Thursday, February 11, 2010

The President’s Legacy: an Enchanted Kingdom

A legacy is something you bequeath to posterity. It can range from the simplest to the most complex. It can be a single personal item, or a piece of land. Legacy can also be something as immeasurable as the universe, like culture or education. Essentially, a legacy is something you left behind as part of a collective memory, of two people, a family or a nation.

This year, 2010, is as much a year of ‘goodbyes’ as a year of ‘hellos.’ Everybody up in the national ladder of leadership is either up for re-election or is retiring. Meanwhile, those wishing to be in their shoes have already started running for it even before the gunshot has gone off. This ingress-egress makes for a stimulating, if not politically volatile, national situation.

On the top rung of the ladder is Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the de facto President of this humble Republic who is now running for a much, much lower post, a congressional seat. On her last State of the Nation Address last year, while she has made it a point that she will remain as the president until the very last day of her term, she also hinted on possible plans to enter the race for a congressional seat. In the first two months of the year, the nation woke up to full page ads of the regime’s ‘achievements’ as a way of emphasizing the legacy it would leave behind com June 30th.

By the way, This last-ditch efforts to endear the “President” to the public and the media is dubbed as by the media as the charm offensive. That term, though unintentional, appears as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the “President”, as her charm IS offensive.

On the subject of legacies, the “President” has spent P912 million on advertising in 2008 and P1.14 billion, in initial estimates, in 2009, according to the Commission on Audit, to publicize her efforts and winning strategies that she claims boosted the Philippine economy.

However, I doubt if the Filipino people will remember her government as how she paints it to be.

In the nine years of her rule, she has been embroiled in a number of scandals and scams, either directly or indirectly. Off the top of my head, there are at least five scandals. The fertilizer scam that was exposed after the 2004 elections. I have forgotten the entire amount involved but it is presumably in the millions. Fertilizer funds where very generously spread over the municipalities regardless of whether they needed it or not.

Then came the NBN-ZTE scam of $329 million which involves her husband Mike Arroyo, Benjamin Abalos, Romulo Neri and the whistle-blower JunLozada. In the aftermath of this scandal, Neri was given a six month suspension while Abalos and Arroyo were acquitted of charges. Jun Lozada, meanwhile, had to live an entirely new life surrounded by the protective habits of the clergy and nuns. Incidentally, Mike Arroyo invites more criticism for his wife as international lending institutions recently divulged anomalies in securing road works contracts. Most contracts are being given to contractors that have close ties with Mike Arroyo.
Who can forget the “Hello, Garci,” scandal were a woman was recorded calling a Comelec Commissioner to ensure a comfortable lead against her opponent? The “President” eventually admitted to a “lapse in judgement” when she called the commissioner. She appeared on national television saying the infamous words “I… am… sorry.” which insiders say has taken many shoots to achieve a semblance of humility. I am sorry to say, to has failed to exonerate the “President’s” ‘lapse in judgement’ and her face only reeks of insincerity and displeasure in having been pushed to admit her guilt.

The “President’s” term is also one consistently threatened by impeachment raps. Sadly, each attempt to impeach the “President” has been outmanoeuvred by bogus impeachment claims and or outright dismissal for ‘lack of merit’. This ‘lack of merit’ judgment comes from an Arroyo party-dominated Lower House.
Of course, it is also in this term when a Charter Change was aggressively sought for. A slight problem in the implementation of an economic policy warrants a comment from administration allies that only Charter Change can solve the problem. However, Charter Change is far from the solution we are looking for at this point in time.

Besides these, the 3rd quarter of last year also brought to public awareness how much the entire first family has literally gained from this venture in politics. Only Mikey Arroyo was stupid enough to think that he can wiggle his way out of it when he guested on Unang Hirit. Too bad he didn’t adopt his mother’s own strategy of surrounding herself with a phalanx of spokespersons to keep herself one step removed from the controversy.

But more than financial unaccountability, ballooning budget deficits and tax measures that squeeze the regular Juan dela Cruz for all he is worth, the “President” is leaving the presidency with a trail of blood.
Following the Arroyo’s rise to power on 2001 after the ouster of Joseph Estrada, she has kept a tight leash on all forces critical of her. It can be remembered that when her actions have departed from her promises in the Edsa 2, ten Cabinet officials resigned and urged her to do the same or face impeachment.

And the witch-hunt began.

Oplan Bantay Laya was put into action as soon as it was clear that the public is not satisfied with Arroyo’s performance and might even stage another Edsa, this time, aimed against herself.
Under Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2, 284 political prisoners were arrested and detained. Most of them are consultants of the National Democratic Front for peace talks. They should have been covered by the Joint Agreement on Immunity and Safety Guarantees (JASIG) signed by the GRP and NDFP negotiating panels. Elizabeth Principe, an NDF consultant, is one of these detainees. She has since been released. The others, Philip Limjoco, Rodolfo Calubad, Gabriel Calubad, Leopoldo Ancheta, Celina Palma, Gloria Soco, Ariel Beloy, Prudencio Calubid, Federico Intise, Nelly Intise, Cesar Batralo, Leo Velasco and Gloria Canaveral, were not quite as lucky.
2006 was the peak of extrajudicial killings which prompted the United Nations to send UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, whom Enrile derogatorily dismissed as a mere “muchacho,” to investigate the pervasive atmosphere of state-perpetrated violence. It also prompted the government to convene the Melo Commission that would also look into the extrajudicial killings. Both findings confirmed a prevailing culture of impunity that is state-sponsored.

Arroyo herself confirmed this when she praised Jovito Palparan in her 2006 SONA for doing a “job well done.” Palparan has been branded “Berdugo” or “The Butcher” by militants who have suffered the brunt of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in all the regions he was assigned to. Asked about this, Palparan boastfully said that it was not his fault if people are inspired by his words.Not far behind the killings are cases of enforced disappearances and torture. Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeno, James Balao and Jonas Burgos lend faces to the voices that have suddenly quieted down. Meanwhile, Melissa Roxas and Raymond Manalo provide first-hand accounts of torture victims of the state.

By the end of 2009, more than a thousand cases of extrajudicial killings have been reported, excluding 204 cases of enforced disappearances and 1026 cases of torture.

Also, in 2009, the impunity index of the New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists shows that the Philippines is ranked sixth in the world, the only “peaceful-democratic country” in it. The other five topnotchers were Iraq, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Colombia and Sri Lanka, all of which are war-torn countries.
There have been more or less a hundred cases of journalist killings in the Philippines since Arroyo took to the presidency. This puts the Philippines before Iraq and Afghanistan as the world’s most dangerous place for a journalist.
Sadly, it is only in this way that “President” has succeeded in making the Philippines world-class and globally competitive.

Surely, the “President” will not be remembered for how much the Philippine economy had improved over the years that she took the helm. Neither will she be remembered for the so-called investments and pledges or financial aids she has reportedly bagged in her very many trips abroad amounting to billions of dollars, which are in the form of debts that the Filipino public have to eventually pay for. She will not be remembered for her policies that made the Philippine democracy stronger for everything she did undermined it.
Rather, she will be remembered for her unabashed spending of the taxpayers’ money to finance her and her battalion of an entourage on her trips abroad. She will be remembered for the scams and brown paper bags she routinely distributes to politicians to pay them off. She will be remembered for that million peso splurge for a dinner that is “not even good.” More than being remembered for the money she brought into the economy, she will be remembered for how she spent it as “befitting” a head of state. She will be remembered for her retributive character against anyone who has crossed her path.

Indeed, in lieu of a legacy of economic stability and improving standard of living that is being trumpeted by her all her SONAs and recent full-page ads, what the Filipino public will receive is a legacy of ill-fated, anti-poor economic measures and a country masquerading as a democracy. The bequeather, a de facto President known to go back on her own word while struggling to keep the facade of an iron-willed manager of the Strong Republic. The bequest, an Enchanted Kingdom of lies to lull the unsuspecting.

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