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.