Sunday, February 24, 2008


Practice makes perfect, the saying goes. So I am at a loss about President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Today, the country received another apology from the President, who faces civil unrest over allegations of bribery and corruption in connection with the aborted ZTE national broadband network scandal.

Mrs. Arroyo, who yesterday admitted she knew there was something wrong with the contract before signing it, admitted to not being perfect. But she urged Filipinos to forgive her mistakes since she is a hard-working President with only the good of the people in mind.

She and Bill Clinton must have exchanged recent emails :)

Now everyone who has sought forgiveness knows that the key to absolution is disclosure. Full disclosure. AND good faith. Mrs. Arroyo's mea culpa falls short on both counts.

First, she claims she only knew of revelations of wrongdoing on the eve of the signing of the ZTE contract. And, adds Mrs. Arroyo, she could hardly back out from signing the contract because of the country's negotiations with China.

That is a lie. That is not even a half-truth. It is an outright lie.

Anyone who has followed the Senate inquiry into the ZTE scandal knows that her former economic secretary, that weasel named Romulo Neri, claimed to have told her long before the contract signing of the P200-million bribe offer from then Commission on Election Chair Benjamin Abalos. Neri also told the Senate inquiry that Mrs. Arroyo brushed off his report, telling him not to accept but to approve the project. It was also clear that Neri -- and Finance Secretary Margarito Teves -- had vehemently opposed the deal, because it veered away from Mrs. Arroyo's directive to focus on Build-Operate-Transfer projects and spare the government having to offer guarantees.

If a P200-million bribe offer (as relayed by the recipient of the offer) is not serious enough to merit the President's attention, you wonder what it takes to actually jar her imperious highness. Apparently, only the specter of ouster can do that.

Shortly before Neri appeared in the Senate, Malacanang claimed it had investigated the charge and found it baseless. Who investigated and who were investigated remain puzzles. In the same session where Neri exploded the bribery bombshell. Sen. Pia Cayetano had asked an array of Cabinet officials and line agency executives if they had been questioned or knew anyone who had been questioned about the bribery. Everyone -- and I mean everyone -- said, duh.

The problem here is that President Arroyo believes the story should end with the cancellation of the ZTE contract. That just doesn't wash. The scrapping of a flawed contract does not erase the corruption that accompanied negotiations for that contract. Last I looked, corruption, especially bribery, remain crimes under Philippine laws -- and the overprice here is almost half of the contract's price.

The argument may be made that since the money that changed hands came from the ZTE, it was purely a private enterprise. That, again, is bull. Those advances were given -- and allegedly received --with the promise of contract approval. Guess who were going to foot the bill? Jun Lozada, who tread where Neri refused to go, claims that in one meeting a ZTE executive fretted about the delay despite advances given. Where did the money go?

What makes this mea culpa so objectionable is the series of government actions -- including a bungled abduction -- that show bad faith. The government has pulled out of the Senate hearings; it has filed cases against Lozada. It has also opened an Ombudsman inquiry into the scandal but there's little faith in that office these days, especially since that inquiry has been used as an excuse to evade further Senate scrutiny.

Practice, in the case of Malacanang, has not led to the President and her men cleaning up their act. Every narrow escape has only made this administration more brazen. So sorry, Madame, but you cannot say I'm sorry now for something you had claimed was a phantom conjured by your enemies. There can be no forgiveness when you won't even confess to the sin.

1 comment:

UP Third World Studies Center said...

28 March 2008

Editor-In-Chief, Philippine Graphic
Media Safety Office
105-A Scout Castor Street
Barangay Laging Handa, Quezon City

Dear Ms. Espina-Varona,

The Third World Studies Center of the University of the Philippines-Diliman, with research funding from the South-South Exchange Programme for Research on the History of Development (SEPHIS) of the International Institute of Social History (IISH), is undertaking a research project on Mendiola as a site of memories of mobilization and confrontations with the state. Mendiola is the name of the street that leads directly to the Malacanang Palace, the seat of the Philippine presidency. Since the 1960s, Mendiola continues to be the foremost site of physical confrontation between social movement actors and the state. Generations of social movement actors have braved bullets and barricades in the street of Mendiola just to be able to put forward their grievances within shouting distance of the Philippine president. The task of this research is to encourage political actors, bystanders, and journalists to articulate their stories of Mendiola, thereby capturing through history and personal narratives the social memories of street protests and confrontations with the state.

In this light, as a noted journalist, may I please invite you for an interview to be scheduled at your most convenient time and venue? With your permission, the interview will be videotaped as part of the research methodology. We believe your involvement and participation in the news coverage of events that have transpired in Mendiola will greatly contribute to this project.

We hope that you will be able to accommodate this request. Should you have any questions or clarifications, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us through 920 5428 or 981 8500 local 2488 and look for me or Allen Villota. If you'd kindly provide us your email address, we will send you the research proposal and guide questions.

Thank you very much. I look forward to your most favorable response.


University Researcher