This piece was first published on http://globalnation.inquirer.net/8383/inside-the-saf-ballot-switching-raid on August 6, 2011.
“After the composition of the group, its members went to the task of team building, physical conditioning, equipage and proper motivation.” – Inquirer.net
SAN FRANCISCO–So you think the clandestine caper that switched election returns in favor of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was a cinch to pull off? Think again.
Sure, you say it’s just same-old-same-old election cheating, but as a Philippine Daily Inquirer report hinted, the top-secret ballot-switching job at the House of Representatives required military preparation of the highest order, one worthy of any British SAS or US Navy Seals black-ops.
I know. One of the remorseful raiders, PO2 Bindar Dandat of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force, is hiding out in this city and revealed the inside-the-inside story to yours truly.
The details of the operation are far more riveting than the published reports, with tension rivaling the heart-thumping suspense of the US Navy Seals raid that bagged Osama bin Laden.
What’s publicly known is that secret team of 15 SAF commandos and their 10-member civilian backup stole original election returns kept in legislative building and replaced them with pre-filled fake ones. Their order from superiors: make sure former President Macapagal-Arroyo would still win the 2004 presidential election in case of a recount. We also know that they encountered no resistance while stealthily penetrating the Batasang Pambansa complex on four separate nights in January and February.
Now, here’s the blow-by-blow account the public doesn’t know yet:
“From Zambales, we flew in two used helicopters camouflaged as brand new,” Dandat narrated. “They were previously owned by the First Gentleman Miguel Arroyo.”
The copters secretly landed in the unfinished PIATCO-built NAIA3 terminal, which was overgrown with graft. A conglomerate of jueteng lords hosted a sumptuous dinner as a morale booster for the team.
Then, perked up by cups of overpriced PAGCOR coffee, the raiders boarded vehicles disguised as ZTE-NBN Broadband maintenance vans.
With only their parking lights on, the vans proceeded on a road built by the politically-connected dummy E.C. de Luna Construction Corp., which was permanently barred by the World Bank from bidding on future projects, on suspicion of “collusive practices.”
After a bumpy ride on the cheaply built road, the team arrived at their target. Once inside the Batasan complex, the commandos reviewed passwords. To the challenge “Hello, Garci” the designated reply was “Many happy returns.”
With faces blackened and palms properly greased (“Ten thousand pesos worth of grease each, paid by a certain Jose Pidal”) the commandos swung into action. They silently sprinted to the offices of the House of Representatives, sneaking behind the numerous pork barrels in the hallways.
“Go, go, go! Our superintendent-squad leader whispered,” said Dandat. “We moved quickly, hiding beneath the shadow of a doubt.”
They encountered sleeping dogs by the door of the storage room, “but following orders, we let them lie.” Acting with drilled precision, they quickly replaced boxfuls of officially filed election returns with fake filings. This was the heart of the mission.
“We were expertly trained to distinguish between enemy file and friendly file,” Dandat says, betraying a hint of pride. “We were also trained to file from the hip if necessary, and how to dodge a hail of real ballots.”
And this is what the public doesn’t realize and was only alluded to by an Inquirer report–the raiders underwent exhaustive and demanding special operations training, suited to the specific mission, months before the actual operation.
Their “equipage” alone shows this was a high-caliber political intelligence unit designed for black-ops. Team members were armed to the teeth: “We had full packs of lies, smoking guns, hooks and crooks, mud for slinging, ropes to give to enemies to hang themselves with, axes to grind—all the weapons of professional political operatives,” says Dandat. They even had a terrorist-type, ammonia-based bombshell improvised from a huge fertilizer scam.
Special ops training and “team-building” took place at a clandestine boot camp, guided by a field manual authored by Gen. Mikey Arroyo, a five-star security guard general. Training was extraordinarily tough.
There were jumps to practice, like jumping to conclusion, jumping the gun and jumping on the bandwagon. “We were also taught how to find direction without the use of a moral compass,” recalled Dandat.
Using a mock-up of the Batasan, complete with smoke-filled rooms, tables for dealing under and dens of iniquity, they endlessly rehearsed tactical maneuvers: backtracking from a position; flip-flopping on an issue; swimming with sharks, exerting effort from a last ditch, and lying to one’s teeth.
“We had to master field survival techniques like fishing for evidence, cooking the books, currying favors, placing a red herring, gutting a bill, milking the issue, buttering up someone, using a carrot and a stick, skewering an opponent, lambasting same, gnawing a bone of contention or one thrown at you, and in really desperate starvation-type situations, biting the hand that feeds you.”
They went through rigorous martial arts training, including delivering a flying vote, receiving a kickback, giving the runaround, beating around the bush, throwing someone under the bus, slapping a wrist, blocking an investigation, stifling debate, deflecting criticism and evading responsibility.
Everyone who underwent the grueling course emerged a lean mean cheating machine that could be the envy of the free world.
But now, everything has come unglued with the public exposure of the operation by the participants themselves. They resented being ostracized by colleagues after someone told on them.
Worse, their superintendent-squad leader was unceremoniously yanked off his post without explanation when rumors became more widespread. So now, special action force member PO2 Bindar Dandat is hiding in a foreign land.
“With all the training they gave us they didn’t teach us one thing,” lamented Dandat. “How to parry a ‘stab in the back’.”
Live by clichés, die by cliché I guess. “Touche,” he whimpered.