All Roads Lead to Malacañang

What does Governors Ben Evardone and Joel Reyes of Eastern Samar and Palawan respectively, Francis Ver, Benjamin “the Broker” Abalos Sr., Lintang Bedol, Virgilio Garcillano, and Iggy Arroyo have in common? They all tried to absorb the blame for issues which could cause the downfall of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Vol. VII, No. 38, October 28 – November 3, 2007

What does Governors Ben Evardone and Joel Reyes of Eastern Samar and Palawan respectively, Benjamin “the Broker” Abalos Sr., Lintang Bedol, Virgilio Garcillano, and Iggy Arroyo have in common? They all tried to absorb the blame for issues which could cause the downfall of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo claimed that he was Jose Pidal when the Pidal accounts, which allegedly contained illegal campaign funds, was exposed and the investigation was veering towards his brother, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, the husband of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. And now he is a congressman representing Negros Occidental.

Former Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano took the brunt of the people’s anger over the “Hello Garci” tapes which recorded conversations between Garcillano and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as they were plotting to ensure that Macapagal-Arroyo wins by 1,000,000 votes against the late actor and presidential aspirant Fernando Poe Jr. during the 2004 elections. Garcillano disappeared during the height of controversy and investigations on the “Hello Garci” tapes but later surfaced flanked by armed men. To let the “Hello Garci” scandal simmer down, he testified before the House of Representatives merely to deny that he was Garci, the man in the tapes. Garcillano ran as congressman for Bukidnon during the May 2007 midterm elections. Where he got the funds to campaign? Nobody knows. Fortunately for the people of Bukidnon, he lost. But now he is set to retire from government ‘service’ with millions credited to his account as retirement pay.

Lintang Bedol, the gun-packing, defiant Comelec supervisor for Maguindanao (Why are Comelec officials so fond of guns?), became the center of controversy when massive electoral fraud during the May 2007 elections began to be unearthed especially in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur. Bedol hugged the headlines when he claimed that the original certificates of canvass (COCs) of Maguindanao was stolen after he collected them, which was not a standard operating procedure. When the demand for an investigation was gaining ground, he defied Comelec summons and conveniently disappeared (Again another standard operating procedure for Comelec officials enmeshed in controversy.). Meanwhile, the Comelec held special elections in Lanao del Sur – which involved the same types of fraud but this time under national Comelec supervision -, retrieved the duplicate copies of the anomalous COCs from Maguindanao and later on proclaimed Miguel Zubiri as the winner over Aquilino Pimentel III in the hotly-contested last seat in Senate. Bedol reappeared when the task of legitimizing the results of the fraud-ridden elections in Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao was completed and he was slapped with the flimsy charge of contempt. Will he run for congressman? How much does he have in the bank? Well, that is the subject of another chapter in the comedy and farce that we call as “elections.”

Everybody knows Benjamin “the Broker” Abalos Sr. who presided over two fraud ridden elections, in 2004 and 2007. But he became a household name after he brokered for ZTE of China to corner the anomalous National Broadband Network (NBN) deal. He tried to bribe Romulo Neri with P200 million ($4,539,264 at an exchange rate of $1=P44.06) to approve the contract and Jose De Venecia III with $10 million to withdraw his bid for the project. Neri exposed the bribery attempt and Abalos resigned when the controversy was knocking on Malacañang’s door. Will he run for public office again? He doesn’t have to because his family lords it over Mandaluyong city. How much money does he have in the bank? Well, he wouldn’t take the fall for peanuts.

Francis Ver, deputy secretary-general of the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi or Partner of the Free Filipino), Arroyo’s political party, was exposed by Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Rep. Crispin Beltran as having offered bribes to the tune of P2 million ($45,392) to congressmen to endorse the impeachment complaint of Roel Pulido, which many considered as weak and a ploy to immune Pres. Arroyo from a stronger complaint.

And now enter Evardone and Reyes. For the past weeks the controversy over the P200,000 to P500,000 ($4,539 – $11,348) bribery of local officials and Lower House representatives at Malacañang has been intensifying. Nobody was willing to own up to the bribery. It was denied by Malacañang. Likewise, the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP) and League of Provinces of the Philippines (LPP) denied they had anything to do with it. They pretended as if the money never existed. But Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio was insistent that it did exist. And one-by-one, Bulacan Gov. Jonjon Mendoza, and two congressmen namely, Cebu City Rep. Antonio Cuenco and Rep. Bienvenido Abante of Manila admitted to having received the same amounts. The thick wads of money could not have materialized out of thin air. Calls for investigations and for the resignation of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo were gaining ground. It was obviously the handiwork of Malacañang and there seems to be no escaping from it. Then, Evardone and Reyes came out with the belated ‘admission’ that the money came from LPP, after so many denials. This surprised many governors. Capiz Gov. Victor Tanco Sr. concluded that the LPP cannot simply afford it. “If all the members contribute an average of P100,000 ($2,269) annually, that totals to only P7.9 million ($179,300),” he said, “Giving P500,000($11,348) to 15 new governors would add up to P7.5 million ($170,222).” Moreso, if all governors and congressmen present during the meeting in Malacañang received the same amounts. (Remember the video footages of representatives and governors emerging from the meeting carrying the same type of paper bags?) This would amount to P95 million ($2,156,150) for congressmen and P24 million ($544,711) for governors.

Aside from not being able to afford it, why did they distribute it at Malacañang and not some other place during another meeting? How will they account for the fact that two congressmen, Cuenco and Abante admitted to having received the same amounts? Is the LPP now in the business of distributing money even to representatives from the Lower House?

The game plan seems to be to take the heat off Malacañang and transfer it to Evardone and Reyes. The Macapagal-Arroyo administration expects Congress to shift its investigations towards the LPP and the two. Surely, the manner of distribution itself was anomalous and the investigations on Evardone and Reyes would take up the space in the headlines slowly being vacated by the Glorietta bombing. It wants the Filipino people’s anger to focus on Evardone and Reyes after an unsuccessful attempt to divert the people’s attention to the Glorietta bombing.

But behind all these cover-ups is the hand of Malacañang in the increasing pile of cases of electoral fraud, corruption and bribery, and even in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. All these cases lead to the doorsteps of Malacañang at the banks of the Pasig River. No wonder it stinks so much. (

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