TARLAC, PHILIPPINES - Benigno Aquino, the man set to become the next Philippine president, said Tuesday he planned to have the incumbent Gloria Arroyo investigated for alleged vote-rigging.
Aquino said that while he made no judgement about Arroyo's guilt or otherwise, she should be investigated over a phone call she allegedly made to an election commissioner during the 2004 presidential poll.
'The bottom line is, these allegations of vote manipulation during the 2004 elections have never been settled,' Aquino told AFP in an interview as he awaited official confirmation of his victory in Monday's election.
'Was there such a conversation? Did it occur? And if it did occur, who was responsible? What did they exploit? What weaknesses with our laws were exploited?'
The 50-year-old senator also vowed to fight corruption and bring in clean government, but said it would take more than the single six-year term set by the constitution to carry out the social transformation of the Philippines.
'I want to lead by example. We talk about corruption. I did make a public vow, I will never steal,' he said, adding that this would give him the 'moral authority' to make others conform.
'But we are hoping to provide that impetus and momentum to carry over into the next administration,' he said in the interview in his northern home province of Tarlac.
Aquino said that, should he become the next president, he would follow up the so-called 'Hello Garci' scandal, named after the election commissioner in the alleged 2004 phone call.
'I intend to come up a mechanism that will solve each and everyone of these issues, with the end view of, if there is a crime, charging the people who are guilty, ensuring they go to jail and delivering a message that there is certainty in this country that if you commit a crime you will be punished.'
Arroyo is the suspected voice in a telephone recording in which a woman appeared to pressure an election official into ensuring the 2004 presidential vote count stayed in her favour.
Without admitting that she was the woman in the call or doing anything against the law, Arroyo apologised to the nation and later rode out two ensuing impeachment attempts against her.
Aquino was careful not to claim victory, as the official count had not been completed and he said it was not up to him to declare himself the winner.
'I want to make sure we finish all the processes,' he said.
But with a near-completed automated count showing him well clear of his nearest rival, former president Joseph Estrada, Aquino outlined some of his plans for the presidency and spoke at length in critical tones about Arroyo. 'She could have brought significant changes to this country but she chose to advance her personal interests and those who were supporting her personal interests to the detriment of the country,' he said.
Arroyo, a feisty 63-year-old, will not however be fading into the political background as she ran Monday for a seat in Congress, where she is widely expected to create a new power base.
The daughter of a former president, Arroyo is no stranger to palace intrigue.
She was Estrada's vice president when a civilian-military coup took place in 2001. As the uprising peaked, Arroyo switched allegiance to the rebels and was sworn in to serve out the rest of Estrada's term.
Elected in 2004 to her own six-year term, Arroyo earned praise for imposing fiscal discipline and bringing the country its highest economic growth rates in 30 years.
But charges of massive corruption, fraud in the 2004 election and an image of arrogance steadily eroded her public approval and trust ratings.