New Comelec chief wants to probe 'Hello, Garci'

By David Dizon,

Posted at Jan 20 2011 04:15 PM | Updated as of Jan 21 2011 04:48 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Newly installed Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Sixto Brillantes on Thursday said he wants to investigate the "Hello, Garci" wiretapping scandal linking then Comelec commissioner Virgilio Garcillano Jr. to a plot to rig the May 2004 presidential election.

Brillantes said that while the investigation on the Garci scam will not be a priority, the commission still needs to help bring closure to the issue.

"I intend to go back to it (2004 presidential election) and see the documents in the Comelec...I am forward looking because I am only in the commission for 4 years pero hindi ko naman pababayaan ang mga anomalies in the past," he told ANC's "Headstart."

The "Hello, Garci" scandal involved wiretapped telephone conversations between Garcillano and various officials. In one of the leaked recordings, Garcillano was allegedly taped talking to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo about a plot to rig the May 2004 polls.

Arroyo later apologized on national TV for talking to a Comelec commissioner but denied rigging the election. The revelations led to several failed impeachment attempts against Arroyo before the House of Representatives.

I'm no election operator

In the interview, Brillantes denied allegations that he was an election operator who helped fix cases for his clients by bribing Comelec commissioners when he was still an election lawyer.

Speaking to ANC, Brillantes said he had never distorted election results or paid bribes to win election cases before the Comelec.

"I would like to ask Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano to define election operator. If the operator in the broader sense could mean operating to assist my client...operating not in an illegal sense, but operating in parlance on the cheating and fraud,  this I have never done, and I would like to ask Sen. Allan how I can be categorized as an operator of elections," he said.

Asked if he or anyone in his law firm had ever paid a commissioner, he said: "Never. I have never done that, the law firm has never done this before. I know this for a fact. I would not be able to answer if clients may have some dealings with commissioners but for the law firm... I don't recall any instance talking about payment to a commissioner."

The new Comelec chief said Cayetano's opposition seems to have stemmed from Brillantes's position as the lawyer of the Tingas in the local polls in Taguig. Brillantes used to be a lawyer for retired Associate Justice Dante Tinga, who filed an electoral protest against Cayetano's wife, Taguig Mayor Lani Cayetano, for supposedly cheating in the May polls.

"This  is only reason why I think Sen. Alan is trying to pound on me now," he said.

The new Comelec chief said he has dropped all his election cases after taking over the poll body. He admitted that former clients have been calling up to ask about their cases, in which case he advised them to get a new lawyer since he will need to inhibit from ruling on the cases.

Mar offered friendship

He said he also talked to defeated vice-presidential bet Mar Roxas after hearing that the latter allegedly had reservations about his appointment.

"The only thing he said, even during the campaign, he said he really didn't know the details about me. Ang sabi niya 'Matagal na kayong magkaibigan ni [Sen. Francisco Escudero] at Vice-President Jejomar Binay. Gusto naman kitang maging kaibigan,'" he said.

Brillantes said the meeting should not be seen as a precursor to the 2016 elections since all 3 politicians - Escudero, Binay and Roxas - are possible presidential bets. He said his term will only last until 2015, which means he cannot influence the 2016 polls.

The new Comelec chief said he does not see his 25-year history as an election lawyer dealing with politicians as a negative. "I can exercise some ascendancy over politicians and try to resolve these problems," he said.

He added that his experience also allows him to see how corruption could thrive inside Comelec, which, he said, he will soon root out.

"I know the thieves in the commission. I told them already. I more or less know who they are...I won't go after them immediately. They said there's a mafia in the commission. There's no mafia. There are only bad eggs. These people can be easily controlled now," he said.