MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III believes some of his fellow lawmakers who canvassed the results of the 2004 presidential election knew it was marred by fraud but covered it up.
In a press conference on Monday, Sotto blamed Sen. Francis 'Kiko' Pangilinan, who was part of the National Board of Canvassers, for refusing to heed his request that election returns (ERs) from some provinces where cheating was believed to have occurred be opened.
Sotto was the campaign manager of the late Fernando Poe Jr., who ran for president against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2004.
During the canvassing, Pangilinan only repeatedly said, "Noted" to requests from Poe's camp regarding the ERs.
Sotto also mentioned former House Speaker Jose de Venecia, former Deputy House Speaker Raul Gonzalez, and certain businessmen who allegedly influenced canvassers not to open the election returns.
Sotto told reporters that had the ERs been opened, "We would have known if they were right or we were right. We would have known if there was fraud committed."
"Gano'n kasimple 'yon," he added. "Hindi dapat umabot dito kung pinagbigyan nila kami."
Sotto said lawmakers who were part of the canvassing board must be made to answer in the joint probe of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Department of Justice into election fraud.
"Dapat managot lahat. This investigation should continue and should be consistent, at tapusin natin ito," he said.
Sotto said the investigation can proceed even without the cooperation of former Comelec commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, who in a press conference last Saturday denied having a hand in election fraud and said he won't testify in any investigation on it.
Sotto also said Pangilinan, who recently came out with a statement condemning the alleged election fraud, was only washing his hands of the issue.
He reiterated that the National Board of Canvassers then had the power to open the contested ERs, contrary to Pangilinan's claim that only the Presidential Electoral Tribunal may do so.
Sotto said Pangilinan and others involved in the canvassing should just shut up.
"Siguro mas mabuting tumahinik na lang ang lahat at hayaan na lang itong imbestigasyon, at huwag na sanang pumapel," he said.
Asked if the controversy would affect his personal relationship with Pangilinan and his wife, Sharon Cuneta, who is his niece, Sotto replied, "I would like to think that politics has nothing to do with family relationships."
Kiko: No fraud witnesses in 2004
For his part, Pangilinan said he had no part in any cover-up of electoral fraud but merely decided on the Poe camp's complaints based on the available evidence.
"Wala tayong kinalaman sa pandaraya...We decided on the basis of the evidence available then and the arguments. Wala pa yung 'Hello, Garci' at Lintang Bedol in 2004. I think [Bedol] was in Sultan Kudarat then. If it had come out then, then we would have acted accordingly," he told ANC's Dateline Philippines.
He said that on record, the Poe camp questioned 144 of the 177 certificates of canvass, or 80% of the election returns for a total of some 25 million votes.
He said Sotto and other Poe supporters wanted to take legal shortcuts and turn the national canvassing board into an electoral tribunal.
“We merely canvass the votes. It is the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, not the canvassing board, that hears and decides cases of election fraud," he said.
Pangilinan said the entire Congress affirmed the national canvassing board's findings of the 2004 election.
He said the Liberal Party would later call for Arroyo's resignation after the "Hello, Garci" scandal and other evidence of poll fraud came out.
Pangilinan said Sotto "developed amnesia" and joined the Arroyo's administration Team Unity in the 2007 senatorial election.
“Dapat sagutin niya ang tanong, ‘Ano ang nangyari sa kanyang paninindigan sa laban sa pandaraya ni GMA dahil bumaligtad siya at sumirko papunta kay GMA noong 2007. Una niyang akusahan ito ng pandaraya noong 2004. I, on the other hand, out of principle, refused to accept both the administration and opposition offers to be part of their tickets, and instead ran as an independent in 2007 and won.”
He added: “The public should be reminded that he has no moral ascendancy to comment on the issue of fraud for the simple reason that he flip-flopped on the issue and embraced the cheater in the end. Yes, by all means let’s call a spade a spade. He who lives in a glass house should not throw stones.” -- with a report from David Dizon, abs-cbnNEWS.com