After five sessions, 21 witnesses and more than 20 hours of testimonies, the Citizens Congress for Truth and Accountability adjourned. The historic initiative brought to light the evidences that administration allies sought to keep in the dark with the junking of the impeachment complaint against the president.
By Lisa Ito
After hearing the testimonies of seventeen witnesses and receiving reams of documentary evidence, the Citizens Congress for Truth and Accountability (CCTA) is now entering the phase where the evidence and testimonies presented will be systematically compiled, scrutinized, and evaluated in preparation for a final report of the CCTA findings and recommendations.
While the 15-member Presidium will now be doing its homework, Presidium Chairperson and former Philippine Vice-President Teofisto Guingona said that the CCTA will be “open to the possibility of reconvening the Congress when the time comes.”
“We are going to adjourn without prejudice to developments, such as additional evidence that needs to be strengthened in the pursuit of truth and accountability,” he said.
The CCTA completed its sessions last Nov. 9, 15 and 16 on charges of graft and corruption, electoral fraud, human rights violations, and betrayal of public trust against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. An extended session was held last Wednesday to accommodate additional evidence and witnesses.
Making it to the last CCTA session on Nov. 23 at the De La Salle University in Manila was expert witness and audio recording engineer Jaime Sarthou. He presented his comparative study on the different ‘Hello Garci’ tapes, including Sammy Ong’s “mother of all tapes”, Atty. Alan Paguia’s, Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s, and the two compact discs (CD) presented by Presidential Spokesperson Ignacio Bunye, his “original untampered” CD and the “tampered” one.
Sarthou has worked for 27 years in the recording industry, specializing in functions such as editing, splicing (cutting out selected portions of a recording and putting it together as a continuous piece), mixing, recording and production. He publicly released his findings on the tapes for the first time at the CCTA.
Sarthou downloaded the different “Hello Garci” CDs from websites and procured copies of the other tapes when they were made available to the public. Using a multi-track recording and editing software, Sarthou played all versions on separate tracts and played them all together.
Sarthou notes that Ong’s three-hour “mother of all tapes” and Sen. Lacson’s “authenticated” one “synchronized as if they were one”. The resulting synchronization indicates they were authentic, in the sense that these were not tampered with, Sarthou concludes.
Sarthou, however, believes that the “original” CD presented by Sec. Bunye was tampered. While analyzing the tapes, Sarthou assumed that the ‘original untampered’ CD presented by Bunye would synchronize along with all the other tapes, but instead found jumps and splices “from beginning to end” he said. He concluded that the CD was “semi-fabricated”, using GMA’s wiretapped voice spliced with another voice (for that of “Gari’s”).
“It was very sloppily done,” he noted.
In Atty. Paguia’s tape, Sarthou notes an isolated portion that “jumps” and found out that a portion of “dead air” or silence was spliced to make the presentation of the tape faster. “(But) I conclude that what he did was an honest thing,” he commented.
Sarthou explained how he first became interested in the Garci tapes. “I have an uncle who is a supporter of PGMA (President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo),” he explained, “That time, he asked me, if it was possible for me to investigate the Garci tapes and prove they were fake. I agreed and took the trouble of analyzing the files, but ended up concluding that they were not fake.”
“Tito, I’m sorry, they’re real,” Sarthou ended up saying instead to his uncle.
Garci better not speak
Sarthou emphasized that it was “virtually impossible for the Garci tapes to be manufactured or produced”.
“If they were manufactured, it has to be a “work of a genius”. It would take a lot of money, time, resources, research, a great scriptwriter, etc,” he said.
Sarthou believes that the tapes were indeed wiretapped, with whoever did the wiretapping using a lot of tapes.
“I imagine the [original recordings] run continuously to hundreds of cassette tapes,” he said. “What’s left to us are cassette tapes compiled from the original,” he said.
When asked by the Presidium if he can identify whether Garcillano was the other party PGMA was reportedly talking with on the other end of the line, Sarthou commented, “If (we hear Garcillano speak), we can identify if it’s his voice or not.”
“So he’d better not speak,” Sarthou quipped.
Sarthou was among the audio experts presented by Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Michael Defensor at a press conference last August 12, where sound engineer Jonathan Tiongco was quoted by the media as saying that he noticed splices and anomalies in a copy of the “Garci tape” presented to him.
Sarthou clarified that he did not know anything about a press conference under the DENR, recalling that Tiongco invited him to a meeting that aimed to “submit independent studies and analysis by a group of experts” on the Garci tapes.
Sarthou theorized that the tape presented to Tiongco for examination was not among the ones he analyzed.
“There were obvious splices and words not found in the original tape, [like the part where] GMA was asking if FPJ will win by one million. I never heard that statement in the whole three-hour tape,” he said.
Meanwhile, expert witness on information technology, Manuel Alcuaz, Jr. estimated that there was a probable dagdag-bawas of 598,560 votes for PGMA in the Mindanao provinces.
Alcuaz was the former Chair of the La Salle Graduate School of Business, and is currently the President of his own company Systems Technology Research. His study on electoral fraud focused on provinces in Mindanao because that was where most of the provinces mentioned in the “Hello Garci” Tapes were.
Alcuaz also noted a discrepancy in a paid advertisement signed by “600 Women for GMA” during the past months. The 600 women for GMA claim she lost to FPJ in Mindanao, Alcuaz recounts. While this is corroborated in the NAMFREL count, the final Certificate of Canvas says that GMA won in Mindanao, Alcuaz observed.
Gonzales signed Venable as PGMA’s “alter ego”
Also appearing before the CCTA last November 23 was Jose Anselmo Cadiz, incumbent National President of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.
Cadiz testified to the illegality and unconstitutionality of National Security Adviser (NSA) Norberto Gonzales’ signing of contract with American law firm Venable LLP last July 25.
Under the contract, Venable LLP will be paid $75,000 every month and an advance payment for three months of $225,000 to act as liaison for the Philippine government to the U.S. Congress, provide information on U.S. policies and likely directions of U.S. federal legislations and their impact on the Philippines, and identify strategic planning efforts.
Cadiz scored a particular provision in the Venable contract that assigns it to secure grants and Congressional earmarks for supporting PGMA’s Charter Change initiative.
The provision, he said, is both “illegal and unconstitutional”, in violation of Article 9 section C-5 and the Preamble of the Constitution that states that financial contributions constitute intervention in national affairs and that the State shall pursue an independent foreign policy, respectively.
“U.S. interference in the crafting of the basic law of the land,” he said, is a “definite infringement of national sovereignty” and a “culpable violation of the Constitution”.
“What really is truly objectionable here is the glaring fact that this government will beg money from a foreign government to alter the fundamental law of the land,” he said, “I think that is most reprehensible – begging money to alter the Constitution.”
He argued that Gonzales’ signing of the contract as NSA is tantamount to the Presidential seal of approval, noting that PGMA has not stated “formally or verbally” that Gonzales was unauthorized to sign the contract.
“It is basic in Constitutional law that a Cabinet secretary or member is an alter ego of the President,’ he said.
Cadiz also took the opportunity to underscore the illegality of Executive Order (EO) 464, issued shortly after Gonzales’ appearance at the Senate inquiry on the Venable contract. Under the EO 464, government employees from the executive branch, from the highest down to the lowest ranking member can not testify, unless allowed by the president, at Senate and Congressional investigations.
“We believe the EO 464 was an off-shoot of Mr. Gonzales’ testimony at the Senate,” he added.
Cadiz said that the EO 464 ”violates the oversight function and the power of the purse” among the three and co-equal branches of government, limiting the powers of the Senate and Congress.
“(With the EO 464), you will have a President who will lord it over the nation without any checks and balances,” he said.
‘Palo Massacre’ survivor
While the CCTA session last November 15 specifically presented the charges of nearly five thousand human rights violations against PGMA, more recent killings have prodded organizers to present additional witnesses before the body.
Lawyer Rachel Pastores presented Richard Margallo, a survivor of the November 21 massacre in Brgy. San Agustin, Palo, Leyte and Chairperson of the peasants’ organization San Agustin Farmer Beneficiaries Multipurpose Cooperative, before the CCTA last November 23 to prove “the continuing violation of human rights of ordinary civilians that GMA does in pursuit of counter-insurgency operations”.
Margallo gave an eye-witness account of how military troops opened fire at a congregation of farmers at around 5 a.m. last Nov. 21.
A power point presentation prepared by the national fact finding mission that looked into the Palo massacre was also presented before the body.
Adjourned without prejudice
After hearing the testimonies and the summation of presentations and evidences against Macapagal-Arroyo by the CCTA’s lawyer-presenters, Guingona declared the Citizens’ Congress “adjourned without prejudice” and announced that the congress may be reconvened depending on the developments.
He said that the Presidium would now evaluate and send a copy of the summary of the evidences submitted to the Citizens Congress to Malacañang, in order to give PGMA the chance to express their side on the issues raised against her. Guingona added that the Presidium will continue to finalize their report after the CCTA receives reactions from Malacañang.
“If the Palace (chooses to) disregard it, we will still proceed,” he added.
Guingona said that the CCTA was historically significant as a citizens’ initiative for reform. “This is the first time that, I think, that the nation has witnessed a citizens’ activity of this magnitude, including Malacañang’s tearing of (the CCTA) invitation for them to participate,” Guingona said.
Meanwhile, delegates to the Citizens Congress expressed support for the proceedings.
Former Light Rail Transit (LRT) union President Sammy Malunes, who represented Anakpawis during the CCTA, said that, “despite the non-participation of the administration due to their belief in the CCTA’s supposed “non-legality”, the Citizens’ Congress has manifested the values of transparency and people empowerment”.
“Pinigil ang impeachment process sa legislative area ng isang Kongreso na dominado ng mga alyado ni Gng. Arroyo. Dito, nabibigyang-puwang ang isang Kongreso kung saan makakapagsalita ang mga sektor ng mamamayan,” (The impeachment process was stopped in a Congress dominated by the allies of Mrs. Arroyo. Here is a Congress, which gave the people an opportunity to speak) he said.
Welson Paguyo, representative to the CCTA of the Gloria Step Down Movement chapter in the National Capital Region (GSM-NCR), described the Citizens Congress as a venue that challenges other existing venues for justice and public accountability.
“Eroded ang tiwala ng mamamayan sa ibang supposedly-democratic processes… Natutuwa kami dahil wagas ang intensyon nito na mapapakinggan ang mga gustong marinig na katotohanan ng sambayanan, na taliwas sa gustong mangyari ng gobyernong (Arroyo),” (The trust of the people in other supposedly democratic processes have been eroded… We are glad that the intention of this Congress to listen to the truth as demanded by the people is genuine, contrary to the intentions of the Arroyo government) he said. (Bulatlat.com)