, August 3, 2005
(STAR) By Aurea Calica - Rejecting opposition accusations of electoral fraud, President Arroyo lamented that she is being victimized by black propaganda even though other "upright" politicians had also reportedly phoned election officials during the May 2004 vote count to protect their votes. She did not name names.

Keeping up her media offensive following several weeks of silence over the accusations, Mrs. Arroyo complained that she was being unfairly accused without regard for her rights and tried in the court of public opinion.

"Indeed, what I can say is: let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Let those who never called up or got in touch with the (Commission on Elections) cast the first stone," Mrs. Arroyo said in an interview with broadcaster Korina Sanchez aired on ABS-CBN News Channel Monday night.

"My rights have been so violated… in all of this trial by publicity. In all this, you know, quadruple hearsays being headlined and with all of the witnesses who, you know, give affidavits for a song, and witnesses who make claims. And there’s no way to impugn their credibility," the President said.

Mrs. Arroyo challenged accusers to prove their allegations in court instead of going before the media.

"I have been so victimized... My legal counsel said I really have to attend to my rights as an accused. And the fact that you know this victimization is happening in the trial by publicity and black propaganda, these are symptoms of how our political system has deteriorated over the years," she said.

Citing advice from her lawyers, Mrs. Arroyo did not touch on the specific charges contained in the impeachment complaint against her in the House of Representatives but insisted she did not rig last year’s presidential elections.

Although admitting in a dramatic televised address that she had committed an impropriety by phoning an election official during last year’s vote count, Mrs. Arroyo maintained that no law had been broken.

It is believed that Mrs. Arroyo spoke with former Comelec commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, who has gone into hiding since the controversy erupted early last June.

"I should protect myself because at this point in time... everybody is violating my rights... The fact is that I did not commit any culpable violation of the Constitution. I did not violate any law. But of course, a president is expected to behave in a more appropriate manner than other candidates. So it is that lapse that I apologized for. But I won the elections," she said.

"If you remember, when Garcillano made his statement, he talked about so many people who called him up, and a lot of them are very upright, very upright politicians."

She also complained that some media organizations had been giving more attention to the political crisis instead of her administration’s economic reforms and other achievements, and warned that the political bickering could later hurt the country’s economic recovery efforts.

"That’s the one people are paying attention to. They pay very little conscious attention to the objectively good things happening to the economy and so much on the negative things happening on the political side."

Last Monday, a former aide of former Arroyo political adviser Joey Rufino came forward with allegations that he had personal knowledge of Mrs. Arroyo cheating her way to victory in the 2004 election, saying he witnessed election officials being given payoffs in her house in Quezon City.

Michaelangelo Zuce, who worked at the Presidential Liaison Office for Political Affairs, told a news conference that he also paid bribes to Mindanao election officials with money from his office to ensure Mrs. Arroyo’s election victory.

Zuce alleged that Arroyo friend Lilia Pineda, the mayor of Lubao, Pampanga, and wife of suspected illegal gambling baron Rodolfo Pineda, distributed P30,000 to each of the election officials gathered at Mrs. Arroyo’s house in early 2004.

He said that during the meeting, Mrs. Arroyo solicited the officials’ help in the election.

Zuce claimed that the meeting, as well as the bribe offer, was conducted in coordination with Garcillano, then the election chief of Northern Mindanao region.

Without naming Zuce, Mrs. Arroyo claimed her accusers were being paid by the opposition to lodge unsubstantiated allegations.

Malacañang officials quickly dismissed Zuce’s accusations. Political adviser Gabriel Claudio called his statements "fantastic and incredible."

Rufino said he was "shocked and very much saddened by the wild accusations" because it was "preposterous for staff at his (Zuce’s) level to have the responsibilities he describes and to have talked to personalities he claims to have talked to."

He also denied that he and his office had been used to rig last year’s poll results.

Without directly accusing Zuce of having ill motives, Rufino added that the former Malacañang staffer had "asked for finances which he said he needed for his upkeep and to salvage his failed business in Mindanao."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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