Monday, February 25, 2008

The Imminent Fall of the Evil Empire

PerryScope: Perry Diaz

For the last seven years since she usurped the presidency from Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo built an empire that fed on greed. And over that period of time, she spun a massive web of corruption -- and deception -- that centered in Malacanang. Corruption was institutionalized at every level of her government -- from the lowly paid clerk to the greedy influence peddlers and all the way to the top echelon of the Arroyo administration.

Rodolfo "Jun" Lozada's testimony before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee was akin to the testimony of Joseph Valachi before the U.S. Senate McClellan Committee in 1962 when it investigated organized crime in the U.S. Valachi was the first Mafia insider who broke the "Omerta" code of silence and exposed the extent of the "Cosa Nostra" criminal empire. In the case of Lozada, he was the first "Evil Empire" insider who exposed the extent of corruption in the Arroyo government.

In his testimony, Lozada talked about a meeting that he attended last December 2007 with Romulo Neri and Senators Ping Lacson and Jamby Madrigal. At that meeting, Neri said of Arroyo: "She is evil." Neri also told them that Arroyo allowed her business cronies to control certain industries. Lacson and Madrigal, however, would not divulge what Neri told them. They said that they promised Neri to keep the information he disclosed confidential. I think there's more to it than keeping their promises.

According to Lozada, Neri named Lucio Tan, John Gokongwei, Enrique Razon, Tomas Alcantara, and the Aboitizes as some of the "oligarchs" who ruled the country under the patronage of Arroyo. It is interesting to note that on December 12, 2007, a consortium led by Enrique Razon which comprised the State Grid Corporation of China and Calaca High Power Corp. won the right to operate the government-owned TransCo for 25 years for only $3.95 billion. Critics said that the government would earn a lot more than that if Congress did not pass a law forcing the privatization of TransCo operations.

Last September 2007, after the ZTE-NBN scandal erupted, Arroyo quietly suspended more than $4 billion worth of projects funded by China. She also suspended the $460 million Cyber-Ed project which was also awarded to a Chinese company.

It is anticipated that some of Arroyo's political allies would abandon her at the crucial time. But how about the military? Would the military's top brass stick with her until the very end? I doubt it. Just like in 1986 and 2001, the military would do the right thing and support the leader who would emerge with popular support. After all, Arroyo's presidency is considered by many as illegitimate; thus, giving the military a pretense in the event that they abandon Arroyo. Hey, they're human too.

At a recent wreath-laying ceremony at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes Cemetery) commemorating the 22nd anniversary of the "People Power" revolution, former President Fidel V. Ramos, in his speech, said that the gains of the "People Power" revolution in 1986 and 2001 were being lost to "greed, apathy, and corruption." Those words must have shaken Arroyo -- who was present at the ceremony -- to the bones. And in what appeared to be a "call to action," Ramos implored, "history might yet call us to come together again -- to offer our lives and fortunes on the altar of our civic leaders." Then he blasted the oligarchs, dynasties, and opportunists. It doesn't take a genius to figure out who Ramos was talking about. After the ceremony, Arroyo took off without saying a word to the audience. Perhaps she was choking from the "noose" tightening around her neck while Ramos was lambasting corruption in her government.

A few days earlier, Vice President Noli de Castro said, "Nobody is above the law." He said that government officials, including Arroyo, should be charged if they were found involved in the ZTE-NBN scandal. That's a pretty strong message which told Arroyo that he is ready to take over in the event that she would resign or be removed from office. It is interesting to note that in 2005, de Castro stood squarely behind Arroyo and said that he was not interested in the presidency. In the end, Arroyo was saved only because nobody was ready to take over. This time, de Castro is ready. And all he had to do is convince the power brokers that he is ready, willing, and able to step up to the plate… and lead.

In an unexpected move a few days ago, First Gentleman Mike Arroyo hastily left for Hong Kong for an acupuncture treatment. But I doubt if anybody would believe him. Interestingly, he left four days after the Ombudsman opened its investigation on his involvement in the $329 million ZTE-NBN contract. Was he doing what his friend Joc-joc Bolante did -- flee the country to avoid prosecution?

After Mike left for Hong Kong, Arroyo admitted that she was aware of allegations of high-level corruption in the NBN deal. However, she did not stop the signing of the deal claiming that she didn't want to create a "diplomatic problem" with China. Whoa! This must be a joke. She placed the interest of corrupt Chinese officials -- or as one of my readers said, her own interest -- over the interest of the Filipino people. She could have come up with a good -- and valid -- excuse and told her Chinese friends that the review of the contract was still in progress. And what would the Chinese do otherwise -- invade the Philippines?

Freddie Hernandez of Port Moresby wrote, "Loyalty has become a multi-million peso/dollar commodity for those who are close to the powers-that-be. To them, it is their dogged commitment to stick to the seat of power come hell or high water; it is a determined effort to simply play deaf to the prevailing public outcry that clamorously tells them such allegiance has now become a tool of oppression, and to play blind to the overlapping web of blatant corruption in their midst." But like all things, the good would eventually prevail over evil. The fall of Gloria's "evil empire" is imminent. Either she resigns gracefully now or feel the wrath of another "people power."

One of Arroyo's allies, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, in an article by Roger M. Balanza, said that "the ouster of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo could be hastened not by the political opposition calling for her ouster or military or police losing trust on the Commander-in-Chief, but students rising up with one voice in a 'spontaneous combustion' to demand she step down." Indeed, a "spontaneous combustion" -- just like the First Quarter Storm 38 years ago -- could cause a massive turmoil that would either force Arroyo to resign or declare martial law. It's her choice to make.