*my column in the Nov. 20 issue of Cordillera Today
A former president is being accused of electoral sabotage. The accusation stems from her alleged actions to ensure the then ruling party’s majority victory during the 2007 senatorial elections. Wearing a contraption allegedly meant to protect her very delicate spine and seated on a wheelchair, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was prevented by airport officials from boarding a plane out of the country based on order from Justice Secretary Leila De Lima. The Supreme Court provided extra juice to the drama with the issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order preventing, in turn, De Lima from implementing the travel ban.
From where I sat, GMA looked “kawawa naman,” a pitiful, powerless underdog who just a little over a year ago seemed totally untouchable until her term ended last June, 2010. If the “costume,” the “look,” the defeated facial expression were all a mere PR stunt, then kudos to the director – it hit right here (I am pointing a finger to where my heart is).
But De Lima seems to be hell bent on keeping her on Philippine soil – she doesn’t buy the medical alibi. I don’t too. See, first of all, she lied to the Filipino people on the past, once even right at the monument to our national hero. Why should the people believe her now? She lied and lied and lied too before admitting that, yes, it was her voice on that tape and that she did call Comelec officer Virgilio Garcillano during the election period, something that was totally immoral, if not downright illegal, and that she was “sorry.”
De Lima challenged the TRO, and a day later, the Supreme Court upheld the same. And just when the Arroyos thought they were free to flee, the Comelec and the Department of Justice finally filed a case before a Regional Trial Court, effectively rendering the TRO moot and academic for the charge against the former president was non-bailable. A warrant of arrest has been issued and served, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is now officially in the custody of the police, under hospital arrest.
Except for her lawyers, some family members, and the hordes of media representatives, there were hardly any loyal supporters who came to her rescue at the airport that evening. This should remind her that EDSA 2 was never really about her – she was merely the lucky beneficiary of the people’s loss of confidence in Joseph “Erap” Estrada. How she managed to get away with impunity during her decade-long reign remains a mystery to me. When Chavit Singson spilled the beans about the racket that is the tobacco excise tax and jueteng “payola,” an impeachment case actually made it to the senate and when it seemed obvious that Erap’s minions there were about to turn the whole thing into a moro-moro, the people brought the trial to the streets where Erap was found guilty and was forced to leave Malacanang.
But jueteng continued under the Arroyo administration. Corruption was rampant in practically all areas of government, so were forced disappearances of journalists and activists. She was caught red-handed manipulating the presidential election. Etcetera, etcetera. And yet, she remained in power. The only battle the people won against her was the one that stopped the proposed charter change that would have allowed her to continue her reign as Prime Minister. She was invincible, indomitable. She succeeded in making a mockery of the senate investigations looking into alleged irregularities that directly involved her with the infamous executive order 464 which barred government officials from testifying in congressional inquiries or investigations.
And today, there she was, looking dishevelled and defeated.
We might feel pity for Gloria, even take the side of the perceived underdog being persecuted by the powerful, vengeful Aquino government. We must not be fooled. Not again. Or these things will just keep on happening over and over again. It’s about time somebody pays for crimes against the nation.
Sure Erap was convicted, and I must insert here that he should be commended for actually facing the charges against him honourably and with dignity, but he was pardoned by the very person who now faces the prospect of incarceration and he spent his detention in a plush vacation house of his choice.
GMA’s alleged crime makes plunder seem petty – making a mockery of the electoral system is an attack on the very essence of democracy, spit in the face of every single Filipino. This is not Arroyo vs. Aquino, Gloria vs. The Government, this is Gloria Macapagal Arroyo against the people of Philippines. If we do this right, if those who perpetuated this despicable crime are punished, only then can we say that we as a people are really free and we send a message to everyone in power – from Aquino, to Vergara, to Domogan to your Barangay Kapitan – that we will not let anyone get away with impunity anymore.