In Aftermath of Erap Verdict, a Focus on Arroyo

Apart from the ZTE deal, other corruption scandals – all disclosed in separate Senate hearings in the past several years — included the alleged misuse of more than 700-million pesos of agriculture funds to buy votes during the 2004 elections; the alleged money laundering by Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, of campaign funds and contributions; the alleged payoff received by Arroyo’s former justice secretary, Hernando Perez, in a $470-million energy with an Argentine company; and Arroyo’s alleged close relationship with Bong Pineda, an alleged gambling lord from the President’s hometown in Pampanga.

But at the heart of Arroyo’s troubles is the allegation, backed by testimony and a controversial audio recording, that she cheated in the 2004 elections. Arroyo’s opponents in Congress twice attempted to impeach her for this but failed because they didn’t have the numbers.
Attempts by the Senate to investigate this scandal and the others were unsuccessful, largely because Arroyo, through an executive order, prevented her officials from testifying in any congressional probe without her approval.

And in a sign that the alleged 2004 election cheating has found no closure, the Senate attempted early this month to reopen the case but it again was hamstrung by attempts by Arroyo’s allies to block the investigation. Besides, Arroyo’s order banning her officials from testifying remained, the protestations on its illegality and authoritarian character notwithstanding.

All these scandals have worsened how Filipinos regard Arroyo. Her trust ratings are dismal. A survey released early this month by the Social Weather Stations, a Manila polling institute, found that 62 percent of the respondents had ”little trust” in Arroyo. In contrast, only 19 percent of the respondent felt the same way toward Estrada.

In the same survey, only 31 percent believed Estrada was corrupt while a high 71 percent believed the same thing about Arroyo. Seventy-two percent of the respondents also said that corruption worsened under Arroyo. Estrada and his supporters have vowed that the verdict would not stop them from opposing Arroyo. On Wednesday, he said he would take his case all the way to the Supreme Court. His allies promised to launch more protest actions.

According to administration officials, the guilty verdict was the best possible verdict to avert a more serious political crisis. ”The government could not afford an acquittal,” Crispin Remulla, the deputy majority leader in Congress, told Philippine Daily Inquirer. ”An acquittal would have caused instability.”

The 2001 uprising that ousted Estrada rode on the presumption that he was guilty of many sins — an acquittal would have undermined this presumption and would have emboldened Estrada’s camp to question Arroyo’s legitimacy.

Talk is rife here that Arroyo would pardon Estrada. Last week, Sergio Apostol, the presidential legal adviser, hinted as much, pointing out that Arroyo has been pardoning convicts who are 70 years old or older. On Sunday, Arroyo approved negotiations for a possible pardon.
Indeed, a pardon for Estrada, who is 70, would be the most politically astute decision for Arroyo, according to Lim, the analyst. ”The guilty verdict legitimized her mandate,” he said. ”She will become magnanimous once she pardons Estrada. It’s just a matter of time.”
The public pulse seems, indeed, to favor this option. In the same survey by the Social Weather Stations, 86 percent of the respondent said Arroyo should pardon Estrada, with almost half of them saying it should be done immediately. In blogs, Filipinos are talking about Arroyo doing a Gerald Ford, who pardoned Richard Nixon after Watergate.

For now, Arroyo seems focused on not getting distracted by the Estrada phenomenon. On Thursday last week, she refused to answer questions from journalists about Estrada. ”We are moving on as a nation,” she said in a speech at a forum on the peace process with Islamic insurgents. Earlier, she boasted about the recent improvement in the economy and the reforms that she said she is determined to put in place.

Filipinos, she said, are “tired of political drama and social instability.” PinoyPress / Posted by Bulatlat

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