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Grace Poe wants new laws to prevent high-tech ‘Garci’


(Updated 9:45 p.m.) Ten years after her father lost the 2004 presidential elections allegedly because of massive fraud, Senator Grace Poe on Wednesday called for pieces of legislation meant to prevent a repeat of the widespread cheating this time in the country's already automated polls.
 
Poe, in a privilege speech, recalled the Hello Garci controversy and the wiretapped conversations that detailed how her father, then opposition standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr., was allegedly cheated of his votes in the Philippines' last manually conducted elections.
 
"Ten years ago this month, an event changed the face of Philippine politics forever—a scandalous event which exposed the labyrinth of deceit, malfeasance and fraud that plagued the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo," Poe said.

GMA News Online has sought a reaction from Arroyo's camp but has yet to receive any reply.
 
Poe started her speech by playing a portion of the controversial Hello Garci tapes.  
 
The recordings indicated how the former President allegedly instructed then election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano to manipulate the poll results in Mindanao so she could win by a million votes over the actor-turned-presidential candidate.

Poe's father died months later in December 2004.

She called on the public to remain vigilant and prevent another Hello Garci scandal from affecting the electorate's choice.
 
“Many of our colleagues here have worked with FPJ (her father's initials) either in the film industry or during the 2004 campaign. I'm sure they've witnessed his generosity, humility, and genuine spirit. FPJ identified with the poor. He felt their pain,” Poe said.
 
Poe said she has filed Senate Resolution No. 679 to preempt computer-aided, technology-driven electoral offenses by reviewing the country's current automated system.  She also called for a review of the Election Code and related laws.


‘High-tech election fraud’
 
“I submitted a legislation that will address the new dynamics of automated elections and reformulate our outdated laws by creating a new set of penalties for computer-aided, technology-driven election offenses,” Poe said.
 
“We need to prevent ‘high-tech’ election fraud from making a mockery of our electoral system,” she added.
 
Poe also called for amendments to the Anti-Wiretapping Law to include election fraud as one of the instances in which a court could allow a wiretap. 
 
“We need to equip the authorities with the proper tools so they can successfully detect, preempt and prosecute would-be cheaters and unscrupulous defrauders of elections,” Poe said told her colleagues.
 
Philippine courts are now only authorized to issue legal wiretapping orders in cases related to terrorism, espionage and crimes involving national security.
 
No criminal case prospered from the Hello Garci controversy partly because the wiretapped recordings weren't covered by any order from a court. The scandal for years threatened the stability of the Arroyo administration.
 
Poe also proposed to extend the prescriptive period for election offenses from the current five years to 10 years. She said this was to prevent cheaters in the future from evading prosecution while they and their principals were in power.
 
She said such was the case with those who were involved in the Hello Garci scandal.
 
The senator also called for the immediate passage of the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act to encourage witnesses against fraud.
 
“There is a difference between the intention of a patriot and that of a snitch or a weasel.  One is a selfless act to uphold the truth, the other is a selfish one to save his or her own hide.  We need to distinguish and protect a true whistleblower. We need to pass the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act,” Poe said.
 
During the day's plenary session, a black-clad Poe rose for her first privilege speech since her surprise first-place finish in the elections last year.  She criticized what she described as Arroyo's "fake" mandate.
 
In 2005, Arroyo apologized for calling an election official during the counting after May 2004 elections. She, however, did not identify the poll official. 
 
'Great injustice'
 
In her speech, Poe accused Arroyo of committing a "great injsutice" to Filipino voters by being involved in "massive cheating" during the 2004 polls.
 
"Mrs. Arroyo became president through fraudulent means. What she had was merely a mandate manufactured for her by her election operators," the senator said.
 
She also lamented how Arroyo, Garcillano and their other "cohorts" did not get punished for their actions.
 
"Almost all those who were involved in the 'Hello Garci' tapes have not been charged to date, much less a single night in jail. Worse, some of those involved are still in government today," Poe said.
 
Arroyo is currently facing an electoral sabotage case for her supposed hand in the alleged rigging of the 2007 senatorial polls. She has pleaded not guilty to this case and has since been granted bail.
 
At present, Mrs. Arroyo is on hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City over a separate plunder case involving the alleged misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds. —KBK/RSJ/NB, GMA News
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