Time to Go

By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

The name of the game these days is “Will she or won’t she get away with it?”

She of course refers to the woman with the unique voice and manner of speaking, caught redhanded via a wiretapped phone conversation, trying to manipulate the results of the 2004 presidential elections through a variety of criminal and illegal means.

She is none other than President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who finally owned up to being the woman everyone immediately recognized her to be — calling, talking and effectively colluding with Commission on Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, aka “Garcy”, in committing electoral fraud on a grand scale in order to win by 1 million votes against Fernando Poe Jr, her closest rival.

GMA gave the performance of her life by publicly saying “I’m sorry” for making a supposed “lapse in judgement” in making “any such call” to an unnamed Comelec official. She then appealed for unity in order to forge ahead with all the extraordinary economic reforms and corruption-busting programs she had worked so hard on that would purportedly lead the country to the path of salvation.

Sadly, the admission and the apology just doesn’t wash.

Both are insincere. We know this because three weeks earlier the Arroyo administration had engaged in a clumsy cover-up that saw the Presidential Spokesperson admitting the voice was Mrs. Arroyo’s, accusing her political enemies of having illegally wiretapped her phone conversations, then trying to pass off two tampered tapes as proof of a grand destabilization plot against the President, only to be corrected two days later by the Executive Secretary who said that it wasn’t Mrs. Arroyo.

Meanwhile the DOJ Secretary, a presidential toady of the highest order, threatens everyone who is in possession of, reproducing, distributing or otherwise listening to the “Gloria-Garcy” tapes of illegal wiretapping, sedition and other possible crimes he alone can think of.

All throughout the swirling controversy, the President kept mum and hid behind the cloak of legality until her silence itself became the issue that not even her closest allies could defend. Only then did she decide to “confess.”

However, Mrs. Arroyo didn’t actually confess all, only what would pass as her “venial” sins. She resorted to half-truths, obfuscations and more lies.

One of these is her claim that the elections had ended by the time of the first wiretapped conversation on 26 May 2004 and that she could not have possibly influenced the outcome. It is known that the election canvassing was only concluded on the third week of June, plenty of time to manipulate the results through the wholesale and virtually undetectable scheme perfected by Commissioner Garcillano called “dagdag-bawas” (literally, add-and-subtract) which is executed at provincial and regional levels.

The people were also witness to the disturbing spectacle of how the pro-GMA majority in the Congressional Joint Canvassing Committee railroaded the process until its culmination in Mrs. Arroyo’s proclamation as winner during the wee hours of the morning, clearly as a way to preempt any mass protest. No wonder 55% of people surveyed believe, even before the disclosure of the “Gloria-Garcy” tapes, that Mrs. Arroyo had cheated her way to victory.

Mrs. Arroyo did not actually admit to talking specifically to Commissioner Garcillano. She did not specify which parts of the taped conversations she was validating. Her lawyers obviously made sure no part of her admission could be used against her in any impeachment trial thus the deliberate ambiguity of her statements.

Curiously Mrs. Arroyo is unperturbed that Commissioner Garcillano has mysteriously disappeared form the scene and is not at all anxious for him to be found to shed light on the presidential “lapse.”

After her dramatic apology, she refuses to answer any follow-up questions on her so-called admission. One would expect quite the opposite behavior on her part.

Logically, as proof of her innocence regarding alleged serious breaches of the law including her oath of office, Mrs. Arroyo should have ordered a full-dress investigation into the matter by an independent and credible body. If her sin is truly confined to a “lapse of judgement” or what some of her apologists dismiss as merely inappropriate behavior, Mrs. Arroyo would be the first to benefit from such an impartial investigation.

The Presidential apology is ineffective because it is contrived. It is a thinly disguised public relations ploy designed to appeal to the emotions by making Mrs. Arroyo appear to be humbling herself before the public, asking for a second chance to do better.

It is another desperate attempt at damage control whose main purpose is to further cover-up Mrs. Arroyo’s multiple criminal liabilities in conspiring to defraud the electorate; paper over her moral and political accountabilities as President and Commander-in-Chief; and fend off the growing clamor for her to step down from a position she has clearly usurped.

Will Mrs. Arroyo get away with it? We think not. The people could forgive a leader who has made a mistake, even a serious one, if he or she is perceived as earnestly serving their interests and looking after their welfare while maintaining a high standard of personal integrity, honesty and incorruptibility. Mrs Arroyo has long ceased to fit the description.

It’s time for her to go.###

*Businessworld column, July 1-2, 2005

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