> Scandals without closure overshadow successes- juliet labog-javellana

Scandals without closure overshadow successes

 By Juliet Labog-Javellana
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:33:00 07/27/2009

MANILA, Philippines—If the Arroyo administration were to be described, a question mark would not be off the mark.

Two prominent political scientists said the unresolved scandals that dogged President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s eight years in office had left “question marks all over” about her legitimacy and integrity and hampered her effectiveness as a hardworking chief executive.

Clarita Carlos, who teaches at the University of the Philippines, conceded positive scores for Ms Arroyo in agriculture, health, education, in protecting overseas Filipino workers, and even in steering the economy amid the global recession.

But Felipe Miranda, chair of the survey group Pulse Asia, believed Ms Arroyo would go down with a “largely negative assessment” as the “most distrusted” Philippine president on record.

The two academicians agreed the scandals overshadowed Ms Arroyo’s accomplishments.

“To be fair, I think a dispassionate assessment would tell us that she is one of the most hardworking, if not the most hardworking president,” Carlos said in an interview.

No conclusions

“Unfortunately, she was hounded throughout her eight years by so many accusations of anomalies, corruption and the like which never found conclusion … I think that eroded her effectiveness as a political leader,” Carlos said.

“The issues are never resolved and they leave question marks all over, the integrity is tremendously eroded.”

Miranda said Ms Arroyo’s trust rating went downhill after the alleged manipulation of the 2004 presidential election.

“Filipinos are a generous constituency but you would not even have 30 percent saying they trust their President. You would have as low as 19 percent. So the majority of Filipinos would be saying across five years that they distrust or cannot trust (her),” Miranda said in a separate interview.

Distrust level sustained

Miranda said this was surprising because Filipinos were a trusting people, generous in their assessment of leaders and could not “sustain their anger” at political leaders for more than six months.

In the case of the Ramos administration, he said public anger over the hanging of Filipino maid Flor Contemplacion in Singapore and the rice crisis fizzled out after a few months.

“But in the case of the current President, the distrust level had not changed significantly from 2005 to 2009—that is really a record in itself and the lowest distrust and disapproval level obtained by any Philippine president,” he said, adding that no leader has sunk so low in public estimation since Ferdinand Marcos.

Miranda said that the invocation of executive privilege had prevented a clarification of issues and deprived the public of the right to know and make a judgment. “Nothing, just question mark.”

The two veteran professors pointed to the alleged rigging of the 2004 vote, dubbed the “Hello Garci” scandal, the scuttled NBN-ZTE contract and other anomalies as the reasons behind the public’s rock-bottom regard for Ms Arroyo.

That the unresolved corruption allegations also pointed to her equally controversial husband Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo did not help her at all, they said.

Did Abalos go to jail?

And that no one has been held accountable really takes the cake, according to them.

“The most effective way to show how things are done is to do it by example. But even the mere suspicion that either she is doing it or allowing people around her to do it already erodes that integrity and trust factor,” Carlos said.

“The Hello Garci (scandal) was not closed,” she said. “For as long as you have a question mark, you have sinister thoughts about it. The ZTE deal, they withdrew the contract but that is not the answer to that. I mean did Abalos go to jail?”

Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos resigned after being accused of brokering the $329-million NBN-ZTE contract amid claims of overprice and bribery.

“Is he being tried? No. I mean it is the sense of small people like us, for God’s sake we here in UP are counting every peso and here is that Abalos kind of thing. We’d like these people to go to jail,” Carlos said.

Most serious blow

Carlos said the most serious blow to Ms Arroyo’s presidency was the allegation she cheated in 2004 through then Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

“That really tarnished her and the fact that this Garci wants to run is not only unacceptable. It makes me want to puke,” she said.

Carlos said that beyond saying sorry, Ms Arroyo should have allowed the prosecution of those behind the vote manipulation.

She said that even the international community sent subtle messages that foreign leaders were “distancing from someone who is deemed corrupt.”

Premium on personal loyalty

Carlos said that amid these scandals, Ms Arroyo paid premium on personal loyalty and did not sanction those around her who were suspected of being involved in anomalies.

“She keeps friends, and family even closer. She had kept people who had clearly many allegations against them,” she said.

This, Carlos said, was reflected in the few people being reshuffled to different Cabinet posts.

Miranda said the release of the Hello Garci tapes and Ms Arroyo’s statement of regret strengthened the public’s suspicion that strange things happened in 2004.

“If the very act of voting … is tampered with, then you really touch the rawest of raw nerves,” he said.

“In this country, people have this idea that nothing really happens if the guy on top did not intervene or allow for something to happen and so it is very difficult for people to exclude her from the personalities that might be involved in rendering the results of the 2004 elections suspect,” he said.

Miranda and Carlos said the impeachment proceedings against Ms Arroyo did not represent closure for the many allegations against her.

Every year since 2005, various opposition groups and personalities filed impeachment charges against Ms Arroyo in the House of Representatives, only to be voted down by her allies.

Wasted opportunity

The impeachment exercise, Miranda said, was a wasted opportunity to show transparency.

“If (she) had allowed impeachment, then the people would probably have a kinder assessment of her presidency. But when you would not even allow for the impeachment to take place, people will say the probability is because she does not think she will survive the trial itself. And so you add more and more doubts to what already had become a huge amount of doubt,” he said.

Besides, Carlos noted that the impeachment process was fueled by less than pure motives.

“Because you have a broken political party system, those who voted in Congress voted according to their best interest and if their best interest is defined by Philippine peso so be it,” Carlos said.

Cash diplomacy

She said it was so easy for Ms Arroyo to use “cash diplomacy” in quashing all impeachment attempts.

“She knows how greedy the members of the House of Representatives are so she stuffed them with money, that’s the way to go,” she said.

Miranda and Carlos said that Ms Arroyo’s survival skills amid the political storms were remarkable.

“Let’s give it to her. Even the opposition cannot close its eyes to that,” Carlos said.

Master strategist

Carlos said Ms Arroyo, who also had a doctorate, was deeply analytical, stubborn, and used her intelligence network to “detect the weak part of the link” in the political system.

“You salute her for being Machiavellian,” Carlos said. “This is a master strategist who knew how to play the game … (one) who has both the stubbornness and perseverance to do what she wanted to do and to play the game of a broken political party system and a fragmented opposition.”

Miranda said the Arroyo administration’s use of its resources, “playing one sector against another … being endangered by some and saved by others,” was an even admirable skill.

“That is a talent in political management—when you can get the disaffected religious, a possibly vacillating military, and a rather fractious political party groups not to jump on you at the same time but (instead you) pit one against the other,” he said.
But Miranda believes luck also played a part in Ms Arroyo’s presidency as she happened to be the Vice President of ousted President Joseph Estrada.

“She’s lucky she is the president of Filipinos. If she were president of Korea, she would have been deposed and dispossessed of her properties,” Miranda said.

For Carlos, how Ms Arroyo would be judged by history will depend on whether she is charged and tried for corruption and other anomalies after she leaves the presidency, as her opponents vow they would do.

“What will remain with me is the regret that this woman could have done better for our country if she had not been saddled by all these allegations of corruption,” she said.

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