Two panels to probe 2004, 2007 poll fraud

By Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 15 2011 04:06 PM | Updated as of Aug 16 2011 12:06 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Not one but two panels from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Commission on Elections (Comelec) will work in tandem to investigate alleged massive cheating in the 2004 presidential and 2007 senatorial elections.

In a 5-page joint order dated August 15, 2011 signed by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes, the DOJ and the Comelec created a joint Preliminary Investigation Committee and a joint Fact-finding Team.

The joint Preliminary Investigation Committee, composed of its chairman Prosecutor General Claro Arellano (DOJ) and members: Provincial Prosecutor George Dee (DOJ), City Prosecutor Jacinto Ang (DOJ), Atty. Ferdinand Rafanan (Comelec) and Atty. Michael Villaret (Comelec, "shall conduct the necessary preliminary investigation on the basis of the evidence gathered and the charges recommended by the Fact-finding Team."

"Resolutions finding probable cause for election offenses, defined and penalized under the Omnibus Election Code, and other election laws shall be approved by the Comelec in accordance with the Comelec Rules of Procedure. For other offenses, or those not covered by [the] Omnibus Election Code and other election laws, the corresponding criminal information may be filed directly with the appropriate courts," the joint order read.

The Fact-finding Team, which will be composed of a DOJ Assistant Secretary as chairman, and shall have 2 members each from the National Bureau of Investigation(NBI), DOJ and the Comelec, shall have the following functions as stated in the joint order:

a. Gather and document reports, intelligence information, and investigative leads from official as well as unofficial sources and informants;
b. Conduct interviews, record testimonies, take affidavits of witnesses, and collate material and relevant documentary evidence, such as, but not limited to, election documents used in the 2004 and 2007 national elections. For security reasons, or to protest the identities of informants, the Fact-finding Team may conduct interviews or document testimonies discreetly;
c. Assess and evaluate affidavits already executed and other documentary evidence submitted or may be submitted to the Fact-finding Team and/or the Committee;
d. Identify the offenders, their offenses and the manner of their commission, individually or in conspiracy, and the provisions of election and general criminal laws violated, establish evidence for individual criminal and administrative liability and prosecution, and prepare the necessary documentation such as complaints and charge sheets for the initiation of preliminary investigation proceedings against said individuals to be conducted by the Committee;
e. Regularly submit to the Committee, the Secretary of Justice and the Chairman of the COMELEC periodic reports and recommendations, supported by real, testimonial and documentary evidence, which may then serve as the Committee's basis for immediately commencing appropriate preliminary investigation proceedings;
f. Upon the termination of its investigation, make a full and final report to the Committee, the Secretary of Justice, and the Chairman of the COMELEC.

"The Fact-finding Team shall be under the supervision of the Secretary of Justice and the Chairman of the Comelec or, in the latter's absence, a Senior Commissioner of the Comelec," the joint order read.

The joint DOJ-Comelec poll fraud probe is pursuant to Executive Order No. 292(Revised Administrative Code of 1987) and Republic Act No. 10071(Prosecution Service Act of 2010) which authorize the DOJ "to administer the criminal justice system" as well as Article IX-C of the 1987 Constitution which authorizes the poll body "to investigate and prosecute cases of violations of election laws, including acts or omissions constituting election frauds and offenses."

The joint order also invokes Batas Pambansa Bilang 881(Omnibus Election Code) which authorizes the Comelec, with the assistance of the DOJ, "to conduct preliminary investigation of all election offenses and to prosecute the same."

The joint order directs the Preliminary Investigation Committee to meet within 48 hours from the issuance of the order to craft its rules of procedure and submit said rules within 5 days from the initial meeting to the Secretary of Justice and the Comelec En Banc for approval.

The fact-finding team is given 45 days from its constitution to complete its mandate and is directed to submit a final report to the Secretary of Justice, the chairman of the Comelec, and the chairman of the Preliminary Investigation Committee.

The Preliminary Investigation Committee, may, however, begin its work even without waiting for the fact-finding team's final report.

In an interview this morning, De Lima bared affidavits submitted by the group of former Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF) National Capital Region (NCR) Intelligence Division chief Senior Superintendent Rafael Santiago, Jr. may be enough to warrant the start of the preliminary investigation.

Santiago, Police Officer (PO)2 Rudy Gahar, PO2 Alan Layugan, PO2 Trifon Laxamana Jr., PO2 Rodel Tabangin and PO1 Norman Duco executed affidavits detailing their knowledge and participation in 4 alleged election return (ER)-switching operations at the Batasan Pambansa between January and February 2005.

The operations, described by Santiago's group as a cover-up of alleged massive election fraud in the 2004 presidential elections, were allegedly aimed at maintaining former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's lead over her closest rival, Fernando Poe Jr.

The joint order said only the Secretary of Justice and Comelec Chairman are authorized to speak on behalf of the 2 panels until such time that an official spokesperson is designated.

The funding for the investigation shall come from DOJ and COMELEC funds, or, as may be requested from the Office of the President (OP).