[PHOTO AT LEFT - EVIDENCE? Superintendent Wilben Mayor, CIDG chief for Metro Manila, shows some election returns from the May 2004 elections seized from an opposition safehouse in San Mateo, Rizal before dawn yesterday. - Photo by Ber Bayot]

MANILA, August 18, 2005 (STAR) By Non Alquitran - Police and military agents seized yesterday several boxes of May 2004 election returns in a house allegedly rented by a former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) handwriting expert in San Mateo, Rizal.

Joint elements of the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) also seized several firearms from the house reportedly rented by Segundo Tabayoyong, a handwriting specialist of opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

Rizal police director Senior Superintendent Freddie Panen said Tabayoyong was not around when the lawmen swooped down on the residence at Glope Ville Subdivision in Barangay Sto. Niño at around 2 a.m. yesterday.

Aside from the election paraphernalia and high-powered firearms, lawmen also seized campaign materials of several presidential and senatorial candidates, particularly from the opposition including those of Lacson.

The raid was originally meant as an anti-terrorism operation, an ISAFP insider said.

The seizure of the 40 boxes of election returns (ERs) prompted authorities to suspect they might have uncovered an opposition "safehouse" where evidence is being manufactured to be used in the impeachment complaint against President Arroyo in Congress.

Officials of the Commission on Election (Comelec) led by Southern Tagalog regional director Juanito Icaro confirmed the seized election materials were "authentic."

Lacson, for his part, admitted Tabayoyong was working for the political opposition.

He said Tabayoyong was hired to analyze the 30,000 election returns used during last year’s elections, which he claimed were "pre-fabricated" to secure the victory of Mrs. Arroyo.

Lacson told a news conference that authorities simply uncovered evidence of an entire operation by the administration to rig the May 10, 2004 elections using the 30,000 ERs. He said the cheating operation was done at the former Horizon Hotel (now Byron Hotel) in Mandaluyong City as early as March 2004.

"The (seized election) documents that they confiscated are evidence to show proof that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo indeed cheated in the last elections," Lacson said.

The former national police chief claimed the ERs were by signed no more than seven "golden arms," faking the signatures of the public school teachers in all of the provinces of Bohol, Cebu and Pampanga, among other areas, where the election documents were used.

He said the CIDG and the ISAFP should submit the seized election documents before Congress to be used in the impeachment complaint against Mrs. Arroyo.

Malacañang, for its part, was quick to wash its hands of the San Mateo raid.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said it would be up to the police and military to explain why the raid was carried out.

Likewise, election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, the spokesman for Mrs. Arroyo in the impeachment case, said the opposition’s move to present the seized election documents before the House of Representatives cannot prosper.

Macalintal claimed the House would be the wrong venue to present the evidence. He said only the Comelec could determine the authenticity of the seized election returns.

Macalintal also said the opposition could not pin down the President or the authorities on such seized election return, saying that under the law, "whoever got the fake goods would be presumed their owner." A Great Raid? Police said Tabayoyong’s landlord Carmela Cabuhat had filed a report alleging her neighbors saw several unidentified men entering the house in the past week while she was abroad.

CIDG National Capital Region director Senior Superintendent Asher Dolina said Cabuhat sought police assistance after seeing several election returns and other campaign material in one of the rooms being rented by Tabayoyong upon her return from abroad.

Cabuhat claimed she had been away for sometime when her housemaid allowed Tabayoyong to rent the house.

Cabuhat claimed she became suspicious of the activities of Tabayoyong when she saw the election documents stashed inside the room, adding the tenant seldom came home and kept the premises constantly locked.

Cabuhat had asked the CIDG to check it out with policemen led by Superintendent Wilben Mayor, Dolina said.

Mayor, for his part, claimed they had checked out the place with the assistance of barangay officials and Cabuhat.

Police sources, however, pointed out Mayor and his men lacked the necessary warrant to search the place.

"The provision on the plain view for the warrantless search could not be applied to the CIDG operation (in San Mateo) because (a) different person saw the materials," a ranking police official said.

"What they should have done upon seeing the material was cordoned the area, then applied and secured a search warrant from the court and seize the evidence," the official said.

Opposition lawmakers led by Lacson also questioned the legality of the raid.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, for his part, said the raid was nothing more than a "blatant attempt by the Philippine National Police together with this administration to link Senator Lacson an alleged destabilization plot against this government."

Estrada said the raid was illegal since it was done without a valid search warrant from the courts.

A group called Be Not Afraid (BNA) movement also issued a statement pointing out the raid was conducted without a proper warrant.

"The raid smacks of what appears to be the standard Malacañang tactic of seizing evidence, suppressing the truth, intimidating, and silencing the opposition," BNA president Ramon Pedrosa said.

While criticizing the authorities about the legality of the raid, Lacson welcomed the incident as another item that can be used against Mrs. Arroyo in her impeachment case.

He claimed the opposition have more evidence against Mrs. Arroyo.

"These (seized election returns) are clearly documentary evidence to show there was really cheating and massive cheating at that," he said.

Tabayoyong was the former chief of the NBI Questioned Documents Division.

Lacson had hired the services of Tabayoyong to refute the analysis made by the PNP-Crime Laboratory and support his allegations that First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo opened a bank account under the name Jose Pidal.

Lacson earlier claimed Mr. Arroyo used the Pidal bank accounts to funnel millions of pesos in illegal funds.

Lacson’s allegations came to a dead end after Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio "Iggy" Arroyo surfaced to claim he was Jose Pidal.

The PNP Crime Laboratory later supported Iggy Arroyo’s claims, saying the congressman’s signatures and that of Pidal were basically done by one and the same person. - Cecille Suerte Felipe, Marvin Sy, Aurea Calica, Paolo Romero, Jaime Laude

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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