it would be possible "to increase the vote to 200 [to] 300 [thousand]" was identified in earlier transcripts released by the opposition as belonging to Barbers. In a May 27 conversation, the man talking to Garcillano and complaining that he was dealing with a wishy-washy poll operator was identified as Mr. Arroyo.

But Pagcor managers told NEWSBREAK that the man was actually Genuino. They reviewed the tapes from the ABS-CBN Web site and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism blog site.

The review was prompted by two portions in the transcript, both dated June 8, 2004, where a man who sounded like Genuino and an unidentified male talked of meeting at a Japanese restaurant. The Pagcor managers' suspicions were further roused after recalling the Yura-kuen meeting last year.

While there were calls made by Barbers and Mr. Arroyo in the tape, the Pagcor sources, being familiar with their chairman's voice, easily identified those of Genuino's.

Moreover, unlike Genuino, Mr. Arroyo and Barbers identified themselves to Garcillano when making calls, while the Pagcor chair casually addressed the former poll official as "padre" or "pare."

15 Recorded Conversations

Based on a Pagcor manager's review, Genuino made at least 15 calls to Garcillano from May 24 to June 14, 2004. Most of the calls apparently revolved around Genuino's frantic effort to put Bigkis Pinoy Movement, a party-list hopeful founded by Genuino and Mr. Arroyo's close allies, in the winning circle.

Incorporators of Bigkis Pinoy, which started as a foundation, hold different posts in cash-rich government agencies. The contents of the Genuino-Garcillano conversations were corroborated by events that transpired last year.

In their first recorded conversation on May 24, 2004, Genuino identified himself as "chairman," in apparent reference to his position as Pagcor chair. Garcillano readily acknowledged his caller.

In that call, an anxious Genuino told Garcillano that certificates of canvass from four provinces had yet to arrive. Garcillano replied: "Bakit ilan na ang panalo nila? (Why, what have they won?)"

The man said: "675,000 na eh, 175,000 ang boto natin. Kung madagdagan lang sana ng mga 200 to 300. (650,000 already. We have 175,000 votes. If we could just add around 200 to 300.)"

A check with Comelec showed that on May 23, Bigkis Pinoy had tallied 175,971 votes, or only 1.5 percent of the votes cast for the party-list race. This means its vote percentage was still way below the required 2 percent of the votes cast for it to earn a seat in the House of Representatives. A group can garner a maximum of three seats.

As of May 23, Bigkis Pinoy was 21st in the party-list ranking.

In a succeeding conversation, a man who sounded like Genuino sought Garcillano's advice regarding a group of alleged Comelec people who offered their services to rig votes. Genuino said the group was asking for P5 million.

Apparently unsure which group had approached Genuino, Garcillano told him not to strike a deal so readily. "Makiki-ano ka muna, pagkatapos titingnan ko kung sino. Kunwari lang maki-ano ka. Ipasok mo ang tao mo (Just play along while I check them out. Bring your people in)," Garcillano advised.

Genuino said he was willing to increase the pay if needed.

On May 27, Genuino called Garcillano, complaining, "'Yung kausap namin eh atras-abante, umatras na naman. (These people we spoke with keep changing their minds, they've just pulled out again). "

Garcillano told Genuino not to pursue the deal any longer. "Baka kaya na rin kasi (We may not need them after all)," adding that he would try his best.

On June 2, 2004, Genuino called Garcillano, asking if the latter was able to remedy the situation. Garcillano said they were able to proclaim only 15 winners and that he would try to have one included in the winning list.

Garcillano also complained that he was having a hard time "because Madame was calling incessantly" regarding the missing Camarines Norte ballot box.

A check with the Comelec clerk of court showed that on June 2, the en banc commission proclaimed 15 party-list groups that met the 2-percent minimum required votes. Bigkis Pinoy had so far only received 186,264 votes or 1.4 percent of the total votes cast.

Desperate Bid

Based on the wiretapped conversation, Genuino is one who does not give up easily. On June 3, 2004, he placed three calls to Garcillano that were only minutes apart. In these calls, he took pains to find a solution to his problems.

In his June 3 calls, Genuino informed Garcillano that no one was watching the counting in Basilan anymore, and asked if it would be possible therefore to "put 70,000 [votes] there." In another call, he told Garcillano that Isabela province might also provide additional votes.

Genuino repeatedly stressed that only 70,000 votes were needed "and if there are other considerations, just tell me for any additional..." Garcillano replied in the affirmative.

Apparently, the 70,000 votes Genuino was referring to were the additional votes that Bigkis Pinoy needed to satisfy the 2 percent requirement.

A few hours later that same day, Genuino again called Garcillano. This time, the conversation dealt with the cost of fixing the operators. Based on the context of their conversation, Garcillano had assured the operators P1 million for the job but told Genuino they might ask for more.

The following day, on June 4, 2004, Genuino and Garcillano had agreed to peg the bribe between P1.5 million to P2 million. Garcillano instructed Genuino to deliver the money to his secretary, Ellen Peralta.

On June 8, at 11:05 a.m., Genuino called Garcillano to inform him that the he was already waiting at a Japanese restaurant. "Pero 11:30 pa magbubukas 'tong Japanese restaurant (But it'll open only at 11:30)," Genuino said.

An hour later, Garcillano called Genuino to inform him that he was stuck in traffic on Buendia.

The Japanese restaurant was believed to be Yura-kuen in Manila Diamond Hotel, which Garcillano has admitted he frequented. The restaurant is also within walking distance of the main Pagcor office along Roxas Boulevard.

The last recorded conversation between Genuino and Garcillano was on June 14, at 7:45 p.m., when Genuino finally mentioned Bigkis.

Garcillano said he was trying his best to enable Bigkis to get the 2-percent requirement, but told Genuino that the group ALIF might get it first. On June 29, Ang Laban ng Indiginong Filipino or ALIF was proclaimed by Comelec as the last party-list group to have satisfied the 2-percent requirement.


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