2 Arroyo pilots could testify in poll fraud probe

By Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 12 2011 04:13 PM | Updated as of Aug 13 2011 08:36 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Two pilots who brought former First Gentleman Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo to Mindanao via helicopter during and after the 2004 polls may have more information that could prove vital to the government's investigation on alleged electoral fraud.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said she is leaving it up to the joint Department of Justice-Commission on Elections poll fraud special investigating committee whether to subpoena pilots Dennis Silvestre and Margarito Labastilla.

"Curious tayo, baka mayroon pang ibang alam yung mga piloto, so we want to know exactly kung sino yung mga naging pasahero at ano mga circumstances ng pagpunta nila sa mga lugar na yun... before, during or after the elections lalo na siguro noong nag-ca-canvassing," de Lima said.

"May mga sinabi sila (Silvestre and Labastilla) although hindi pa klarado, hindi pa kumpleto, [which] would make us curious. I think the fact-finding team would know what to do kung ipapatawag ba talaga sila," she added.

Speaking before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing Thursday, Silvestre and Labastilla said they brought Arroyo to several parts of Mindanao during the 2004 elections including Tawi-Tawi, Marawi, General Santos City, Davao City, Cagayan de Oro City, and Bukidnon.

Senators are investigating whether the pilots used 2 helicopters which businessman Archibald Po says were owned by Mr. Arroyo but were sold as brand new to the Philippine National Police (PNP) in 2009.

During the hearing, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada noted the pilots may have unwittingly played a part in poll fraud in 2004. He made reference to boxes of cash, which Mr. Arroyo alleged used to bribe military and poll officers in Mindanao to ensure his wife's victory in the election.

"Kayo ay inutusan lang ng mga nakakataas sa inyo. Kayo ay naging parte rin, nag-participate rin kayo sa dayaan nung nakaraang eleksyon,” Estrada said.

Senators also noted that the flight manifests did not say if Mr. Arroyo had companions during his trips to Mindanao.

The joint department order officially constituting the DOJ-COMELEC special investigating committee tasked to probe alleged massive cheating in the 2004 presidential and 2007 senatorial elections has yet to be inked even as its composition had already been announced: DOJ Prosecutor General Claro Arellano, chairman; and Laguna provincial prosecutor George Dee (DOJ), Pasig City prosecutor Jacinto Ang (DOJ), Atty. Ferdinand Rafanan (COMELEC Law Department director) and Atty. Michael Villaret (COMELEC), members.

Once the joint department order is out, the fact-finding aspect of the committee' mandate shall immediately begin.

The preliminary investigation phase will begin once the rules of procedure for the conduct of the preliminary investigation are in.

The committee's mandate is for both fact-finding and preliminary investigation so that the exercise will end up in the filing of charges against those who should be held responsible for the alleged poll fraud once probable cause is determined against them.