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Former Official Denies Philippine President Tried to Influence 2004 Vote


A former Philippine election official at the center of vote-rigging charges against President Gloria Arroyo has denied that she conspired with him to win the 2004 presidential election. Virgilio Garcillano underwent sharp questioning before Congress after emerging from months in hiding.

Former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano made headlines last June, when tapes were released of what the opposition says were conversations between him and President Arroyo during the 2004 vote count. He went into hiding at the time, and only recently emerged to tell his story to lawmakers.

In his Congressional testimony, Mr. Garcillano refused to confirm that his is the voice on the recordings. But he admitted he spoke with the president after the May polls, and said she asked why her lead had dropped from one million votes to about 892,000. The discrepancy cropped up between the initial precinct-level voting reports and the official provincial-level vote tally.

The opposition charged that Mrs. Arroyo's call was an attempt to influence the vote count. Mr. Garcillano said there was nothing irregular about the request, because candidates frequently make such inquiries. He named dozens of other government and opposition candidates who had asked about results or procedures.

"There is nothing wrong with any one of you, or any government official, to call up any official of the [election] commission, as long as they will not demand doing something which is irregular," said Virgilio Garcillano.

Congress months ago summoned Mr. Garcillano to testify on the alleged cheating, but he disappeared. He emerged Sunday on Mindanao Island with a heavy bodyguard, and flew to Manila to testify.

President Arroyo has admitted to a lapse in judgment in talking with an election official before the vote count was complete, but said she did nothing illegal. The incident prompted the worst political crisis of her administration, and led to an impeachment drive in Congress and popular demonstrations calling for her to resign. Some of her former allies were among those demanding that she step down.

Her supporters in Congress defeated the impeachment motion in September, but she has suffered low approval ratings in the polls ever since.

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