New witness pins ex-ISAFP chief as brains behind 'Hello, Garci' wiretap

By Lynda Jumilla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 03 2010 10:06 AM | Updated as of Aug 04 2010 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - More than 5 years after the “Hello, Garci” exposé, the scandal that shook the foundations of the Arroyo administration continues to haunt the military institution.

"When the tape came out, we asked the leadership to investigate, at least to investigate. And I think they heeded our call, they investigated. The Mayuga Committee was formed. But then the sad thing about it is they kept the report," said former Marine Col. Ariel Querubin, who was detained for 4 years for trying to reveal the alleged involvement of the military in election cheating in 2004.

The Mayuga report was marked confidential.

Headed by Vice-Admiral Mateo Mayuga, the board cleared 4 retired generals -– Hermogenes Esperon, Gabriel Habacon, Roy Kyamko, and Francisco Gudani -– of alleged involvement in the rigging of the 2004 elections as exposed in the "Garci" recordings. It was silent on other high-ranking officers whose names were also mentioned in the wiretapped conversations of former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and a woman believed to be President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

A new source, also a military man, identified with the Arroyo administration does not believe the findings of the fact-finding board.

"Kataka-taka naman iyon. Sasabihin ko wala akong direct access sa Mayuga report kaso ang mga inilabas nilang resulta ay mukhang hindi credible, hindi kapani-paniwala," the source told ABS-CBN News in an exclusive interview.

In the desperate efforts of the administration to bury the "Hello, Garci" exposé, President Arroyo found herself battered at every turn by protests and questions about her legitimacy.

While fraud in the 2004 presidential election is virtually accepted as fact, 2 key questions remain unanswered: who was behind the "Hello, Garci" wiretapping and what was the motive?

Then Technical Sgt. Vidal Doble, a member of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' (ISAFP) Military Intelligence Group-21 (MIG-21), had claimed that it was their unit that wiretapped and transcribed the phone conversations, which later were labeled as the "Hello, Garci" tapes, which was derived from the name of former Comelec Commissioner and alleged election operator Virgilio Garcillano.

Doble was introduced to the public by former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) director Samuel Ong, who claimed he had in his possession the “mother of all tapes” or the raw copies of the wiretapping recordings.

Ong and Doble took refuge at the San Carlos Seminary in Guadalupe, Makati City after making the claim. Media followed the drama from the start until Doble was supposedly rescued from the seminary by then Bishop (now Archbishop) Socrates Villegas, who was asked by a close aide of President Arroyo, Medy Poblador, to intervene.

Doble theory

The new witness and Doble both claimed that former Rear Admiral Tirso Danga, who was then ISAFP chief, ordered the wiretapping of various personalities during the 2004 presidential elections.

The 2 military men, however, differed in their theory on who really masterminded the wiretapping.
“Ang pagkakaalam ko lang is from Admiral Danga. Siya kasi ‘yong Deputy Chief for Intelligence or J2 ng Armed Forces. Inutusan n’ya ‘yong group commander (MIG-21) namin na si [Lt.] Col. [Pedro] Sumayo. With the knowledge din ng operation intelligence division [chief] that time na si [Lt.] Col. [Allen] Capuyan,” Doble said.

Doble, who turned whistleblower again in 2007 after being supposedly rescued by the military from the San Carlos Seminary, the instructions were to monitor specific target cellular phone numbers. All they did was to listen to cell phone conversations.

“Later on, nalalaman naman kung sino na ‘yong mga target namin. ‘Yong kampo ni FPJ [Fernando Poe Jr.] noong eleksyon. Sina Rex Cortez. Sila Horacio 'Boy' Morales and Magdalo.. and ah.. Gringo Honasan. ‘Yan ang mga napakinggan namin sa tape. Ang pinaka-sensational lang itong kay Garcillano eh. Gawa nga nung pandaraya nila sa eleksyon eh,” Doble said.

He thinks that Garcillano became a target for wiretapping because administration officials were afraid that the Comelec commissioner might double-cross the President.

Doble, however, believes that the wiretapping activity was ordered by Malacañang.

He said he came up with this theory after the former President Arroyo’s aide, former Admiral Leonardo Calderon, convinced him to turn his back on Ong. Doble had admitted receivig P2 million in exchange of taking back his revelations.

“Puwede ring Malacañang in the sense na ‘di naman nila ie-expect na tatawag ‘yong Presidente kay Garcillano para i-ano lang ‘yong… i-manipula ‘yong halalan eh.. Kaya maaaring don ‘yong blunder siguro nila,” Doble said.

At the height of the speculations on who ordered the wiretap, Senator Panfilo Lacson came out with his own theory.

He believes that the presence of former Secretary Michael Defensor in the wiretap recordings is an indication that the covert operations was a result of an infighting between 2 camps within President Arroyo’s circle.

Lacson believed that Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, then defense chief, had knowledge of the wiretapping operations.

Military man’s theory

The new witness told ABS-CBN News that Lacson’s theory is implausible because Danga and Ermita do not have close ties.

He said that Danga is more closely associated with former Speaker Jose de Venecia, who, together with former President Fidel Ramos, rushed to the side of President Arroyo when her Cabinet was decimated by resignations following the “Hello, Garci” scandal.

“Lumabas na nagsuporta siya (Danga) kay De Venecia noon na ginamit niya iyong resources nila sa Navy so kung ikokonek kay Ermita, wala akong nakikitang koneksyon. Walang political relationship kay Ermita,” the witness said.

He is convinced that the wiretapping was a personal initiative of Danga.

“Gawa lang ‘yan ni Admiral Danga. Hindi natutungkol ‘yan para may manalo or kung may… kundi para makilala lang siya or para may magamit lang siyang pampa-pogi points,” the witness added.

He said that the wiretapping initiative could have been borne out of Danga’s ambition to become chief of the Philippine Navy, and then chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The witness added that President Arroyo was just a victim of Danga’s supposed adventurism.

“Sigurado ako na ‘di niya alam kasi kung alam niya ‘yon bakit niya hahayaang kasama siya sa i-wiretap,” the witness said, referring to Mrs. Arroyo.

The witness also said that Danga could have initiated the wiretapping to use it to blackmail President Arroyo.

He also believes that the wiretap recordings came out because of some involved military officials’ failure to account for the funds released to them for the 2004 elections.

The witness urged Danga to come out and once and for all admit his involvement in the wiretapping. He said the former ISAFP chief should also make the supreme sacrifice of allowing himself to be jailed.

“Dapat kayanin niya, kung ang parusa sa wiretapping. Anim na buwan lang naman eh,” he said.

Danga declined requests for interview with ABS-CBN News for his side of the story.

There have been reports that 2 years ago, a group of politicians tried to convince Danga to talk, but the former intelligence chief allegedly refused and instead reported the visit to President Arroyo.

Mrs. Arroyo has taken good care of Danga after his retirement. In December 2009, she appointed him as head of the National Printing Office, but revoked it following strong opposition and criticism.

Last June, Danga was named to the board of the state-led Philippine National Oil Co.-Exploration Corp. (PNOC-EC), as part of a batch of so-called midnight appointments. Danga resigned on June 30 when the President Arroyo’s term ended.