DEFENSE Secretary Norberto Gonzales on Friday dismissed allegations he is part of a supposed group that will be engineering the results of the May elections.

Gonzales, in his address during the assumption of Major General Reynaldo Mapagu as the new Army chief, said the allegations are nothing but part of an ongoing effort to malign the military establishment in relation to the upcoming polls.

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Text messages have spread that Gonzales, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief Delfin Bangit and Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza are engineering the cheating operations.

Bangit assumed as AFP chief last Wednesday.

Four military generals were mentioned in the controversial “Hello Garci” tapes, three of them supposedly held in the cheating of the 2004 elections in favor of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The fourth reportedly supported an opponent of the President.

Gonzales said he has heard of similar allegations that the military will again cheat in the coming elections, prompting him to put the AFP under the full disposal of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), instead of staying in their barracks and do nothing to correct accusations related to the 2004 polls.

“I want to end all (allegations) maligning the Armed Forces of the Philippines in this coming elections and to me this is a challenge to me and particular to our chief of staff. We will see to it that the Armed Forces will be there on election day. We will make sure that that election will be held as scheduled,” he said.

“We will make sure that election will be clean and fair, it is the noble duty of our Armed Forces to make sure that this important exercise essential to our democratic process is defended. Some quarters are telling me about failure of election and I say that we don’t even think about failure of election. What we are thinking of is to make sure that this election takes place and the Armed Forces of the Philippines will be there to make sure it’s done fairly,” added Gonzales.

Meanwhile, Gonzales said he has asked the Comelec to allow the military to play a more active role in going after loose firearms and goons, which the defense chief said cannot be prevented by the automated elections.

“The Commission on Election has told us that the automation system will not completely eliminate deficiencies of our electoral process. They say that automation can correct a lot of things but it cannot address two important problems in our election system and this is on the business of coercing our electorate and in the business of bribing,” he said.

The defense chief then noted that there are so many loose firearms and private armed groups proliferating around the country.

“I am of the belief that a heightened level of coercion will be conducted through the use of these firearms and private armies,” he said.

“I am now seeking from the Comelec a deputation to allow the Armed Forces of the Philippines to be active in pursuing goons that will be used or will be used by some of our misguided politicians. Our Armed Forces will not allow our people to be coerced, it is very important that the electoral process remain and be improved,” he added.

Honest, orderly polls

The new commanding general of the Philippine Army, meanwhile, vowed Friday that the 80,000-strong Army will not be involved in any partisan political activity in the coming presidential and local elections.

In his assumption speech, Mapagu said the Army officers and men will support his predecessor, now AFP chief Bangit, in quest for honest, orderly and peaceful elections in May.

During his stint as Army chief, Bangit has espoused an Advocacy for a Credible Election.

“He (Bangit) is an ace of a commanding general and I will make sure that his contributions will continue under my watch,” said Mapagu.

“We will endeavor to ensure an orderly, peaceful, and more importantly honest and credible national and local elections this coming May. We will do all these so that our country and people can now focus on the more urgent goal of national development and economic prosperity,” he added.

Mapagu made the remarks amid allegations that the military will be used by the administration to rig the results of the elections. He said he is not expecting to receive illegal orders from higher authorities as Army chief.

Mapagu said those who are accusing the AFP of such activities merely “want to drag the AFP in partisan political activities.”

“We are not part of that. What we can say is that the chief of staff, general Bangit and I made mention mentioned a while ago that we will not participate in any political activity because we are a non-partisan organization,” said Mapagu. “We will ensure that we were going to have honest, orderly, peaceful and credible elections. All those who will violate that will face the consequences of their action.” (VR/Sunnex)