It was more than eight years ago when tens of thousands of Filipinos gathered around the world-renowned Epifanio De los Santos Avenue, chanting in unison the letters G-M-A. They were, of course, not referring to the network giant; people were reciting the initials of who was supposed to be the new hope of Philippine democracy at that time.
An icon of the Filipino’s passion for change, she stood in the center of the shrine, one hand resting on a holy book while the other raised in the air, a symbol of her commitment to a people worn to shreds by a corrupt administration.
Eight years have passed and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the leader who had the chance of changing the political landscape of the Philippines, has put herself and the country in an entirely different situation. She is now in the center of the most controversial corruption charges since the Marcos administration, her hand firmly clutching on her seat of power, the other raised in a gesture meant to hush her critics. What was supposed to be a symbol of hope turned out to be an object of public disgust. People are still chanting her name, although the context now has dramatically changed.
Summing up Arroyo’s years as the most powerful person in the country, one cannot help but recognize her indefatigable will to stay in power. Impeachment cases and mutinies proved impotent in ousting the leader, who, as of late, may very well be preparing yet another scheme to extend her stay in power through a charter change. It’s as if nine years will never be enough.
Arroyo started her presidency in 2001, but it didn’t take long before her administration got murky with controversies. First Gentleman Mike Arroyo got involved in a 50 million-peso bribery accusation meant for the president to recall her veto on franchise bills for two telecommunication companies. The same year, Mike was also accused of using five million dollars to fund the campaign of administration senatorial candidates and to bribe radio commentators.
And then there’s the 470 million-dollar deal with an Argentine firm meant to regenerate a power plant in Laguna. Malacanang was accused of being bribed 4 million dollars for the deal to push through, just four days after Gloria Arroyo sat in power. The case could have been further investigated, if only the graft charge wasn’t junked last November 2008 by the Sandiganbayan because the Ombudsman failed to expedite the complaints.
All these allegedly happened only during the first year of Gloria Arroyo’s presidency. Other noteworthy controversies involving her and the first family include the overpriced Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard, mismanaged funds of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation and the Government Service Insurance System, the questionable contract with Piatco on the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3, the Jose Pidal accounts, the Northrail project, the fertilizer fund scam, the Philhealth cards used for her re-election campaign in 2004, the Commission on Elections’ overpriced modernization project and the JPEPA deal.
Add to that the innumerable extra-judicial killings, the NBN ZTE deal and the legendary Hello Garci scandal. And the list just keeps on getting longer.
Yet she still stays in power, not a single sign of giving up. She did apologize, though, during the height of the Hello Garci scandal. The instruction to COMELEC Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano to make sure she wins by 1 million votes was only a ‘lapse of judgment’ on her part, she told the entire nation.
In other countries with leaders decent enough to save their own dignity and the image of their country, a single controversy similar to any of those accused against Gloria Arroyo is enough to merit a resignation, regardless if it is true or not. But here we have our president and a mountain of evidences supporting the accusations against her. She has no plans of quitting. In fact, it even looks as if she has plans of extending her term. Talk about delicadeza—or the lack of it.
Eight years have passed, yet the promise of a better Philippines is nowhere in sight.
Have the Filipinos been so apathetic about the political situation of our country so much so that our leaders get away with every controversy scot-free? The countless demonstrations and cases filed against Arroyo prove otherwise. We do have enough consciousness to point out the excesses within our government, and with proper action and constant vigilance, it’s never too late for a political reform to ensue.
There is a call for an unwavering struggle, a steadfast call for the people to be watchful and involved to the actions of a government which commits offenses in the highest order. We cannot afford another dictatorship; the Filipinos have had enough.
The year 2010 is Gloria Arroyo’s last year as the president of the Philippines. It should be.
Assessing Arroyo by Jovan Cerda was published in the joint Oblation (the official publication of the UP Diliman University Student Council) and Solidaridad (a UP system-wide alliance of student publications and writers' organizations) issue last July 24, 2009. Posting of the article and the editorial cartoon were allowed by the writer and the artist.