People by and large are not buying government's explanations for the bribery attending the overpriced NBN-ZTE deal, the "dole-outs" to Congressmen and governors in the wake of a move to preempt the impeachment of Mrs. Arroyo with the filing of what Speaker de Venecia called “a joke of an impeachment complaint”, and the flip-flopping of the government as to what really caused last Friday’s highly destructive explosion at the Glorietta shopping mall that killed eleven and wounded close to a hundred.
The reactions range from skepticism to anger to feeling insulted at what appear to be crude attempts to cover-up egregious wrongdoing, mislead the public and thereby squelch the clamor for an honest-to-goodness investigation.
Under the Arroyo watch there is quite a long list of grievous scandals she has yet to answer for: the “Hello Garci” electoral fraud; large-scale graft and corruption; unsolved deadly bombings of civilian targets; unabated extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances of activists; barefaced bribery, devilish machinations and the abuse of executive power to emasculate both Congress and the Judiciary.
All these have shocked the nation. In all the modus operandi has been -- first, pretend nothing is amiss or deny any misconduct; then go through the motions of investigating (but quickly insulate Mrs. Arroyo) while preventing any genuine probe from taking place; if necessary, come up with a scapegoat to take the heat off the Chief Executive. Although the regime’s explanations don’t wash because they don't jibe with the facts, are illogical and assault one's common sense, somehow the controversy simmers down without any real or credible resolution of the issue.
Predictably, rather than deter the culprits at the highest levels of government, each “dying out" of the crisis merely emboldens them to continue with their anomalous schemes and embark on more and bigger ones. Not even the prospect of exposure can constrain them, since they are confident of their capacity for eventually covering up their culpability and putting the lid on the controversy. It matters that they also consider the masses gullible and public opinion easy to manipulate.
What we are witnessing now with the Malacanang bribery scandal and the Glorietta carnage is a series of "explanations" that would have been comic had they not incurred such a huge cost in terms of innocent people’s life and limb and citizens’ hard-earned money.
Once again the attempt to confuse, mislead and deceive: a series of denials by Malacanang and Mrs. Arroyo’s herd of loyalists among the congressmen and local government officials; then pseudo-investigations by the Presidential Anti-graft Commission and the Ombudsman. Finally, after almost two weeks, officials of the League of Provinces of the Philippines led by Governor Ben Evardone, known presidential defender and apologist, claim that the bags of money distributed at the Palace came from them, part of the LLP’s “capability building project” to assist neophyte governors .
Questions beg to be answered. Were the millions of cash distributed to the governors public monies and if so, why was there no attempt to get any proof of receipt to ensure transparency and accountability by these government officials? What excuse does the LPP have for giving out bundles of cash, in the same kind of gift bags handed out to the governors, to the congressmen who admitted receiving “early Christmas gifts” on the same occasion? Is it just a coincidence that a subject matter of the meeting of Mrs. Arroyo with the congressmen and governors was a suspicious two-page impeachment complaint filed by a certain Attorney Pulido, in the wake of the NBN-ZTE scandal?
The Pulido complaint is widely perceived to be a move to “inoculate” Mrs. Arroyo from a serious impeachment initiative because of the one-year bar to the filing of another impeachment petition once an earlier one is considered “initiated”. As a consequence of the meeting at the Palace, House Speaker Jose de Venecia was forced to allow the Pulido petition to be transmitted to the Justice Committee (ergo to be “initiated”) despite his previous announcement that he would first investigate attempts by Malacanang lobbyists to bribe Opposition legislators to support it.
In so far as the Glorietta mall blast, police investigators have jumped from one conclusion to another with every passing day. At first, the blast was attributed to an exploding tank of liquefied petroleum gas but this was quickly discarded for the “terrorist” theory that became the favored one of Police Chief General Razon, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief General Esperon and National Security Adviser Gonzales . Until traces of an explosive exclusively used by the military called C4 was gathered by the government’s own bomb experts and started to problematically point in the direction of the AFP. All of a sudden the “terrorist” angle has been dropped. A new one pointing to a purely industrial accident -- methane gas explosion triggering a diesel explosion -- as the cause of the blast is now the main, if not the only, explanation being purveyed by government. All other leads have conveniently come to a dead end.
Unfortunately for government, the owner of the mall has disputed the facts on which the government’s line is based and more independent and credible experts from the University of the Philippines have questioned the likelihood of an explosion occurring under the conditions propounded by the police. And despite government investigators citing the supposed findings of US and Australian explosives experts that they found no trace of an “improvised explosive device”, no official report from these foreign experts has been shown to the public.
It is useful to recall at this juncture the Meiring blast incident in Davao City in 2003. Mr. Meiring was an American suspected of possessing bombs that he accidentally set off in his hotel room. Was he an American terrorist? What was he doing in Mindanao, a region that both US and Philippine authorities loudly proclaim to be teeming with “terrorists”? The point is we will never know because a US embassy official and Central Intelligence Agency operatives reportedly whisked away the wounded Mr. Meiring thus aborting an investigation being conducted by the Davao police. It was a patent case of violation of Philippine sovereignty, not to mention an unresolved case involving national security that the Arroyo government has not bothered to address, then or now. In light of this experience, any so-called US expert opinion cited by government officials must be subjected to stringent scrutiny and independent verification.
It is clear by now that nothing in these series of scandals has ever been resolved and cover-ups have become more ludicrous and ineffectual each time these are attempted. Whatever little credibility the Arroyo regime has left is being eroded even more as a growing number of people are becoming angry, dismayed, disgruntled, disgusted and just fed up with Mrs. Arroyo and her ilk.
Will things come to a head sooner than the 2010 presidential elections when Mrs. Arroyo must step down? At the rate the Arroyo regime is going in provoking the ire of the people, the Oust/Resign Gloria Movement may yet gather enough steam, generate massive protests and achieve the unexpected. ###
*Published in Business World
26-27 October 2007