> Palace stinks with scandals – Eliza Victoria, Cyril Bonabente
Palace stinks with scandals
By Eliza Victoria, Cyril Bonabente
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:59:00 07/25/2009
MANILA, Philippines — Scandals have hounded virtually every Philippine president but only a few of them have had to deal with scandals of the same scale that hound President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to this day.
Using her awesome powers, including executive privilege that shields her Cabinet advisers and military officers from congressional investigation, Ms Arroyo has survived them all.
But the truth behind the scandals has escaped the public.
The scandals presented here are stories without endings, stories about countless hearings, witnesses who recanted, investigations that got nowhere, real issues confused and charges recommended but never filed.
* Hello Garci (2005)
Allegations that Ms Arroyo and then Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano conspired during taped conversations to rig the 2004 presidential election sparked the most dangerous political crisis to face her administration.
Ms Arroyo apologized to the nation in an “I am sorry” speech, Congress held numerous hearings, street protests erupted and senior presidential advisers resigned.
The opposition also tried to impeach her. But Ms Arroyo’s loyal House allies crushed all attempts.
* NBN-ZTE project (2007)
Businessman Joey de Venecia said a $329-million National Broadband Network (NBN) contract with China’s ZTE Corp. was overpriced by $130 million to cover kickbacks.
De Venecia and former government consultant Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada claimed the President’s husband, Jose Miguel (Mike) Arroyo, and then Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos were involved in bribery to get the project approved. Both denied any wrongdoing.
Abalos resigned from the Comelec and was later charged with graft before the Ombudsman. Malacañang scrapped the deal.
* Jose Pidal (2003)
Sen. Panfilo Lacson accused Mike Arroyo of amassing more than P200 million from campaign contributions and putting the money in secret bank accounts, some under the name of “Jose Pidal.”
Mike Arroyo’s brother, Ignacio (Iggy), claimed he owned the Pidal accounts but invoked his right to privacy.
In 2004, Malacañang balked at the reopening of the Senate probe, saying it was a “dead issue.”
* Fertilizer fund scam (2004)
Weeks before the presidential election, Lacson accused Ms Arroyo of “virtual vote-buying,” saying she authorized the release of P728 million to favored officials to buy fertilizers and pesticides for their constituents even though it was harvest season.
The Senate committee on agriculture, together with the blue ribbon committee, concluded that Ms Arroyo should be “held accountable” for mismanaging the agricultural fund. The Commission on Audit said the fertilizers were overpriced by 682 percent or P128 million.
The blue ribbon committee recommended the filing of plunder and other charges against Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante and nine others, who denied the charges.
* Jueteng (2005)
Two “bagmen” and an operator of the illegal numbers game “jueteng” told the Inquirer they had given protection money to Mike Arroyo and his congressman-son, Juan Miguel (“Mikey”).
Several witnesses—Sandra Cam, Richard Garcia and Demosthenes Abraham Riva—told a Senate hearing that Mike Arroyo, Mikey Arroyo and Iggy Arroyo had been receiving payola from jueteng operations in Bicol. The Arroyos rejected the accusations.
Witnesses Garcia and Riva retracted their testimony.
* Cash handouts (2007)
Ms Arroyo had breakfast at Malacañang with over 100 congressmen and around 200 local officials. They were given paper bags containing between P200,000 and P500,000.
Ms Arroyo’s Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi) party and the League of Provinces of the Philippines said the money came from them to fund projects and help their members, and that Ms Arroyo knew nothing about it.
Former Speaker Jose de Venecia said the money was a bribe to quash an impeachment case against Ms Arroyo.
* World Bank loan (2007)
The World Bank put on hold a $232-million loan for national road improvement projects after bid rigging was uncovered. It blacklisted seven firms.
Lacson said witnesses in a World Bank report implicated Mike Arroyo and others in the irregularity. The bank said the report was “strictly confidential.”
* NorthRail (2003)
The $503-million NorthRail mass transit project calls for diesel-powered trains to carry passengers from Caloocan City to Malolos City in Bulacan province, or vice versa, in 30 minutes.
An expert told the Inquirer the proposed railway is simply an upgrading of the old Philippine National Railways (PNR) system and that its trains could hardly compare with the electric-powered trains of the LRT and MRT.
Former Sen. Franklin Drilon called the project “the greatest train robbery in history.” In April this year, Ms Arroyo approved a $317-million increase in the cost of the project.
* SouthRail (2007)
SouthRail is a $932-million project to link Laguna to Bicol provinces through a high-speed train service funded by a loan from China.
Lozada said SouthRail was overpriced by 22 percent, or about $70 million.
* Transco (2007)
Monte Oro Grid Resources Corp. won the right to operate the national power grid system of the National Transmission Corp. (Transco).
Alleging a “conflict of interest,” senators said the official in charge of privatization, Jose Ibazeta, was a boardroom ally of businessman Enrique Razon Jr. of Monte Oro. Razon, treasurer of the administration’s 2004 senatorial team, also heads the International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI), of which Ibazeta is director.
* Venable (2005)
National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales and US lobby firm Venable LLP signed an agreement that would help the administration seek US funding for the Philippines’ shift to a parliamentary system.
Ms Arroyo scrapped the deal because it “became unnecessarily controversial.”