THE PHILIPPINE QUESTION: WHO IS THE PRESIDENT OF THE PHILIPPINES?
By Gonzalo M. Policarpio
Just a few days ago, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who currently serves as president of the Philippines by virtue of her proclamation by the Philippine Congress as winner in the 2004 presidential elections, convened the Council of State, the highest advisory body to the president composed of the country’s most senior leaders and statesmen, including all past presidents. Former president Corazon Aquino who ousted the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos in the 1986 “people power” revolution firmly rejected the invitation to attend the meeting by saying, “the very legitimacy of the President’s mandate remains under a cloud of doubt despite the administration’s self-serving statements to the country.” She reiterated her call to Mrs. Arroyo to resign. The other former president, Joseph Estrada, who was ousted by Arroyo herself in the 2001 military-supported street demonstrations, said “I don’t like to participate because I don’t recognize Mrs. Arroyo as the president.” He insisted that he did not resign the presidency in 2001 and described Mrs. Arroyo’s swearing in as president of the Philippines by Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr. as illegitimate.
Political analysts and observers believed that Mrs. Arroyo convened the Council of State to promote her image as the legitimate president who is ready to tackle the problems of the country. So that she needs the advice of the Council. On the day of the meeting scheduled on January 24th, the major opposition leaders such as Senate President Frank Drilon, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel, Jr., House of Representatives Minority leader Francis Escudero, prominent labor and civic leaders, and influential church leaders who were all invited to attend refused to show up. They viewed the meeting as Mrs. Arroyo’s promotional gimmick calling it as a “photo op” with the president. However, former president Fidel Ramos who engineered Mrs. Arroyo’s grab of power in 2001 attended. Yet he too called for Mrs. Arroyo to cut short her term of office in 2007 to give way for a national election.
This question of Mrs. Arroyo’s legitimacy as president of the Philippines could have been resolved had she not instructed her allies in the House of Representative to modify the House rules in order to kill the three impeachment complaints filed against her. Prior to the revelations from wiretapped conversations Mrs. Arroyo had with an Election Commissioner that she was instructing the official to rig the vote and give her more than a million vote margin over her closest opponent, the late Fernando Poe, Jr., complaints of election fraud were already filed before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal. But when Mr. Poe, a movie actor who was very popular among the voters and close friend of former president Joseph Estrada, died of a heart attack a few months after the 2004 presidential elections, the electoral tribunal dismissed the complaints and denied the motion to have Mr. Poe’s widow as the substitute complainant. But in June 2005, the taped conversations between Mrs. Arroyo and notorious Election Commissioner Garcillano were played all over the country exposing them as co-conspirators to buy and rig the presidential vote in Mrs. Arroyo’s favor.
The expose’ of the conspiracy to rig the vote by Mrs. Arroyo and her Election officials jolted the whole nation and turned it into a national scandal. Then the calls came from several groups- student, labor, church, and business – for Mrs. Arroyo to resign. People from all walks of life took to the streets with signs and posters calling Mrs. Arroyo a liar, a cheater, and a thief. Ten of Mrs. Arroyo’s cabinet members including her secretary of social welfare, Mrs. Dinky Soliman who is her closest confidante, resigned en masse and called her to resign. The nation waited for that long night in July 2005 when thousands of people once again tried to do another “people power” to oust another president. But this time the Philippine Military and the Philippine National Police did not support the masses and Mrs. Arroyo survived.
More revelations from the taped conversations between Mrs. Arroyo and Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano focused on the involvement of four Philippine Armed Forces generals and one Philippine National Police general in vote-rigging. Their names were mentioned by Commissioner Garcillano as Army General Esperon, Army General Habacon, Army General Kiamco, Marine General Gudani, National Police General Lomibao.With respect to General Gudani, Commissioner Garcillano complained to Mrs. Arroyo that General Gudani had to be recalled and be replaced because he refused to cooperate. As of this writing, Mrs. Arroyo has already rewarded Generals Esperon and Habacon with promotions while General Kiamco had already retired. General Lomibao was later promoted to Chief of the Philippine National Police. General Gudani has a pending court martial investigation while at the same time under the Philippine Senate’s protective custody as a vital witness to the Philippine Military’s involvement in vote rigging during the 2004 presidential elections. Just recently, the Philippine Army’s Inspector General has already submitted to the Philippine Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Generoso Senga the results of its investigation of the military generals’ involvement in election fraud.
Mrs. Arroyo’s involvement in election fraud as revealed in the taped conversations that are presently in the custody of the Philippine Senate is only one among many other criminal charges and constitutional violations that led to the three impeachment complaints filed with the Philippine House of Representatives. The most serious is plunder of government funds amounting to billion and billions of pesos including those recovered from the Marcos stolen wealth. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism published a detailed report in September of last year that followed “the trail of nearly 3 billion pesos released by the Department of Agriculture during the 2004 presidential campaign…that big chunks of money were diverted to congressmen, mayors and governors who are allies of President Arroyo.” Senator Ramon Magsaysay, Jr., chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, spearheaded an investigation of this gargantuan anomaly. He called Mr. Jocylene “JocJoc” Bolante, former deputy secretary of agriculture, to appear at a hearing before the Senate committee. Mr. Bolante failed to show up. After so many failures to appear, the Philippine Senate cited him for contempt and issued a warrant for Bolante’s arrest. The Philippine Immigration Bureau has reported that Mr. Bolante absconded and left for the United States. He is currently hiding somewhere in our country. The Philippine Senate has offered monetary reward for any information leading to Mr. Bolante’s arrest.
Witnesses after witnesses testifying before the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security chaired by Sen. Rodolfo Biazon have implicated Mrs. Arroyo and her husband of bribing election officials to rig the vote in 2004. The investigation is still ongoing. Likewise other witnesses have also testified before the Senate that Mrs. Arroyo, her husband and her son who is a Congressman had received millions and millions of pesos from illegal gambling operators to be used for the 2004 presidential campaign. The investigation has been temporarily suspended due to an Executive Order 464 issued by Mrs. Arroyo requiring all government officials to seek her permission before appearing at a legislative hearing. Concerned lawyers filed a case before the Supreme Court questioning its constitutionality for they believed that such executive action tends to hinder the investigative and legislative powers of the Legislature. The Supreme Court decision has been pending since last year.
The Filipino masses who live in shanties and cardboard boxes in the cities of Metro Manila and the poor farmers and menial laborers out in the barrios or “baranggays”(small communities) all over the country bear the brunt of such a massive government corruption that deprived them of necessary funds and resources to alleviate their deteriorating poor conditions. Adding insult to injury, the Arroyo administration even increased the people’s tax burden with the implementation of the so-called EVAT (expanded value added tax) to 12% on consumer goods, particularly petroleum and agricultural products to generate more government revenues. The Social Weather Station, the most active social research institute in the Philippines, released the September 2005 survey showing 79% of the Filipino people want Mrs. Arroyo to be impeached and 64% wants her to resign. On the extent of poverty being felt by the people, Pulse Asia, Inc, another active social research group, rated 75% of the people in October 2005 as Very Poor/Poor and 10% as Well-off/Wealthy. Compared to May 1999 statistics, 71% of the people considered themselves as Very Poor/Poor and 12% as Well-off/Wealthy. In short, it can be categorically said that in the Philippines nowadays, the poor gets poorer and the rich still rich.
If Mrs. Arroyo is perceived to have the support of the military and the police, it is indeed only a perception because she was able to reshuffle the military generals and place her loyal commanders into strategic command positions. The junior military officers, with rank of colonel and below, expressed their dissatisfaction or grumblings toward Mrs. Arroyo via their own unofficial lines of communication such as websites, cell phone messages, and anonymous flyers and publications. In July 2003, hundreds of such junior officers staged a mutiny in the commercial district of Makati wearing their full metal jackets and planting explosives around their temporary bases. They were clamoring for reforms in the military which they described as being run by corrupt generals. They finally capitulated to their superiors since they claimed that they just wanted to express their desperation of getting tangible improvements in the system. Significantly, a few months after the soldiers’ uprising tagged as the Oakwood Mutiny (named after the hotel where the mutineers used as their base), Major General Garcia was arrested for stealing millions and millions of pesos from the soldiers’ pension fund during his tenure as Comptroller. He was recently tried before a court martial and subsequently convicted. He still has to be tried by a civilian court for the crime of plunder punishable by death.
Just recently, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the most influential church group that can mould public opinion, released its Pastoral Statement calling for the continuation of the “search for truth” referring to the alleged conspiracy between Mrs. Arroyo and her Election officials to rig the 2004 presidential vote in her favor with a margin of more than one million votes, as revealed in the now famous taped conversations dubbed as the Garci Tapes(named after former Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano).
In my recent article titled “Crying Out From the Grave” published by the Filipino Times and Asian Review, a newsweekly based in the East Coast, I paraphrased a biblical passage in the Old Testament where God told Cain who murdered his brother Abel and lied about it, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”
Despite persistent calls for her to resign from her family relatives, political allies, former cabinet members, three former presidents, the Senate President, prominent church leaders from all faiths, and various organizations of retired generals and young military officers, Mrs. Arroyo vowed never to resign and challenge her political opponents to grab power over her dead body.
The New People’s Army, the armed group of the Communist Party of the Philippines, considered a terrorist organization by our State Department, heard her clearly and took the challenge seriously by publicly announcing its plan to assassinate Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, acting president of the Philippines.
Who will write the sad or happy ending of this political melodrama now playing in the Philippines?
January 31, 2006
New York City