Next to the Marcos dictatorship, the Arroyo presidency will likely go down in history as the government most vilified apparently due to its use of coercion and intimidation to silence its critics and its presumed enemies.
Its eighth year in power began in January with a threat against reporters that they will be haled to jail if they covered so-called "destabilizers" and also a bigger threat on cause-oriented organizations against holding rallies to commemorate Edsa Dos.
On Feb. 4, Jose de Venecia, Jr., a staunch Arroyo ally, was unceremoniously unseated as House speaker in a coup plotted by the president's husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, her two congressmen-sons, and a business crony. De Venecia's ouster – where government funds were reportedly used to marshal the yes votes - was described as a family vendetta over De Venecia's refusal to stop his son, Joey III, from testifying in the Senate about the $330-million telecommunications project scam.
The son's testimony on the tainted project implicated the president's husband, former Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos, and some generals in the Arroyo Cabinet. In a privilege speech on the night of the coup, De Venecia lambasted the chief executive for failing to stop assassination attempts by her own men against himself and his son.
De Venecia, 71, who had served as Speaker for five terms beginning 1992 in the 9th Congress, was instrumental in throwing out three impeachment complaints filed against Arroyo in connection with the fraudulent 2004 presidential elections and other constitutional violations. Like a true praetorian guard, he thus saved the president – who was once his vice-presidential mate in 1998 - from certain imprisonment. Now stripped of power and betrayed by Arroyo along with 56 members of his own Lakas-CMD, which he leads as party president, the ousted Speaker has promised to tell all of what he knows about the president and hinted he may likely join the opposition.
Then on Feb. 5, Rodolfo Noel Lozada, Jr., a key witness in the controversial national broadband network (NBN) telecommunications deal, went missing after arriving at the international airport from Hong Kong. Quick intercession by his family, senators, and religious groups coupled with media vigilance probably saved his life. In an early dawn news conference Feb. 7, the young Lozada anguished over death threats he said he received from Abalos for refusing to endorse the shady deal on account of the former Comelec chief's demand for a $130 million commission. He withdrew from the project deliberations as a consultant and has also resigned as president of the state-owned Philippine Forest Corporation. Lozada, who had a brother killed by the police for "mistaken identity," said he was just a professional doing his job and wanted no part in the scam. The deal has since been scrapped by Arroyo.
Arroyo's claims of giving the country an unprecedented economic growth have failed to lower the president's rating as the most corrupt in decades, with a culture of cronyism that equals the Marcos years, and a record of extra-judicial killings that has raised alarm in the international community.
Continuing to hound Arroyo are allegations of illegitimacy as a result of which it suffers a lack of trust and credibility among the people. In response to impeachment complaints and incessant calls for her resignation, the president, in an arrogant display of power, has resorted to gangland-style coercion, authoritarian measures, and military repression including threats of arrest and, as condemned by human rights groups, the summary execution and abduction of her most effective critics from the Left.
Under Arroyo, rule of law and due process are followed in the breach. Complaints against the president in the House are shot down through a tyranny of numbers and bribery while in the Senate investigations of the wrongdoings of the president, her family, and cronies are stymied by executive orders preventing Cabinet officials and generals from cooperating. Ever protective of their commander-in-chief, military authorities defy judicial authority on cases of missing persons, despite a long-delayed legal intervention by the Supreme Court.
Arroyo has thus tainted the office of the presidency and the electoral process, violated the independence of Congress, deepened the people's lack of trust in the justice system, and made the AFP her own private army.
Patronage, maintained through the control and disbursement of pork barrel, preferential treatment in multi-million projects, as well as high salaries, promotions, and other perks has also helped ensure Arroyo's stay in power. Bribery knows no bounds so that even key members of the Catholic hierarchy have been effectively "neutralized" from criticizing the president.
The last time the people saw the scourge of conjugal dictatorship was during the Marcos years. Today the Arroyo family is not only the fastest-growing ruling dynasty in the country but it is also embroiled in monumental cases of corruption and abuse of political power. The last of such cases is of course the NBN scam where the fixation to defend dynastic interests comes first even at the expense of long-time allies and presidential appointees, like Lozada.
The unseating of De Venecia and the abduction of Lozada has stirred calls anew for the president to quit – or at least to take a leave of absence - to give investigators of alleged presidential wrongdoings a free hand. For such a clamor to prosper, the people may have to transcend the reign of fear that has been sown under seven years of the Arroyo presidency and save the country from further harm.
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Director, Policy Study, Publication and Advocacy (PSPA)
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
TelFax +63-2 9299526; mobile phone: 0915-6418055
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