Saving Arroyo at the Expense of Justice

Recent moves to derail and sabotage the impeachment proceedings would only hasten the process of settling the issue of her administration’s legitimacy via the extra-constitutional means. These underhanded maneuverings can be easily seen as not only an infringement on the impeachment process but also an obstruction of justice.

By Bobby Tuazon

At the rate the impeachment proceedings are being stymied and other desperate measures are being done to save her presidency, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would end up, as political analysts interviewed by Bulatlat this week said, digging her own grave. And she could as well be stacking up more impeachable offenses than she can handle.

Two days after they deserted Macapagal-Arroyo on July 8, a number of government officials – now collectively known as “Hyatt 10” – revealed to reporters that the president has set aside governance in favor of saving her presidency. “She was micromanaging the PR aspect of the crisis, while the reform agenda was set aside. Some of the cabinet discussions even tackled payoffs to the media,” one resigned secretary told reporters.

The Arroyo presidency began to hover between survival and demise in the wake of revelations that she stole the presidency with the help of certain Commission on Elections (Comelec) officials as well as the armed forces and police. She allegedly wormed her way into the vice presidency and presidency through jueteng (illegal numbers game) payoffs. The allegations sent tens of thousands of protesters taking to the streets to call for her resignation or ouster even as Macapagal-Arroyo’s credibility ratings plunged to the lowest ever compared to her predecessors.

To millions of Filipinos, she had become an illegitimate president, a “liar” and a “thief.” To many others, the presidential crisis is a symptom of an elite political rule on the brink of collapse after generations of plundering the nation’s economy, of unbridled bureaucratic corruption and subjecting the people under conditions of poverty and social injustice.

In a bid to hold on to power, Macapagal-Arroyo asked for continued military, police and local officials’ support, while courting influential business and church leaders. Her political allies asked Supreme Court justices to effect a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the controversial expanded value added tax (E-Vat), aware that enforcing it now would unleash widespread unrest throughout the country.

Three-pronged strategy

Today as the House of Representatives wrangle over the impeachment complaint against her, the president and her close allies are initiating what appears to be a three-pronged strategy to prevent Macapagal-Arroyo’s removal from office. This strategy is being done in a situation akin to a wounded wolf fighting its last, desperate battle.

First: Defeat impeachment on or before September

The first step is to defeat the impeachment proceedings. Administration congressmen have been marshaled to stall the House committee proceedings through tactics like raising “prejudicial questions.” As this is being done, there have been reports of bribery (sources say to the tune of billions of pesos and junket offers) and trade-offs in a bid to win over or neutralize legislators who would likely vote for impeachment while keeping the loyalty of those known to be cooperative. At the same time, the president is moving heaven and earth for a political reconciliation with certain figures who – so she believes – still have influence in Congress. These include ousted president Joseph E. Estrada, Imelda Marcos and the incoming president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

Malacañang seeks to end the impeachment proceedings before Macapagal-Arroyo leaves mid-September for a foreign trip which includes a speech before the UN General Assembly and a possible invitation to see U.S. President George W. Bush, Jr. Failure to secure a meeting with Bush may likely be a sign that she is about to be dumped by the U.S. president.

Second: Project hands-on presidency

Secondly, Macapagal-Arroyo’s main PR strategy is to project the image of a hands-on president ever attentive to the nation’s woes. One of the projects of her spin doctors is to build up what the president’s energy officials claim is a power crisis that warrants the mobilization of austerity measures. The PR project is double-edged: while it paints Macapagal-Arroyo as a hands-on president it also aims to diffuse the outrage against the presidency and divert public attention away from the impeachment hullabaloo.

Third: Charter change

Thirdly, Macapagal-Arroyo is also pushing for the Ramos formula of charter change that seeks to change the presidential system into a parliamentary one with a unicameral legislature. Moves are underway in Congress to fast-track charter change even as recent surveys also reveal that most Filipinos are opposed to it.
It is on the impeachment process, however, where presidential power is being used to thwart the proceedings even at this early stage, reportedly funded by government money such as, as alleged, the road users’ tax. Accusations have been hurled even in the Senate that Malacañang, aside from resorting to bribery and trade-offs, is using pressures including police power to silence potential witnesses on the jueteng scandal and suppressing evidence that would prove charges of electoral fraud. Malacañang hand has also been suspected in the disappearance of former election official Virgilio Garcillano, alleged to be Macapagal-Arroyo’s operator in the 2004 electoral fraud.

If true, these recent charges of derailing and sabotaging the impeachment process could earn for the president new constitutional violations including obstruction of justice. If there is any parallelism, U.S. President Richard Nixon, who faced impeachment over the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s, was forced to resign primarily because he – along with other top administration officials – tried to cover up evidences in connection with the wiretapping of the Democratic Party convention.

With several charges already lodged against her in the impeachment process, recent attempts to derail and sabotage the proceedings would hasten the process of settling the issue via the extra-constitutional means. These attempts can be easily seen as not only an infringement on the impeachment process but also an obstruction of justice. People who want to see the impeachment pursued with finality in order to ferret out the truth, will not hesitate to use other avenues that could even lead to the embattled president’s ouster. (

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