Finally, Garci’s ‘Hello’

(Shot by Marco Gutierrez, ABS-CBN News)

BAUNGON, BUKIDNON–Ryan Chua and I were just out of high school when we first heard “Hello Garci.”

It was a looming question to the legitimacy of then Pres. Gloria Arroyo’s 2004 win, and we saw journalists take pains to get it out and officials take pains to discredit it.

We now remember just the soundbites: the greeting turned into a myriad ringtones and the line “Will I still lead by one million?”

The controversy signaled a loss of trust in the administration. Back in college, it meant incessant rallies and suspicions of government moves to quash opposition and stay in power.

Arroyo nonetheless finished her six years, not without making a televised apology for “talking to a Comelec official”.

Meanwhile, we barely heard from Commissioner Virgilio “Garci” Garcillano since.

Ryan and I had already graduated to the media and covered our first elections. Ryan broke news from the Comelec during Halalan 2010, while I was sent to top election hot spot Maguindanao.

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

This weekend, Garci invited our team and a score of other media people here, an hour’s drive south of Cagayan De Oro.

What he had to say, we did not know.

He was the missing piece of the puzzle that had emerged in 3 weeks, after primary names like Ampatuan and Bedol bared tales that confirmed cheating in previous elections.

That week in Manila, Justice Secretary Leila De Lima presented to the press policemen who claimed they helped switched election returns in 2004 favoring Arroyo.

As it happened, the former President, now congresswoman, was undergoing a delicate neck surgery.

But despite the best we could speculate how Garci would add himself to the succession of revelations, CDO-based reporters told us he might just stick with his earlier denials and prove a dead end.

Click the pic to watch Ryan's TV Patrol report. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

The peach-and-red subdivision-type two-story house was just one of Garci’s many residences in the area.

This house was nestled among corn fields a kilometer from the main road of Baungon’s central barangay Imbatug, a turn past the municipal hall and local arena.

Tended greenery and fruit trees welcomed those who entered the gated residence. A Toyota HiLux, a Mitsubishi Pajero, and a Ford Everest, all gray, were parked at the garage.

A perky Golden Retriever paced around his cage nearby, greeting visitors.

At the back, roosters bred for cock fights inhabited coops sun-blocked by tarpaulins from Garci’s failed 2007 run for Congress.

(Shots by Anjo Bagaoisan)

The commissioner had lived quietly below the national radar. Looking every much as we last saw him on TV, he looked healthy.

But Garci insisted he did not hide.

“If you don’t see me, should I be obligated if I don’t want to be interviewed?” he told us who greeted him when he arrived.

Garci had refused to grant interviews, even constantly turned down the crew of GMA 7’s Ruth Cabal who had come and gone all week.

He was surprised at his name cropping up again in the news. But he told his lawyer, Ed Tamondong, “I will say my piece at the proper time.”

Baungon’s famous resident remains a main name in his town.

A teenager who turned out to be a godson of Garci’s led us here. The kid’s family had him ride with us when we asked them for directions.

Garci had no children, but he is called “Tatay” here.

A local reporter said Garci was known for his generosity especially during his stint in the Comelec. Garci regularized deserving employees under him and his home was open to any kababayan in need.

So when the “Hello Garci” scandal broke out, many residents would not believe it, the reporter recalled.

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

No wonder Garci confidently said in the press con set in his living room, “Go to the field. You can ask those who personally know me if I made any order to cheat.”

Reading his statement from a legal pad, Garci denied sending feelers to Malacañang to come clean about the alleged cheating in 2004. Instead, he said, emissaries had badgered him.

“If they want me to tell what they would like me to tell, now that’s a different story,” he said.

“But as far as the truth is concerned, ako nakapagsabi na ng totoo. Wala akong ginawang cheating.

He only answered questions he wanted to answer. He dismissed others, saying:

“Your question’s wrong.”

“I already answered that before.”

“Go to the records. They hold more information.”

“Please do not ask questions that would just lead me on.”

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

He detailed a conversation he had with President Arroyo, but later on declined to say if he did talk to her. He said the “Hello Garci” tape was spliced, but when pressed if it was his voice in it, he would not bite.

Garci quickly denied that any offer was made after he mentioned how the emissary from the Palace commented that he wouldn’t accept money even if it was being offered.

He became exasperated when the Manila-based reporters took turns to clarify his words on the Garci tape and on the alleged cheating.

“You’re acting like a lawyer,” he told persistent Ruth Cabal.

“Cheating is always a possibility in this country,” he answered Ryan. “But who in fact cheats, we can never say. One person cannot cheat alone.”

“I appeal to those in government to let this country move on.”

“Have you moved on?” Ryan later asked.

“I am doing my thing here in my farm,” Garci said. He groused. “Ask something which is for the good of everybody.”

(Shot by Marco Gutierrez)

“Tell the truth,” he constantly appealed to the reporters. He said he was willing to help in reforming elections and educating voters.

“Help me bring across the message that I am not against this government,” he said.

He added that it has been difficult dealing with public perception.

“I was hurt a lot. That actually destroyed my career.”

Media men who arrived late soon mobbed Garci with belated questions. After reluctantly repeating what he kept saying for 45 minutes, he rose up and walked to the dining area, where his family waited.

Garci’s first “Hello” in 3 years, carried live on the news channels, was far from a mere “Hello, kumusta kayong lahat?

But whoever hoped this last puzzle piece would finally spill the beans or at least shed light on the unresolved was left disappointed.

Hello. (Shot by Marco Gutierrez)

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8 comments on “Finally, Garci’s ‘Hello’

  1. Garciliano is the most notorious person the Phil had ever had. Buhay pa siya pero naghihintay na si satanas sa kanya. Liar, liar liar pareho kayo ng amo mong si pandak

  2. I actually don’t remember him running for Congress.

    Alam mo, wala lang. Parang wala naman siyang sinabing hindi pa alam ng publiko e. at saka ang hirap mag-move on kasi national issue ito. idadagdag pa ba natin sa world’s unanswered questions? Hay.

    • True. That’s why it turned against the expectation many had about his press con.

      Some who watched this came out a little more convinced that Garci was hiding something. Some I talked to say that he is personable in reality and has just fallen victim to bad publicity.

      It seems moving on has become an option for many tried in the realm of public opinion. The day after Garci talked, Randy David did an interesting piece on “Moving on”:

      http://opinion.inquirer.net/8981/moving-on-the-cult-of-forgetfulness

  3. Hi Kuya Anjo! Mark Madrona here, ex classmate in UP. I hope you still know who I am. I still remember our chitchats in the campus not-so-long ago. We’re contacts din naman dati sa Multiply. Haha.

    Pareho pala tayong hooked sa world events at a young age. Suddenly, I don’t feel that weird knowing the names of all those foreign leaders. I used to be a current events contestant kasi dati when I was in high school.

    Btw, visit my blog naman, and tell me what you think. 🙂

    http://rightonthemark.wordpress.com/

    • Hey Mark! Of course I remember you! Wow, you’ve been consistent with your blog posts, panalo! I’ll be adding you to my blog roll and reader. Plus it’s great that you have some great bloggers backing you up!

      It’s something I’ve had a hard time doing regularly here, what with lack of time due to work or lack of relevant subject matter. Largely with the nature of this blog, I have held back on commenting on every issue, also since my blog is also posted on ABS-CBNnews.com. So medyo hinay.

      Mark, thanks so much for reading and commenting! How were you led here btw?

  4. Hi! Salamat po for including me in your blogroll. 🙂
    I found your blog by googling Bedol’s incredibly funny hirit “Hello, kumusta kayo lahat.” Natatawa kasi ako whenever I remember him say that. Then, I saw a blog titled “PinoyJourn” which was very familiar to me. So yun. Ikaw nga!

    Actually, this year lang ako nagsimula mag-blog uli regularly. Naging trigger ang pagkamatay ni Mam Simbulan.

  5. Pingback: Remembrance: A year back at the massacre site « PinoyJourn: Stories behind the Stories

  6. Pingback: PinoyJourn’s 2011: The top posts | PinoyJourn: Stories behind the Stories

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