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There Was Hello Garci Before Trump Asked to 'Find' His Votes

When presidents call election officials.
by Joel Guinto
Jan 4, 2021
Photo/s: NOEL CELIS / AFP
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His political career, and the movement he started at stake, U.S. President Donald Trump was caught on tape asking a state election official to "find" his votes. It's a familiar scene for Filipinos who witnessed the political upheaval caused by then President Gloria Arroyo's phone call to a Comelec officer in 2004.

The Trump tape was released by U.S. media just weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes over from the Republican incumbent, who stayed for a single four-year term at the White House.

In Arroyo's case, the purported wiretapped "Hello Garci" tapes were leaked in 2005, a year after she beat movie legend Fernando Poe Jr. The acknowledged King of Philippine movies died in December 2004 and his election protest against Arroyo was never resolved.

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What is Hello Garci?

Arroyo served out the unfinished term of deposed President Joseph Estrada, under whom she served as vice president. When she announced her candidacy in late 2003, she had served as president for over two years.

In Poe, Arroyo found a formidable foe. FPJ, as he was known to the masses, was beloved on the same level as Estrada and was seen as a "clean" candidate, with not a whiff of wrongdoing. While she was not attacked directly, critics pounded on her husband, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.

Poe led Arroyo in pre-election surveys until the home stretch of the 2004 presidential campaign, when the incumbent overtook the movie idol.

FILE PHOTO: President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo shakes hands with movie king Fernando Poe, Jr. during a photo call by movie industry leaders at the presidential palace in Manila, Sept. 19, 2002. Joel Nito, Agence France-Presse
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It was under this context that Hello Garci happened. Arroyo said she phoned an election official, whom she did not name, because she was "anxious" to protect her votes.

Arroyo did not acknowledge that the official was then Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, who was later called to numerous investigations on alleged poll fraud.

In the wiretapped phone calls, a woman who sounded like Arroyo, talked to a person whom she called Garci (Garcillano's nickname) about her lead in the counting, asking if she would "still lead" by one million.

Arroyo apologized on national television for what she called a "lapse in judgment." The Hello Garci controversy led to the resignation of 10 of her Cabinet members. It also led to much restiveness within the military and she stared down two successive uprisings in 2006 and 2007.

She stayed in power until the end of her term in 2010, in the process appointing her most loyal generals to top cabinet posts.

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Arroyo was imprisoned in 2012 on electoral sabotage and plunder charges but was acquitted four years later. She served the maximum nine years as Pampanga congresswoman, the last year of which she was Speaker of the House of Representatives.

What happened to Garcillano? He faced several investigations but could no longer be prosecuted since the five-year window allowed under law to file cases expired in 2014.

The Philippines also moved to fraud-proof elections through automated counting in 2010. Overnight, the results were known compared to weeks, even months before.

What is in the Trump tape?

In the conversation with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Saturday, a recording of which was first obtained by The Washington Post, Trump warns Raffensperger that he and his general counsel could face "a big risk" if they failed to pursue his request.

"The people of Georgia are angry, the people in the country are angry," Trump is heard saying on the tape, which was also aired by other media. 

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ON TRUMP AND THE US ELECTIONS:

Trump Says Biden Won Elections, Claims Vote Was Rigged

Why Can't Trump Accept His Defeat to Biden?

"And there's nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you've recalculated," the president says. "You're off by hundreds of thousands of votes."

In the conversation with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Saturday, a recording of which was first obtained by The Washington Post, Trump warns Raffensperger that he and his general counsel could face "a big risk" if they failed to pursue his request.

"The people of Georgia are angry, the people in the country are angry," Trump is heard saying on the tape, which was also aired by other media. 

MORE ON TRUMP:

Trump Says Biden Won Elections, Claims Vote Was Rigged

Why Can't Trump Accept His Defeat to Biden?

"And there's nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you've recalculated," the president says. "You're off by hundreds of thousands of votes."

Continue reading below ↓

Raffensperger is heard responding: "Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong."

Biden won the traditionally conservative state by fewer than 12,000 votes -- a margin unchanged after recounts and audits. 

Even a hypothetical reversal there would not be enough to deprive Biden of victory.

Some political commentators compared the call to the Watergate tapes that led to the fall of past U.S. president Richard Nixon. 

Carl Bernstein, one of the reporters who helped bring down Nixon's presidency, called it "the ultimate smoking gun tape."

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