ARROYO ELECTED PRESIDENT IN 2004
Macapagal-Arroyo declared in December 2002 that she would not contest the May 2004 presidential election, but she reversed herself in October 2003 and decided to run. She was reelected and sworn in for her own six-year term as president on June 30, 2004. With this new mandate, she was able to move with greater assurance on the political and economic reform agenda that had stalled during her first term in office, but ultimately she got bogged down by corruption charges and her second term is remembered most for the numerous attempts to impeach her.
Arroyo was elected as president in a June 2004. This was the first time that she was elected to the office. She initially became president in 2001 after Estrada was ousted not through an election. Arroyo said changed her mind to run for president because the lack of decent candidates made it her duty to run. Insiders said she initially decided not to run because of incessant sniping and attacks by her critics but changed her mind, after much prayer and a meeting with the pope, because she figured the attacks would continue even if she wasn’t president so she might as well run.
Arroyo ran against Fernando Poe Jr., an actor who was a good friend of Estrada and, like Estrada, was very popular with the poor. Arroyo won 39.5 percent of the votes (12.9 million votes). Poe took 36.5 percent (11.8 million) and three other candidates were well behind them. Arroyo’s running mate was popular news anchor Noli de Castro.
Poe was a relative political novice. Like Estrada he was a star of B action movies. Known among moviegoers as Da King, he was born out of wedlock to an American mother and a Spanish father. He won five Philippines “Oscars” and generally played handsome, strong, silent types who did their talking with their fists and their weapons, His most popular role was that of an underdog who disposed of his enemies with a magic sword.
After he entered the race Poe led Arroyo in the polls and filled stadiums with his rallies, where he declared he was a friend of the poor, but as time wore on voters began to question his abilities. He had no record of public service and dropped out of school when he was 15. He always wore dark sunglasses, refused to enter a debate or do interviews or news conferences. When he did speak he often quoted lines from his movies, which made people wonder if he could speak without a script.
Disputes, Recounts and Violence Associated with the 2004 Election
Arroyo wasn’t officially declared the winner of the June 2004 Presidential election until six weeks after the election was over. It took a couple of weeks or so to initially count the votes. Then Poe and his supporters claimed there was widespread cheating and voter irregularities and threatened a “people power” revolt.
After a couple of weeks of Congressional debate a thorough recount was conducted over 13 days A committee lawmakers issued a report that stated that Arroyo beat Poe by more than a million votes, a margin large to outweigh any doubts about the legitimacy of the election. The report was approved by a joint session of Congress and finally Arroyo was declared the winner.
In the run up to the recount both Arroyo and Poe claimed victory. Riot police and the military were called in to provide security at the Congress building and other places where protests or riots might break out. Poe still refused to concede. He took his case it to the Supreme Court.
There was some violence too. In the north gunmen attacked two town halls, killing a policeman and burning ballots. On Jolo island in the Muslim south, a powerful bomb exploded in a building where ballots were being counted, killing one person and injuring 14. In Maguidanao a vice mayoral candidate shot an aunt of his rival. By one count there were at laest 115 election-related deaths, including 30 or so candidates, between December 2003 and May 2004. This was up from 67 deaths in 1998.
“Hello Garci” Tapes and Allegations That Arroyo Fixed the 2004 Elections
After the 2004 Presidential elections there were reports that Arroyo conspired with an election commissioner to rig the election and Estrada conspired to assassinate Arroyo. John O’Callaghan of Reuters wrote: “The “Hello Garci” tapes were a series of audio recordings allegedly featuring Arroyo talking by telephone with former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano about rigging the presidential election on May 10, 2004. The tapes mysteriously surfaced in June, sparking months of crisis for the president, including desertions from her cabinet and a failed impeachment in September. Arroyo’s foes in Congress and in regular street protests are pressing demands she step down, but the turmoil has largely subsided without the middle-class anger that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada as president in 2001. [Source: John O’Callaghan, Reuters, November 16, 2005 ***]
“Arroyo apologized on television in June 2005 for talking to an election official but did not say it was Garcillano and insisted she did nothing wrong. The source of the tapes has yet to be established and many questions remain, including how the president’s phone conversations were tapped and for whom. The recordings, whether real or altered, “just materialized out of thin air and fell fortuitously on the laps of the persons who brought them to public attention,” a draft report by a congressional committee said. ***
“Other recordings released by the government, purportedly showing Estrada conspiring with unknown people to assassinate Arroyo, were “suspiciously short and clearly spurious, not to say unquestionably fabricated,” the report said. Arroyo’s administration gave “no sincere co-operation” to the congressional inquiry and “contributed nothing toward arriving at the truth” about the tapes, said the report. ***
“Arroyo’s officials have said they consider the matter to be closed and the focus is now back on the economy, with a broader sales tax that will help the government cut its chronic budget deficits and the costs of borrowing money. But Roilo Golez, a congressman and former national security adviser who left Arroyo’s party, said on television: “It will never be closed until Commissioner Garcillano has appeared.” Garcillano’s whereabouts are not known after he slipped out of the Philippines in July 2005. Media have reported sightings in Singapore, Britain and South America but the chat at diplomatic events and in coffee shops is that he could be dead. Arroyo’s poor approval rating at this time, subtracting positive views from negative, was minus 28 percent, leading pollster Pulse Asia said, compared to a record-low minus 39 percent in July. ***
Conversations from the “Hello Garci” Tapes
In July 2005, Carlos H. Conde wrote in the New York Times, “When the Philippine president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, went on national television to apologize for election-related improprieties, not a few of her critics demanded that she resign and hold a special presidential election. The wiretapped conversations between a man said to be Virgilio Garcillano, a commissioner at the Commission on Elections who had been implicated in previous election fraud, and a number of other people, including a woman said to be Arroyo, provide a glimpse of the flaw in how Filipinos choose their leaders. [Source: Carlos H. Conde, New York Times, July 1, 2005 <^>]
“In one conversation, the woman believed to be Arroyo called to ask if she would still lead by more than one million votes, to which the man replied that he would try to do his best. This exchange suggests that there was a plot to rig the votes. In another conversation, the man told the woman that she need not worry because her votes were being increased and that this was being done well. <^>
“In the same conversation, the man implied that members of the military were involved in the fraud. He talked about Basilan, an island in the south, where he said the military "was not very good at it," apparently referring to the fraud. He also said he had asked an election official in Sulu, another island in the south, to hide so he would not have to testify in case fraud was uncovered. The man also spoke with other people, including candidates, one of whom practically haggled for the amount he had to shell out in order to win. "If Garcillano said all of those things, then he was guilty of fraud," said Sheila Coronel, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, which had done groundbreaking reporting on election fraud. "But he was surely, certainly, not alone," Coronel wrote on her group's Web site. "He had a whole infrastructure of fraud behind him." <^>
In 2011, a former sharia court judge told a Senate hearing that election officers were bribed to ensure the victory of Arroyo in the 2004 presidential elections. Maila Ager wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “Nagamura Moner told the Senate committee that he paid the election officers in some areas in Mindanao to change the results in favor of Arroyo. "What was the money for?" asked Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile. "It was to pay the election officers...because at that time, the results of the counting showed that (Fernando Poe Jr) was winning by landslide," Moner said. "You were bribing election officers?" Enrile asked again. "Yes your honor although I have not met them," Moner said. Moner said a total of 400,000 pesos (US$9,300) was spent in Tawi-Tawi and 500,000 pesos ($12,000) in Sulu to change the results of the elections in these areas. Moner said he was tapped by then Philippine Ports Authority general manager Alfonso Cusi for the operation because his brother -in -law, Efren Bollozos, was working as manager of the PPA. [Source: Maila Ager, Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 13, 2011]
Officials Received Cash Bribes in Arroyo's Home, Ally of Foes Says
In August 2005, a man allied with the opponents of Arroyo said that he had witnessed election officials accepting money to ensure her victory in the 2004 presidential elections at a meeting in Arroyo's private home in Manila and in her presence. Carlos H. Conde wrote in the New York Times, “Michael Angelo Zuce, a former "technical assistant" to one of Arroyo's political advisers, said he attended a meeting in January 2004, four months before the election, in the president's home. In that meeting, the wife of an alleged gambling boss gave envelopes containing 30,000 pesos, or about $535, to each of several election officials, Zuce said. [Source: Carlos H. Conde, New York Times, August 2, 2005 <<<]
"President Arroyo directly solicited the support of Comelec officials present in helping her in the upcoming elections," Zuce said in a news conference organized by the political opposition, referring to the Commission on Elections. The new allegation ties together two charges the president has faced for more than three months: that she cheated in the election and used money from illegal gambling to finance the fraud. Administration officials denied the new allegation. "It never happened. No such meeting took place," said Rigoberto Tiglao, one of Arroyo's advisers. Another administration official called the allegation "fantastic and incredible." "I deny that," Arroyo said of the allegation on ABS-CBN television over the weekend. On Monday she criticized what she called a trial by publicity. Arroyo's opponents said that the new allegation would strengthen their impeachment case against her. They have accused Arroyo of "betrayal of public trust," rigging elections, corruption and other charges. <<<
"She had knowledge and direct participation in the conspiracy to cheat in the 2004 national elections," Zuce said. He said he spoke out because he feared for his life. He said one of Arroyo's cabinet officials had been looking for him since the scandal broke in early June. Zuce said Arroyo and her men had plotted to cheat in the elections as early as October 2002. He said his assignment had been to distribute money to provincial election officials, particularly in the southern Philippines, where massive cheating allegedly took place. Zuce said Virgilio Garcillano, an election commissioner whose alleged wiretapped conversations with the president set off the scandal, had supervised the whole operation. Several of the election officials identified in that meeting with Arroyo denied taking bribes.” <<<
Arroyo’s Second Term as President Gets off to Dismal Start
Arroyo began her second term with a hostage crisis in Iraq (see United States, International), promises of “austerity and simplicity” and the announcement of a reform package to fight corruption, attract foreign investment, improve education and make the Philippines less dependent on foreign energy. But not much of any good happened. By mid 2005, weeks of political turmoil, combined with a Supreme Court freeze on one of Arroyo's key economic reforms, put a cloud over Philippine financial markets while the central bank vigorously defended the peso.
In 2005, Carlos H. Conde wrote in the New York Times, “Analysts believe Arroyo squandered the opportunities provided by People Power II to move the country forward. "She got busy paying her political debts," said Benito Lim, a political analyst at the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, a private institute. Lim said nothing in the country seemed to be going right: the economy is in the doldrums, the Islamic and Communist insurgencies are growing, terrorism has not been contained, the quality of life is deteriorating, the debt and budget deficit continue to balloon, and corruption is still pervasive and is, according to Transparency International, worsening. Perhaps nothing illustrates the Philippines' sense of gloom better than the fact that hundreds of Filipinos manage to enter Iraq illegally to find jobs despite the daily danger there. Thousands leave every day to work as maids, entertainers, nurses and caregivers abroad. [Source: Carlos H. Conde, New York Times, January 20, 2005 |^|]
“In a forum, the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines identified the lack of leadership as one of the main problems. In newspaper commentaries and online chat rooms, Filipinos talk about this "sense of drift," which manifested itself soon after the euphoria ofPeople Power II evaporated. "There is disillusionment with the ability of the leadership to govern," Lim said. A survey by Social Weather Stations, a private polling institute, in December found that only 81 percent of adult Filipinos were optimistic about their prospects in 2005, down from 90 percent a year ago and 95 percent the year before that. Another poll by the same institute and conducted at the same time showed that one of three adult Filipinos "looked forward to a happy Christmas, as pessimism dominates on the expected quality of life next year." The survey said the biggest decline in optimism registered among the poor. |^|
“In a statement, Arroyo called on Filipinos not to lose hope. "Things will continue to look up as we match our people's faith and courage with the steady will to fight corruption, cut wasteful spending, put our fiscal house in order and grow the economy to create jobs and feed the hungry," she said. But some Filipinos are not convinced. "She failed in giving Filipinos hope," said Florie May Tacang, a social worker. "Estrada and his cronies, the very people we ousted four years ago, are still there." Tacang could have said the same thing about the first People Power. |^|
“Ferdinand Marcos's cronies and family are still in power and the victims of the human rights abuses under his dictatorship have yet to be compensated. Meanwhile, the promise of genuine land reform, the lack of which has been fueling a communist insurgency for decades, remains a promise. Last week, Imelda Marcos, the former dictator's widow, stepped inside the presidential palace for the first time since her family was driven out of there by an angry mob two decades ago. Before television cameras, she gushed about the experience - and proceeded to receive an award from Arroyo for being a good mother. "It was surreal," Tacang said. "It's as if People Power never happened." |^|
Arroyo’s Character Problem
Carlos H. Conde wrote in the New York Times, “Of all the presidents since Marcos, Arroyo suffers the worst from credibility problems. "She seems to have a hard time connecting to the ordinary Filipino," said Ellen Tordesillas, a political analyst who, as a journalist, has covered presidents since the 1980s. In many ways, it has been Arroyo's own doing. Not a few people were disappointed when she reneged on her promise not to run in the 2004 elections. When she changed her mind, she said God made her decide to run - a statement that was as phony as it was offensive to Filipino Catholics, Tordesillas said. [Source: Carlos H. Conde, New York Times, July 2, 2005 <*>]
"People have difficulty believing her and warming up to her," Tordesillas said, echoing an observation of journalists who covered Arroyo. She has been routinely described as aloof, cold, even snobbish. "She behaves like a princess, a señorita, perhaps because she is the daughter of a president and she has this sense of entitlement," Tordesillas said. Arroyo has displayed this "character flaw," as Tordesillas called it, openly in public several times, when she would loudly berate her officials in public and in front of the cameras. A number of times during news conferences, she insulted reporters whose questions she did not like. "Arroyo's weakness is that she can't, or maybe doesn't want, to relate to the nation," Michael Tan, a sociologist, wrote in his column in The Philippine Daily Inquirer. <*>
Arroyo is also notorious for being a micromanager. "She micromanages everything," Michael Defensor, Arroyo's environment secretary and one of her closest political advisers, said on television These "character flaws" may well have affected how she ran the country and, later, how she managed the election-fraud crisis, said Millard Lim, a professor of political science at Ateneo de Manila University, where Arroyo taught economics. "Certainly, the personal behavior of a leader will affect his political behavior," Lim said. "You have to understand that, as a former professor, that was probably the way she dealt with her students. Professors can sometimes tend to be autocratic." <*>
The administration's response to the disclosure of the wiretapped conversations had been to cover it up, Tordesillas said."Truth was not on their side and that's the problem," Tordesillas said. "They started with a lie and they've been covering that lie with another lie and another lie." The administration also sought to distract the attention of the public by filing tax-evasion charges against Arroyo's brother-in-law and, later, her agriculture secretary. In the end, it boils down to a view shared by many, that Arroyo has always been insecure about her presidency. This insecurity, according to Millard Lim of the Ateneo de Manila University, might have been behind Arroyo's obsession with winning by more than one million votes, as apparently could be gleaned from the recordings, so that she could claim to have the mandate and popularity that her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, enjoyed. <*>
ZTE Kickback Scandal in Philippines
Zhongxing Telecommunications Equipment, or ZTE, a Chinese state-linked manufacturing giant that sells communications gear in more than 140 countries, allegedly paid tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks in connection with a 2007 contract. Among those charged in connection with the case were former president Gloria Magacapal-Arroyo, her husband and two other former senior officials. [Source: Andrew Higgins, Washington Post, June 24, 2012 <~>]
Andrew Higgins wrote in the Washington Post, “Among those charged with graft is Benjamin Abalos Sr., the former head of the Election Commission. According to testimony during hearings by the Philippine Senate, Abalos took large kickbacks from ZTE in connection with a contract for the construction of a broadband network and fed some $30 million into the campaign coffers of Philippine politicians ahead of a 2007 election. His Manila attorney, Gabby Villareal, said Abalos “categorically denies receiving any money” from ZTE. Claims that he did, the attorney said, are just hearsay. <~>
“ZTE, which has nearly 90,000 employees and last year ranked as the world’s fourth-biggest maker of mobile phones, has issued shares on stock markets in Hong Kong and nearby Shenzhen. It denies being state-controlled and describes itself as an “independent company.” Its biggest shareholder, however, is a state-dominated entity, as are at least seven of its other 10 largest shareholders. <~>
“ZTE won its 2007 broadband network contract in the Philippines after China’s then-commerce minister, Bo Xilai, helped arrange a low-interest loan from a Chinese state bank to finance the deal, which was subsequently canceled. ZTE did not address specific allegations raised in the Philippines but said that “abiding by Chinese and local laws is a basic principle that ZTE has always followed.” <~>
“When rumors of ZTE kickbacks began to surface and triggered a political storm in the Philippines, the U.S. Embassy in Manila in 2008 sent a cable to Washington reporting that “the ZTE case is typical of the deals that China reportedly uses worldwide to make friends and buy influence.” Unlike institutions such as the World Bank, according to the cable, which was later made public by WikiLeaks, “China does not link its aid to issues such as good governance, rule of law, or respect for human rights. Public skepticism and scrutiny have underlined shortcomings in China’s soft power efforts.” <~>
“A witness list drawn up recently for the trial here at a special anti-graft court known as Sandiganbayan includes two Chinese executives involved in the since-aborted ZTE contract for a broadband network to link government offices. ZTE’s head office in Shenzhen said neither person now works for the company but declined to say when they left or why. <~>
“The ZTE affair has attracted the a lot of attention, thanks to intense media interest after Senate hearings that featured detailed testimony of illicit payments. Jose De Venecia, a businessman who first blew the whistle on alleged kickbacks, said in an interview that his own company, Amsterdam Holdings, had proposed building a broadband network linking government offices in 2006 and offered to do it for $130 million. ZTE later proposed doing the same for $329 million and got the contract. “I put two and two together — they were overpricing to pay so-called advances,” said De Venecia, recalling a December 2006 meeting he attended with ZTE executives and the then-head of the Philippine Election Commission in Shenzhen. The meeting, he said, revolved around discussion of kickbacks. <~>
“De Venecia, whose father served for more than a decade as speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives and had close ties with Chinese leaders, puts most of the blame for the broadband fiasco on officials in Manila, saying that China merely got sucked into local shenanigans by its determination to win the contract. “Officials here were trying to extort money from ZTE. Unfortunately, ZTE was willing to participate,” De Venecia said. “ZTE is a company we will all remember.” <~>
Arroyo's Husband Leaves for U.S. Amid Corruption Scandal
In July 2005, Jose Miguel `Mike' Arroyo, President Arroyo’s husband, left for the U.S. amid corruption allegations while his wife faced allegations of election rigging. Associated Press reported: Arroyo's corruption-tainted husband left yesterday for self-imposed exile in the US as part of the embattled leader's efforts to distance herself from political scandals that threaten her government. Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo, a lawyer from a prominent family, has been accused of influence-peddling and receiving kickbacks from illegal gambling. "He is sad," his lawyer, Jesus Santos, said. "He wants to leave so that the president can do her work. He feels bad. He is saddened by reports that are erroneous." Santos stressed that Arroyo's husband was leaving "on his [own] volition." [Source: Associated Press, Agencies, July 7, 2005]
“The president said earlier that her husband volunteered to leave the Philippines and she was making a personal sacrifice to show her commitment to the nation. He is not facing any charges and has denied taking gambling payoffs -- the subject of a congressional inquiry. The president's son and brother-in-law also are accused of receiving payoffs at a time when Arroyo is facing allegations of electoral fraud.
Arroyo’s Husband Arrested on Bribery Charges on His Role in the ZTE Case
In March 2012, Mike Arroyo—the husband of former Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo—was arrested on charges that he received millions of dollars in bribes to push through an overpriced $330 million contract with a Chinese telecoms supplier ZTE while Arroyo was in office. [Source: Associated Press, The Guardian, March 13, 2012 /^/]
Associated Press reported: “Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo, who was seen as a backroom operator during his wife's troubled nine years in office, later posted bail to avoid detention. He was indicted on the bribery charges in December 2012. He is accused of accepting money to push through a $330 million government contract with Chinese telecommunication company ZTE Corp. to set up a nationwide broadband network in 2007. The contract was originally priced at $130 million. His wife approved the deal but later backtracked under public pressure and a congressional investigation that found the contract was vastly overpriced. /^/
“Mike Arroyo has denied wrongdoing and says the bribery charges are flawed because the former president cancelled the deal. His wife, who left office in 2010, faces the same charges as her husband, and more. She has pleaded innocent to electoral fraud charges, but is in detention at a military hospital as she awaits trial. A former elections chief, Benjamin Abalos, and the former transport secretary, Leandro Mendoza, also also charged over the ZTE contract, and the courts ordered their arrests on Tuesday. They previously testified in a senate hearing and denied receiving millions of dollars in kickbacks. Mendoza posted bail, while Abalos is under arrest on the same electoral fraud charge as the former president. /^/
“Former economic planning secretary Romulo Neri had testified that Abalos offered him a bribe to approve the ZTE contract. Jose de Venecia III, a losing bidder with connections to the Arroyos' inner circle, testified that the ex-president's husband was promised a $70 million commission. Arroyo had prevented top officials, including Neri, from continuing to testify in the congressional inquiry. Under her successor, President Benigno Aquino III, the Philippines' ombudsman investigated and filed charges at the anti-corruption court, which issued the arrest warrants. If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Aquino blames his predecessor for corruption and says he wants to clean up the government, starting with the prosecution of the Arroyos and their allies. The former first couple accuse Aquino of pursuing a political vendetta. /^/
Rodolfo Lozada said he has no direct evidence or information that would link the president's husband to the broadband deal, but he did remember having dinner with him, Abalos and representatives from ZTE Corp. at a hotel in Manila. [Source: Manny Mogato, Reuters, February 8, 2008]
Thousands Call for Arroyo's Resignation Over Election-Rigging
In early July 2005, protesters took to the streets demanding that Arroyo quit or face a `people power' uprising over allegations of election fraud. Associated Press reported: “Arroyo faced mounting pressure to resign amid street rallies that drew at least 10,000 people in Manila and calls by an influential Roman Catholic bishop for her to do more to address allegations that she rigged the 2004 election. Although the protest, called by left-wing opposition groups and supporters of disgraced ex-president Joseph Estrada, was the largest this week, it is still a fraction of the size of the "people power" uprisings that ousted late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Estrada in 2001. "We are facing the worst economic and political crisis over the last decade, and Mrs. Arroyo is at the center of the crisis," said Renato Reyes, secretary general of the main left-wing group Bayan. "People power is a perfectly legitimate expression of democracy because it involves the direct action of the people." [Source: Associated Press, July 2, 2005]
“Arroyo has undertaken a series of public-relations exercises aimed at defusing the most serious crisis to her leadership, including a public apology for phoning an election official during last year's vote count, purging her Cabinet of a minister charged with tax evasion and sending her corruption-tainted husband into exile. Although she apologized for what she called "a lapse of judgment" when she talked to an election official about protecting a million-vote victory margin during last year's election, Arroyo denied meddling with the polls and has refused to heed calls to resign.
The influential archbishop of Manila, Gaudencio Rosales, also entered the heated debate over Arroyo's conduct, saying in a statement that "despite expressions of regret, many remain angry, confused, hurt." Without mentioning Arroyo by name, he said: "Forgiveness does not eliminate the need for justice, nor should it block the search for truth. Genuine forgiveness demands more than an apology, and those who seek forgiveness should be ready to be called to accountability." But Rosales also warned that "any proposed solution to our present situation that relies on or leads to violence is unacceptable," and said "the pursuit of truth regarding the grave charges against leaders and officials should be conducted within the provisions of our constitution."
In mid July 2005, a protest against turned violent Friday 300 activists from farmers’ groups stormed the compound of the agriculture department in Manila and called on her to resign. Reuters reported: “Police quickly cleared dozens of protesters from the main building after they broke windows and chanted “End the Gloria regime”. All dispersed after an official talked to them and set a meeting for a later date. But the incident underlined the volatility of political tensions two days after 30,000 people marched peacefully in Manila’s business district, denouncing Arroyo over allegations of election fraud and graft in her family. Arroyo has refused to step down and has been rebuilding her cabinet and base of allies after a rash of resignations and defections that seemed to be pushing her four-year presidency to collapse. Supporters of the president were planning a counter-rally on Saturday at a Manila park and they said the crowd could hit 200,000 people. [Source: Reuters, July 16, 2005]
Opposition groups, who fell short of their target with the crowd of 30,000 have vowed bigger rallies around July 25, when Arroyo is to deliver an annual state of the nation address. But there is no sign the middle class, whose participation was crucial to “people power” revolts that toppled presidents in 1986 and 2001, has joined the rallies by Arroyo’s political enemies and groups of leftists, students and farmers.
Arroyo's Allies Stage Massive Rally
Also in mid July 2005 allies of President Arroyo rallied about 120,000 people for a pro-Arroyo rally to counter opposition demands for her ouster. Kyodo reported: “Analysts say Arroyo has to show that she still has the support of the bulk of the 84 million Filipinos. ''It's a show of force. It will show that Arroyo has more supporters than the opposition,'' political analyst Benito Lim said, adding the so-called peace and unity rally was meant ''only for public relations.'' The bulk of the crowd was supplied by the El Shadai congregation led by popular Catholic preacher Mariano Velarde. Velarde can draw devotees by the thousands, making him a much sought after endorser of Philippine politicians during elections. [Source: Kyodo, July 16, 2005 /+/]
“Other participants in the demonstration were bussed to Rizal Park by pro-Arroyo politicians from the provinces. Students and employees from different Manila suburbs were also forced to attend the rally, according to radio reports. ''This kind of rally is what we call 'hakot' (or hauled crowd),'' Lim said. ''The trouble is they spend government money or taxpayers' money to set up the rally.'' Arroyo did not attend the rally dubbed as a ''gathering for peace, unity through the rule of law,'' but many of her political allies did. /+/
“Rumors are swirling that some factions in the military are expected to jump into the picture to pave the way for a ''transitional revolutionary government.'' According to the rumors, disgruntled military officers will announce, at the height of the July 25 rally, their plans to side with the anti-Arroyo forces. The political bickering has prompted international ratings agencies to downgrade the country's debt outlook from stable to negative. The Asian Development Bank has warned it may not release fresh loans to the cash-strapped country if the political turmoil goes unchecked. ''This political bickering has to stop,'' said Jesus Felipe, a senior ADB economist, adding, ''the economy cannot go on without foreign investment.'' ''It is possible that the economy stagnates,'' he said, warning that the economy will get worse if the political crisis continues unabated.” /+/
In September 2005, the Philippine government warned that the police would crack down on unauthorized or unruly protest rallies seeking Arroyo’s removal. The New York Times reported: “Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, a senior member of Arroyo's cabinet, said intelligence reports pointed to "credible plans of antigovernment groups to inflame the political situation, sow disorder and incite people against the duly constituted authorities." He said the police were under orders to strictly enforce a "no permit, no rally" policy and disperse gatherings "that run afoul of this standard and arrest all persons violating the laws of the land as well as ordinances." "The authorities will not stand aside while those with ill intent are herding a witting or unwitting mass of people and inciting them into actions that are inimical to public order, and the peace of mind of the national community," Ermita said in a statement. The metropolitan Manila police force, with 17,000 officers, was on alert, and Chief Vidal Querol said they would be deployed at shopping malls, hotels, airports, train stations, bus terminals and other potential targets of terrorists who might take advantage of the protests. [Source: New York Times, September 21, 2005]
Arroyo Gets Support from the Countryside
Carlos H. Conde wrote in the New York Times, “Arroyo, in an apparent attempt to defeat her political enemies, enlisted provincial politicians and effectively brought the battle over her administration outside the capital, where, according to officials and analysts, Filipinos generally hold her in higher regard. Arroyo, who is facing allegations of election fraud, appeared to have attempted to tap what some officials and analysts called "the power of local politics" to shore up her image and to show that, contrary to what her political enemies have supposedly been impressing on the public, she is not isolated. A pro-Arroyo rally, which was attended by an estimated 120,000 people, provided a glimpse of what this approach can do, as it demolished the gains for the opposition at an anti-Arroyo demonstration last week, which was attended by about 40,000 protesters, Arroyo's allies said. [Source: Carlos H. Conde, New York Times, July 17, 2005 +^+]
"Arroyo is weak in Manila. She was badly beaten there in the last election. So, yes, it makes sense for her to bring the fight outside of the capital," said Manuel Piñol, the governor of North Cotabato Province in Mindanao. "The strategy of the president now is anchored on the fact that Manila is not the Philippines." This approach, combined with a public relations effort made in the past few weeks, may improve the public's perception of her and, by strengthening her alliances with local leaders, especially in the provinces, may provide her the political capital she needs to survive the worst crisis of her administration. +^+
“While there were allegations that the participants of the rally were bused into the capital, it nonetheless showed that, when it comes to organizing such events as a show of force, the provincial politicians allied with Arroyo could still be relied upon. The rally was organized by the mayors of the 17 towns and cities that comprise Metro Manila. All but five of these mayors attended the event. Several politicians from the provinces were also present. A number of mayors and governors have come to the side of the president since the scandal broke in June. +^+
“A survey conducted last week by Social Weather Stations, a polling organization here, showed that 62 percent of the respondents wanted Arroyo to resign, while 85 percent said she should be impeached. The administration responded to the survey by saying "Metro Manila is not the entire Philippines," a theme that Arroyo's people have been using much more frequently lately. "Here in Metro Manila, the public is naturally averse," Arroyo's executive secretary, Eduardo Ermita, said Saturday. "I have not seen any administration or president who enjoyed the approval of the urban residents." Supporters of the president also criticized the Social Weather Stations for the results. "Pollsters should stop singling out Metro Manila in their surveys since it represents only a fraction of the entire country," two administration congressmen said in a joint statement over the weekend. +^+
“While there has not been a similar nationwide survey, Arroyo is generally thought to be enjoying support and acceptance in the provinces, particularly in the central Philippines and in many areas in Mindanao, where she won most of her votes in the 2004 elections. Ermita said Arroyo's overwhelming victory is the reason the president "has a strong resolve not to step down." +^+
“Arroyo, who is capable of speaking several provincial dialects, earned her provincial support by aligning herself with provincial political leaders, many of whom she later rewarded with plum positions in government. "This is payback time," said Earl Parreno, an analyst at the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms in Manila. "She is, after all, the patroness of local politicians." Parreno said that the leaders supporting Arroyo "know that their power will be in jeopardy if Arroyo is removed." "So there's a confluence of interests at play here," Parreno said.” +^+
Protests Hamper Arroyo’s Ability to tackle Economic Problems
The political challenges and protests hampered Arroyo’s ability to govern at a time when the Philippines faced many economic problems. Carlos H. Conde wrote in the New York Times, “Economic growth in the Philippines has not kept pace with the expanding labor force, pushing many to look for jobs outside the country. Officials predict a record 1 million Filipinos could leave this year to work abroad, joining 8 million already overseas. In the meantime, the burden of servicing the debt has squeezed spending on education, health care and maintenance of the country's decrepit infrastructure. [Source: Carlos H. Conde, New York Times, February 25, 2006]
Alan Sipress wrote in the Washington Post, “The unemployment rate decreased from 8.3 percent in April to 7.7 percent in July, according to the National Statistics Office, but the country has a level of public indebtedness that compels the government to spend a third of its budget on interest payments alone. "Governance has been halted," said Tom Green, executive director of Pacific Strategies and Assessments, a consultant to foreign investors in the Philippines. "There are a lot of things that need to be done, but she's not up to it. Those kind of tough decisions are on hold and probably on hold forever." [Source: Alan Sipress, Washington Post, October 2, 2005]
“The centerpiece of Arroyo's economic program has been a proposal to increase a value-added tax and broaden the types of goods and services covered. While financial analysts deemed the measure essential for putting government accounts on a firm footing, the country's Supreme Court has blocked the plan. Two of Arroyo's former economic advisers alleged this summer that the president had secretly sought to intervene with the court to stall the tax increase, fearing it could fuel demonstrations at a time when she was facing mounting criticism over corruption. Arroyo has denied the accusation. [Ibid]
In January 2006, William Pesek Jr of Bloomberg wrote: “In a year of surprises in Asia few can compete with Philippine bonds, the region's best-performing debt market in 2005 thanks to an important display of fiscal responsibility by President Gloria Arroyo. Dollar-denominated bonds in what's often called the ``sick man of Asia'' returned 19.8 percent in 2005. Driving this bond rally are slowing inflation and tax increases which are helping close a budget deficit that's among Asia's biggest. The optimism can be seen in the nearly 6 percent rise in the Philippine peso versus the dollar in 2005 and 30-fold increase in foreign direct investment in the first eight months of last year. [Source: William Pesek Jr., Bloomberg, January 11, 2006]
``With the rising investor confidence in the country, let us see to it that our economic reforms are sustained and translated into more jobs,'' Arroyo said. “Let us refrain from the conflicts that will distract us from strengthening the economy.'' Massive protests calling for her ouster in 2005 spooked markets. Luckily for Arroyo, the support of the military proved more important than public approval ratings. What helped turn the tide, ironically, were credit-rating downgrades that sent Philippine bond yields soaring and the peso sharply lower.” [Ibid]
Emergency Rule Imposed in 2006 After Failed Coup Attempt
In late February 2006, a group of military officers plotted to join a protest march in Manila marking the 20th anniversary of the downfall of dictator Ferdinand Marcos through a bloodless "people power" revolt, during which they were to announce their defection and call for Arroyo's resignation. But the plot collapsed after it failed to get the support of then-military chief Generoso Senga, who rounded up the ringleaders while announcing his support for the crisis-ridden government. Two days later, two other officers barricaded themselves inside the Marine base in Manila and expressing support to those implicated in the plot. Bloodshed was averted when the officers called off their protest.
Carlos H. Conde wrote in the New York Times, “Saying that the Philippine government had foiled a military coup attempt and still faced the threat of violent overthrow, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared emergency rule and banned rallies. "This is my warning to those conspiring against the country," Mrs. Arroyo said in a televised address. "The full force of the law will fall on your betrayal." [Source: Carlos H. Conde, New York Times, February 25, 2006 /*\]
“Entrances to the presidential palace were barricaded with container trucks and barbed wire. The government closed schools, revoked permits for rallies and threatened to arrest anyone inciting rebellion. It also warned the news media not to "recklessly" publish rebel statements. Ignoring the ban on rallies, former President Corazon Aquino, who remains a popular figure here, led thousands of demonstrators in a march through the financial district calling for Mrs. Arroyo's resignation. /*\
“Political analysts, meanwhile, suggested that the coup threat was overstated and that the government's reaction could backfire. Filipino officials said the emergency declaration was prompted by the discovery of plans by a group of military officers to join rallies commemorating the so-called people power revolt of 1986. That revolt ousted Marcos and brought Mrs. Aquino to the presidency. The government said it had arrested an army general, the commander of the elite Scout Rangers unit, and 14 junior officers it said were involved in a plot to use the rallies to incite an armed rebellion. The military, whose leadership still appeared to support Mrs. Arroyo, was also searching for other officers and civilians believed to be part of the conspiracy. Earlier this week, the military said it arrested an officer who was accused of plotting with Communist rebels to overthrow Mrs. Arroyo. /*\
“While falling short of a declaration of martial law, which Marcos had used to rule by decree, the state of emergency allows the government to use the police and military to "maintain public peace, order and safety." The earlier arrest week involved a supposed plot to free those officers arrested for the 2003 mutiny, oust Mrs. Arroyo and create a military junta, according to military officials. Whether or not the alleged coup posed a real threat, some analysts said that by declaring emergency rule, Mrs. Arroyo panicked, which would ultimately strengthen the opposition.” /*\
Two days later, dozens of riot police sealed off the headquarters of the Philippine marines, after a colonel there urged Filipinos to defy a ban on rallies and turn out en masse to protect officers implicated in a foiled coup. Al Jazeera and Associated Press reported: “The call came after the head of the elite unit was relieved of his duties. It was seen as a clear sign that efforts to remove Arroyo remained alive two days after she imposed a state of emergency, saying the takeover plan had been quashed but that "treasonous" elements remained. Several left-wing protest leaders rushed to marine headquarters in suburban Manila to show their support for the restive forces, even though the state of emergency bans public rallies. Three armoured personnel carriers, a tank and about 300 marines also arrived and went inside before the gates were closed. It was unclear where their loyalties lay. Several dozen riot police took up positions outside the camp and sealed off a road leading to it. "The most important thing is for the soldiers not to fire at each other," said Senator Ramon Magsaysay, an Arroyo critic, who was at the camp. [Source: Al Jazeera, Associated Press, February 26, 2006]
In November 2006, thirty Philippine soldiers, including two generals, were tried for mutiny before a military court for their role in an alleged coup plot in February. Reuters reported: “General Hermogenes Esperon said he was sending a strong message that "adventurism" would no longer be tolerated within the military, which has been behind more than a dozen coup plots since the overthrow of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. "We're very serious, that is why we're trying them by court-martial," Esperon told a news conference at the main army camp in Manila. [Source: Reuters, November 20, 2006]
Another Philippine Coup Attempt in 200
7In November 2007, Philippine troops stormed a luxury hotel and quashed a coup attempt by renegade soldiers. The abortive coup was the third against Arroyo, who had ruled for six years up to that time. Ian MacKinnon wrote in The Guardian, “The rebel soldiers and their supporters - including several Roman Catholic priests - were led away in handcuffs to be charged after about 1,500 troops smashed their way into the Peninsula Hotel in Manila using an armoured personnel carrier backed by sustained bursts of automatic fire and tear gas grenades.There were no reports of any injuries despite the gunfire, and the rebel ringleaders - who demanded Arroyo quit - surrendered, claiming they feared a bloodbath among the hundreds of journalists who had crowded into the hotel before the arrival of the soldiers outside. [Source: Ian MacKinnon, The Guardian, November 30, 2007 +++]
“Coup leaders allowed guests at the hotel to leave after initially denying them the chance to go. The group of about 30 soldiers and their supporters barricaded themselves in a second-floor conference room from where they broadcast live their demands on national television. Arroyo appeared on television shortly afterwards to assure people she was in control and commanded the army's loyalty.+++
“The coup attempt began when about two dozen soldiers left a courthouse where they are on trial for another coup in 2003. Yesterday's attempted coup was an echo of the earlier incident, when troops took over the Oakwood shopping mall and hotel, rigging it with explosives. The rebel soldiers walked out of the court yesterday morning accompanied by their military police escort and marched a short distance to take over the Peninsula, a favourite watering hole of Manila's elite. The group was led by Senator Antonio Trillanes, the ringleader of the failed coup in 2003, who was elected in May while in detention. They were joined by former brigadier general Danilo Lim, who is suspected of involvement in a coup plot last year, as well as members of the opposition and several clergy. +++
“As elite troops took up positions around the hotel in the capital's Makati financial district, the rebels were given a deadline to surrender, which they ignored. Instead they issued an ultimatum that Arroyo resign, accusing her of electoral fraud and corruption and calling on comrades to join the coup. Reports said troops loyal to the government blockaded some army barracks around the capital to prevent their movement. "The die is cast," said Lim. "Thus we make this statement removing Arroyo from the presidency and undertake the formation of a new government." A little over an hour after the ultimatum passed, soldiers stormed the hotel. Those holed up inside soon gave themselves up. Trillanes, who had claimed the troops were acting out of a sense of duty to the public, said they did not want to put lives of those inside at risk. "We are going out for the sake of the safety of everybody," he told journalists in the hotel. "For your sake - because we will not live with our conscience if some of you get hurt or get killed in the crossfire. We can't afford that." +++
“Why is Gloria Arroyo facing the third coup attempt in her six years in office? The Philippine army, particularly the junior and middle-ranking officers, believe the institution can provide clean governance. The army is one of the few institutions that has remained largely incorruptible and with the president and her party beset by corruption allegations, officers once again stepped in after opposition attempts to impeach her foundered.” +++
Bizarre Aspects of the Failed 2007 Coup Attempt
The failed coup attempt in 2007 involved many of the same military men as the 2003 mutiny. Adrian Addison wrote in Time, “The leader of the plot, Senator Antonio Trillanes, had done a similar thing once before. In 2003, as a navy Lieutenant, he was involved in the Oakwood Mutiny, in which a group of rebellious military personnel occupied a luxury apartment complex in Makati demanding that Arroyo step down. Trillanes, who over the summer was elected to the Senate while behind bars awaiting trial for his involvement in the mutiny, was in the Makti regional trial Court Thursday listening to evidence against him in the Oakwood plot. At around midday, he and a group of heavily armed soldiers stormed out, making their way to Makati's Peninsula Hotel. The group was also joined by former Vice President Teofisto Guingona. [Source: Adrian Addison, Time, November 29, 2007 <<<]
“The abrupt departure took witnesses at the courtroom by surprise. "We take exception to the utter laxity of the security sent by the Armed Forces of the Philippines," State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera, who was present at the hearing during the walkout, told reporters at the Department of Justice. "This would not have happened without the laxity and familiarity with the accused, and we will be investigating more in detail this angle." While it is still not clear if the soldiers were Trillanes' guards or whether they had arranged to rendezvous with him at the courtroom, Navera said there appeared to be "some influence on the military and police security detail," noting that the security men just surrounded the accused and "did nothing." <<<
“Peter Parcell, a Manila-based businessman, was waiting for friends in the lobby of the Peninsula when the soldiers arrived. "It just suddenly went crazy," he told TIME. "These armed guys just walked in and locked all the doors. It didn't seem particularly well organized." Government troops soon surrounded the hotel; a 3 p.m. deadline for the rebels to give themselves up came and went. Then, around two hours later, after a few brief bursts of gunfire, the authorities smashed an armored vehicle into the hotel lobby and hurled teargas. Soon, civilians began to stumble out of the building, coughing and crying. The rebels followed shortly afterward and were taken away in a bus.” <<<
A month later, about a dozen mutinous soldiers who stormed out of court apologized to a judge for storming out when the trial resumed. Hrvoje Hranjski of Associated Press wrote: “About 1,000 troops guarded the hearing for 14 soldiers accused of a 2003 rebellion, the same officers who took to the streets again in November. "It was never the intention of (the) accused to cause a commotion, much less a walkout," the defendants said in a letter of apology provided by their lawyers. They said they were "impelled by their passion, zeal and fervor for their cause (and) merely had to act when they did," and meant no disrespect for the court. [Source: Hrvoje Hranjski, Associated Press, December 11, 2007]
A few days before Christmas in 2007 Arroyo ordered the early release of 53 military officers involved in the 2003 failed mutiny against her. Reuters reported: “Philippine governments tend to go easy on renegade soldiers to avoid stirring up trouble within the armed forces and among the public, who tend to view erring officers as folk heroes. The head of the military said Arroyo wanted the men, who had pleaded guilty to some offences to get a lighter sentence, to spend Christmas at home. They were due for release on January 27. The 53 officers were serving 4-½ year sentences. The officers will be discharged dishonorably from military service.[Source: Reuters, December 20, 2007]
Efforts to Impeach Arroyo
After winning the 2004 presidential election, Arroyo survived five impeachment votes, which were rolled out almost on an annual basis. On the first one, an impeachment complaint filed against Arroyo in which she is accused of cheating in the 2004 elections: Carlos H. Conde wrote in the New York Times: “The impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, begun several weeks ago, is as good as dead. The apparent failure of Arroyo's political adversaries to accumulate enough legislative votes to prevail in their effort to impeach the president, most analysts agreed, means that she is out of severe political danger of the kind that she faced two months ago, when she admitted to a "lapse in judgment" and apologized to the nation for talking with an election official during an election. Arroyo's opponents are now expected to stir street demonstrations over the next few days in an effort to prompt a reprise of the "people power" protests that pushed out both Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2001. But it is widely thought that these efforts, while they could prove dramatic, have little chance of success. [Source: Carlos H. Conde, New York Times, August 30, 2005]
"For all intents and purposes, it's dead," Jose de Venecia, the speaker of the House and one of Arroyo's staunchest allies, said in an interview. Referring to Arroyo's opponents he added, "They simply don't have the numbers." Apart from the administration's control not only of the Committee on Justice but of the entire House, the political opposition has not gathered the required 79 signatures to move the complaint to the full Senate for trial. As of Monday, only 69 legislators had signed the complaint. Both administration and opposition members of Congress, as well as private lawyers helping the opposition, said that without the 79 signatures, which is one-third of the Congress's 236 members, the impeachment complaint against the president does not stand a chance.
On the second impeachment attempt, in 2006, Amy Clark of Associated Press wrote: “Lawmakers overwhelmingly crushed an impeachment bid against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The House of Representatives, dominated by Arroyo allies, voted to uphold a ruling last week by its justice committee to dismiss the impeachment complaint. The vote prevented a potentially explosive trial in the Senate, an opposition stronghold, on allegations of vote-rigging, corruption, human rights abuses and violations of the Constitution. [Source: Amy Clark, Associated Press, August 23, 2006]
The third impeachment attempt, in 2007, was easily defeated. The forth was too. On this one, Associated Press reported: “Arroyo’s dominant allies in the Philippine Congress dismissed the fourth impeachment complaint filed against her in as many years for alleged corruption and other crimes. As in three other failed impeachment bids, Arroyo’s allies in the House of Representatives’ Justice Committee used their superior numbers to dismiss the 103-page complaint on a technicality by a vote of 42-8. Pro-Arroyo Rep. Edcel Lagman said the opposition had only resurrected old allegations: “The hearse of exhumed carcasses must be led back to the graveyard.” Opposition Rep. Teodoro Casino warned that blocking democratic avenues to remove Arroyo may impel Filipinos to resort to another “people power” uprising. “They’re courting danger by not allowing this democratic search for truth,” Casino said.[Source: Associated Press, November 26, 2008]
On the fifth impeachment attempt, in 2009, a year before her term in office ended, Douglas Bakshian of the Voice of America wrote: “Relative political calm has settled over the Philippines, following the defeat of a move to impeach Arroyo. But analysts say a future storm is brewing because her ability to govern has been badly damaged and mounting economic problems will generate a new wave of discontent. Opposition leaders pledged to re-ignite people power with massive street protests. But despite widespread public dissatisfaction with the scandal-tainted administration, most people stayed home. Some political analysts say that is in part because the opposition has offered no clear alternative. Antonio Gatmaitan of the Political Economy Applied Research foundation says public discontent is like a horse without a rider. "The sentiments of the people are really against President GMA (Arroyo) but the opposition figures so far have not been able to capture that essence. They've got the wrong people," he said. Leadership aside, the Filipino people are growing cynical. While the previous people power movements threw out bad leaders, the new leaders put in place failed to improve the lives of the citizens. [Source: Douglas Bakshian, Voice of America, October 31, 2009]
"The people were promised that there will be a better government and they will address the problems such as poverty, injustice, and so forth and so on. But after the presidents were deposed, nothing changed. They are as poor as ever, the economy is not growing, and their wages have stagnated for the last few years," said Mr. Lim.
The Arroyo administration, for its part, portrays its opponents as bad losers. Spokesman Ignacio Bunye has said they should respect the results of the impeachment process, and allow the country to get on with the business of the people. President Arroyo has described the impeachment process as a grand display of political maturity, and said her opponents put up a good fight. She also offered to reconcile with the opposition. But one opposition congressman said reconciliation is not likely, and time is working against the administration. "Right now people are just tired of Gloria," he said. "They are angry, but not really very, very angry as they were with Marcos before. So, right, now I think it will take more time to build up this outrage. People are angry but they are not outraged yet."
Violence, Fraud and Killings in the 2007 Philippine Elections
Despite a heavy police presence at polling stations and other places associated with national and local elections, more than 120 people were killed in election-related violence, including 60 candidates. However, the violence seems limited to isolated incidents and was less than in previous polls. Santosh Digal of asianews.it wrote: “On election day, two election workers, both teachers, were killed when unidentified men burned down a school used as a polling place south of Manila. With their death, the poll-related death toll rose to 126. Another 149 people were injured. None the less, the Philippines National Police (PNP) Director General Oscar Calderon said that recorded elections-related incidents were so far “relatively low” compared to previous elections. Incidents include the theft of ballot boxes and other material before sunrise yesterday, Election Day, and the killing of some 60 candidates and 15 policemen; 17 other policemen were wounded in violent incidents in Occidental Mindoro, Masbate, and Abra provinces.[Source: Santosh Digal, asianews.it, May 16, 2007 ^*^]
“Despite the violence and charges of electoral fraud, voter turnout was high reaching 75-80 percent, compared to 77 percent in 2004, and 85 percent in 2001. Voters had to elect 12 senators (out of 24) and all 275 members of the House of Representatives as well as 17,600 local government officials casting their ballots in 224,667 precincts nationwide. Henrietta de Villa, who chairs the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, a Catholic Church-based poll watch-dog, said polls were generally peaceful. Her office fielded about 500,000 volunteers to ensure clean and honest elections and distributed leaflets on the “10 commandments of responsible voting;” among others, urging voters to shun candidates who lead immoral lives, who use force and money to intimidate and those with known records of graft and corruption. ^*^
Up to 100,000 voters were unable to participate in national polls fearful of violence. Still, despite violence and many murders, the Commission on Elections and international observers said that the process was generally peaceful and orderly. In this election as in the past, the main problem was electoral fraud and vote-buying. For this reason, the Commission on Elections set up a special panel to look into reports of cheating; 110 special courts have also been set up to handle an expected flood of fraud claims. Meanwhile Pampanga Archbishop Paciano Aniceto told AsiaNews that he was alarmed by reports of alleged vote-buying and vote-selling in different parts of the country. In his pastoral letter titled “Do What is Right: A Pastoral Letter on Vote-Buying and Vote-Selling” which was read during last Sunday mass, he reminded the faithful to heed the 1992 Pastoral Exhortation on Elections issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines which condemned vote-buying as a particularly degrading form of cheating. ^*^
“For the past several days now we have been receiving reports about people being gathered in cockpit arenas, coliseums, sports complexes and other venues where they receive cash gifts from certain candidates,” Archbishop Aniceto said. “When you sell your vote, you sell your honour. You become nothing in the eyes of those who buy you. You harm your future and that of your countrymen,” he lamented. To the people who got money from vote-buyers he said: “Do not allow your conscience to be bound by an unjust deal. [. . .] Repent and be converted to the Lord.” ^*^
Two weeks later, Reuters reported: “Three people, including a soldier, were wounded as special balloting opened in 13 Muslim towns in the southern Philippines amid blasts and gunfire, said a police general. Joel Goltiao, police chief in the six-province Muslim region southern island of Mindanao, said the soldier was wounded when troops exchanged automatic gunfire with armed men trying to snatch ballot boxes in Pualas town. "The casting of votes started on time and was going smoothly despite pockets of violence," Goltiao said, adding seven blasts were heard before balloting started in Masiu town. "No one was hurt in these explosions. Some groups might be trying to scare people from casting their ballots." Two people were injured when gunmen opened fire at schools in the towns of Pantar and Kapai, Goltiao said as troops were rushed to these areas to prevent further violence. [Source: Reuters, May 26, 2007]
“About 5,000 soldiers and armed police officers were sent to guard special elections in 13 towns in Lanao del Sur after about 100,000 people failed to vote on May 14 when election officials did not show up due to threats and intimidation. Unofficial counts of NAMFREL and the Commission on Elections showed the opposition is leading the contest with eight slots, followed by two pro-administration candidates and two independents. Thirty-seven were running for 12 Senate seats. But four allies of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo were trailing by about 100,000 to 500,000 votes with about 4 million ballots from the south still to be tallyed, giving the pro-administration candidates a chance to make it. There is no complete national tally yet from local and congressional elections on May 14 but pro-administration parties say they won more than 190 of 220 district seats in the 275-member House of Representatives. [Ibid]
Aquino and Estrada Join Big Anti-Arroyo Rally
Former Philippine presidents Corazon Aquino and Joseph Estrada, once bitter foes, joined tens of thousands of protesters at a rally to press Arroyo to resign over a corruption scandal that that had recently drawn attention after Philippine Senate testimony, broadcast on live television, that linked her husband to multimillion-dollar kickbacks in a government telecommunications deal. Associated Press reported: “The crowd included former opponents ex-President Corazon Aquino, who ushered in democracy when the country's first "people power" revolt ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, and former President Joseph Estrada, who was forced out over massive corruption by a second "people power" uprising in 2001. "I thought my work was done because I am already old," said Aquino, 75. "But this is what the times ask for, for us to unite so that the deceit will end and we will find out the truth. Thankfully there are still many of us shouting, 'Gloria, enough, resign already." [Source: Associated Press, March 1, 2008 <=>]
“Aquino used to be one of Arroyo's biggest supporters before breaking away in 2005 amid allegations that the president had rigged the 2004 election. Soldiers and police went on high alert, setting up checkpoints at major highways as demonstrators braved a drizzle and gathered in Manila's financial district. Police estimated turnout at 15,000, while organizers estimated the crowd at about 80,000. People began dispersing at 8 p.m., when the rally permit expired. <=>
“The rally was organized by a loose coalition of opposition groups, business people, left-wing activists, Roman Catholic church-backed organizations and a large evangelical group, the Jesus is Lord Movement. The crowd included former opponents who, like Aquino and Estrada, have united to oppose Arroyo, who has fended off three impeachment bids and four coup plots in seven years in power. "No single group or person claims credit in leading this initiative," said Renato Reyes, secretary-general of the left-wing alliance Bayan.” <=>
Former consultants for the telecommunications contract have said the president's husband and the country's elections chief -- who has since quit -- benefited from huge kickbacks linked to the aborted contract. Both men have denied wrongdoing. Arroyo has not directly addressed the allegations against her and her husband but says she opposes corruption and that her family does no business with the government. ZTE also has denied the allegations.
2008 Survey: Arroyo Most Unpopular Leader since Marcos
In July 2008, the Philippines leading pollster said that Arroyo was the most unpopular leader in the country since democracy was restored in 1986. Reuters reported: “The Social Weather Stations (SWS) agency said in a statement that Arroyo registered a net satisfaction rating of minus 38 in a poll in the last week of June. It said only 22 percent of the 1,200 respondents were satisfied with Arroyo's performance while 60 percent said they were dissatisfied. [Source: Reuters, July 18, 2008 /~/]
“Serge Remonde, a palace spokesman, said the low rating of the president was expected due to high prices of rice and oil which the people blamed on her and the administration. "We consider it as a continuing challenge," he said. BusinessWorld newspaper quoted another palace spokesman, Anthony Golez, as saying: "A lot of people are mistaken in blaming the government for it when it is something no Filipino can stop, not even the president." Annual inflation in June was at a 14-year high of 11.4 percent, pushed higher by oil and food prices. The Philippines imports most of its fuel needs and is the world's biggest importer of rice this year. /~/
“Arroyo is the only president since strongman Ferdinand Marcos was deposed in 1986 whose satisfaction rating has slipped into negative territory, SWS data showed. Her previous worst was a minus 33 rating in May 2005. Despite a persistently poor showing in opinion polls, Arroyo is not seen in any danger of losing office. She is supported by the military and her allies dominate the lower House of Representatives. Although the Senate is controlled by the opposition, the powerful Catholic church is also by and large in Arroyo's favor.” /~/
Arroyo endured and completed her six-year term in 2010. Altogether she was the president of the Philippines for nine years from 2001 to 2010. At the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) 2010 Conference in Philadelphia in March 2010, David Timberman, outlined four contrasts that he sees in the Arroyo Legacy: 1) The contested legitimacy and unpopularity (as measured in opinion surveys) with the administration’s remarkable staying power and “vitality;” 2) The continued defensiveness of the administration in the face of these attacks versus the success in making policy; 3) The effective wielding of presidential powers with the marginalization of other potential policy-makers; and 4) The lack of significant new investment or jobs in the Philippines and prevailing poverty, despite sustained GDP growth. [Source: Steven Rood, Asia Foundation, April 7, 2010, Steven Rood is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative for the Philippines and Pacific Island Nations. He can be reached at email@example.com.^^]
Steven Rood of the Asia Foundation wrote, “Overall World Bank Governance Indicators show a decidedly mixed Arroyo legacy: between 2000 and 2008 there was a steady increase in government effectiveness and rule of law (under the consistent leadership of three successive chief justices), while at the same time, a steady decline in political stability, voice and accountability, and control of corruption.” Among her achievements was her smart 2003 “roll-on roll-off” maritime initiative, which brought down the cost of shipping among the Philippine islands by 30 to 40 percent. ^^
Since President Arroyo announced in 2001 a switch from former President Estrada’s “all out war” policy to one of “all out peace,” significant, though sporadic, progress has been made between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Most recently, after an outbreak of fighting in late 2008, peace talks began once again in late 2009, International Monitoring Teams are on the ground, and an International Contact Group (of which The Asia Foundation is a member) is assisting in the negotiations. Focus now is on maintaining the peace, preserving the gains of the past years through negotiation, and handing off to the incoming administration, whomever it may be, on July 1. In the meantime, the very real dangers of relying on local strongmen for support both in politics and in counter-insurgency was demonstrated by the November 23 election-related massacre in Maguindanao that left 57 people dead. ^^
“Gwendolyn Bevis of Management Systems International, described the results of studies of the budgetary process, which President Arroyo has managed to dominate and manipulate throughout her administration. Aside from particular moves to withhold pork barrel allocations for opposition legislatures and to reduce the amount of influence Congress has on the budget, presidential power was increased by a general trend toward lump sum (rather than itemized) appropriation and the discretionary use by the president of previous years’ savings. A sophisticated budgetary team, with the persistence to examine the entire budget (the Philippine president can veto particular line items), maximized the effect. ^^
“Ronald Mendoza, an expatriate Filipino and economist with the United Nations, put the economic record of Arroyo into a historical perspective back to the Marcos period. This analysis helped to underscore the country’s boom and bust growth pattern, leaving very little opportunity for sustained economic and human development. During the most recent 2008-2009 crisis, remittances from Overseas Filipino Workers once again offered invaluable support. Mendoza observed that overseas workers have offered a continued de facto bailout of the country, which would have faced debt sustainability problems in the absence of these resource flows. ^^
“Similar to earlier administrations, the Arroyo regime failed to address key social and economic challenges relating to persistent poverty and inequality. Indeed, the recent growth spurt prior to 2008-2009 occurred while indicators of poverty and hunger increased. The recent boom period, while impressive on paper, created benefits that even Arroyo supporters admit were not broadly shared by most Filipinos. ^^
“Further, a lack of commitment to agricultural development is a major factor behind the Philippines’ transformation from a self-sufficient rice producer into the world’s top importer of rice. This also reflects the broader underdevelopment of the rural sector, in turn contributing to a pattern of growth that has left behind millions of Filipinos and failed to make major inroads in poverty reduction. Over half of families engaged in farming are below the Philippine poverty line, a figure which has remained largely unchanged since the mid-1980s. ^^
“The Arroyo legacy could be characterized by some improvements on the policy front, though they are inadequate and leave many governance challenges and social inequities largely unaddressed. As shown by the World Bank indicators, chronic problems such as corruption have worsened, a key reason behind the Philippines’ anemic progress in economic and human development. In addition, even the recent boom period beginning in 2001 and ending in 2008-2009 represents a missed opportunity to facilitate sustained change.
Philippines' Arroyo Pleads Not Guilty in Poll Fraud Trial
The election fraud and corruption issues that dogged Arroyo while she president continued to haunt her after she left office. In February 2012, Reuters reported: “Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo pleaded not guilty to electoral fraud on the first day of a trial seen as a landmark test of the government's ability to tackle entrenched corruption in the Southeast Asian nation. Arroyo, 64, sat quietly beside her husband and son during the court proceedings, only speaking out loud to confirm her widely expected plea. "Not guilty," she told the court, standing from a second row seat behind government prosecutors and her lawyers after charges against her were read. [Source: Manuel Mogato, Reuters, February 23, 2012 />/]
“Arroyo's trial, which could see her sentenced to life in prison, is central to President Benigno Aquino's pledge to tackle endemic graft that threatens to take the shine off an economic revival and investment rebound in the Philippines. Aquino is also pushing the Senate impeachment of the country's Supreme Court chief, Renato Corona, who was installed by Arroyo and is accused of protecting her from investigation. The former president and her allies accuse Aquino of pursuing a political vendetta against her. />/
“The trial could be a source of political friction for months or even years if past high-profile Philippine corruption cases are any guide. Arroyo, wearing a white dress suit and neck brace following two spine surgeries last year, smiled and posed for photographers while inside the courtroom. "She is frustrated," Jose Miguel Arroyo, her husband, told reporters. "She feels it's an injustice to her." />/
“Prosecutors accuse Arroyo of ordering her allies, including those in the country's election commission, to fix the victory of all her party's 12 senatorial candidates in a Muslim province in the southern Philippines in 2007 elections. Arroyo also faces separate corruption investigations for her alleged role in the misuse of public funds and kickbacks from a multi-million telecommunications deal with a China's ZTE Corp. The public broadband deal was aborted in 2008. She denies all the charges. />/
“Authorities stopped the former leader at Manila's main international airport in November as she was on her way to board a plane for overseas treatment of her spine condition. She was arrested days later at a private hospital in Manila. Dozens of Arroyo's supporters gathered outside the courtroom in a peaceful protest on Thursday, holding placards and banners. "We will not abandon you," one said. They tried to march towards the court building, but a phalanx of anti-riot police officers stopped them. About 400 police officers guarded the court building and a major national road was closed to allow easy access for Arroyo's convoy. “ />/
Arroyo and Husband Plead Not Guilty to Corruption Charge
In March 2012, Arroyo’s husband was arrested on graft charges stemming from an overpriced deal with a Chinese telecommunications company that allegedly paid him kickbacks. Associated Press reported: “Jose Miguel Arroyo's lawyer said that his client plans to turn himself in and post bail. Arroyo has denied the charges against him, saying that his wife had canceled the $330 million government contract to set up a nationwide broadband network in 2008 while she was president. Both Arroyos face the same charges. The former president is already under arrest in a military hospital on electoral fraud accusations and has pleaded innocent. The cases were initiated by President Benigno Aquino III, who blames his predecessor for corruption. [Source: Associated Press, March 12, 2012]
A month later Arroyo and her husband have pleaded not guilty to corruption charges related to the deal with a Chinese telecommunications company. Al Jazeera reported: “Arroyo, who is being held at a government-run hospital where she is undergoing treatment for a spinal ailment, was escorted from hospital to court by heavily armed police. Arroyo was arrested last year on a separate charge of electoral fraud and subsequently indicted in connection with a $330m government contract with Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE Corp. If convicted, the couple could face up to 10 years in prison. A congressional probe found the 2007 contract overpriced and ridden with problems, including allegations that Arroyo's husband, Jose Miguel “Mike'' Arroyo, accepted bribes to push through the contract with his wife's approval. Under public pressure, Arroyo cancelled the deal the same year. [Source: Al Jazeera, April 11, 2012 *-*]
“The Arroyos accuse Aquino of pursuing a political vendetta. Arroyo's lawyer, Laurence Arroyo, said his client was also diagnosed with shingles and went to the court against her doctor's advice. “She wanted to face squarely already the charges against her and get the trial going,'' he said. A former elections chief, Benjamin Abalos, also pleaded not guilty. *-*
“At the 2007 congressional hearing investigating the anomalous contract, Romulo Neri, a former economic planning secretary, testified that Abalos had offered him a bribe to approve the ZTE contract. Jose de Venecia III, a losing bidder with connections to the Arroyos' inner circle, testified that the ex-president's husband was promised a $70 million commission, although ZTE has denied paying any kickbacks. Arroyo then prevented top officials, including Neri, from continuing to testify in the probe and the issue was never properly investigated. After Aquino took power, the Philippine ombudsman investigated and filed charges at the anti-graft court, which issued the arrest warrants. The ZTE case has also tested the Philippines' relations with China, which Arroyo aggressively pursued.” *-*
Court Rules Arroyo Can Stay in Hospital Rather Than Prison
In November 2011, a Philippines court ruled Arroyo could remain in hospital for "humanitarian reasons" until she is fit to be transferred to a detention facility. Al Jazeera reported: “Arroyo was arrested at a Manila hospital on vote rigging charges over elections in 2007. She had been there since Tuesday night, when the government stopped her from boarding a flight at the airport
A clerk for the court told reporters on Monday that it had agreed that Arroyo should remain in hospital "due to her health conditions and for humanitarian reasons". [Source: Al Jazeera, November 21, 2011]
“Police have already prepared a special air-conditioned cell for Arroyo, complete with a living room and a folding bed inside a small kitchen, according to Associated Press news agency. Benigno Aquino, the current Philippine president, has ordered that Arroyo be treated with respect but the government is accused by her lawyers of filing the charges with "indecent haste" to ensure Arroyo would spend Christmas in jail. Arroyo, who is now a member of the lower house of congress, remains under guard in her hospital room in Manila. She denies the allegations against her and says she needs to travel to seek medical treatment for a spine condition. The government believes she wants to evade investigation and possible prosecution. [Ibid]
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015