Gloria Redux: Reviewing the corrupt and vicious Arroyo regime

Part 1: The corruption trail

Barely two years under the Duterte regime, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – political opportunist to the core – is back in the highest rungs of the reactionary government. Arroyo seized the speakership backed by Duterte and Marcos loyalists and her own horde.

Arroyo’s showstopping powergrab in Congress vividly displays the rotten political system in the Philippines. With the whole nation as witness, political players brazenly exhibited an utter absence of principles and complete bureacrat capitalist expedience.

To brace ourselves for the certainly insidious plans that the tandem of the dictator wannabe Duterte and the vicious Arroyo have in store, the Filipino people must keep on reminding themselves of the record of corruption and long trail of blood left by her nine-year regim.

Corrupt record

Arroyo replaced a president who was deposed due to corruption scandals. Her nine-year presidency, however, far surpassed her predecessor’s crimes. Arroyo’s enduring political power and influence is solidly based on vast amount of wealth accumulated through almost a decade of nonstop corruption. She amassed billions of pesos that she employs to cultivate political patronage and maintain her dominance in the country’s political scene.

The depth and scope of her corrupt maneuvers, surpassed only perhaps by the Marcos dictatorship, primarily involved kickbacks and briberies from big infrastructure projects during her regime. Arroyo, who claims of being an economist, is also a master in manipulating the national budget. She engineered various maneuvers which let her divert funds to serve her aims.

Scandals and anomalies hounded Arroyo’s nine year reign. Independent think tank IBON Foundation estimated in 2008 that corruption scandals cost the Filipino people no less than P7.3 billion. At present, this amount can decently sustain about 16,513 families of six – more or less the population of a small town – for a year.

Under the Benigno Aquino regime, Arroyo was charged with plunder and detained over her office’s questionable use of the P366-million in the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) intelligence funds in her last two years as president. The case is actually only the tip of the iceberg. In another case, the infamous “Fertilizer Fund Scam” — over which she was not charged — she criminally diverted public money under the P726 million “Ginintuang Masagana Ani” Program to fund her 2004 presidential campaign.

Another large-scale controversy that sparked massive outrage saw Arroyo and her husband Mike, former Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Benjamin Abalos and other officials receiving kickbacks over the proposed National Broadband Network (NBN) project that was awarded to Chinese firm Zhong Xing Telecommunication Equipment Company Limited (ZTE).

The scandal was exposed in 2007 following the signing of a $329.5-million contract for the NBN, a contract that was brokered by Arroyo herself by travelling all the way to China with her husband and Abalos. It was reported that they received kickbacks from ZTE officials for the deal to push through. Jun Lozada, former chief executive officer of the Philippine Forest Corporation, testified about these nefarious deals. Due to widespread protests following the massive scandal, the deal was eventually scrapped.

Just four days after assuming office in 2001, Arroyo was already embroiled in corruption, with the controversial awarding of a $470-million contract to Argentine firm Industrias Metalurgicas Pescarmona Sociedad Anonima (IMPSA) to rehabilitate a hydroelectic plant in Laguna. The Arroyo regime reportedly took bribes worth a total of $14 million in exchange for expediting the project’s approval.

Arroyo was also known for pursuing overpriced infrastructure projects. This include the controversial Northrail project, that was set to construct a rail line from Caloocan City to the Clark Special Economic Zone. The government entered an anomalous $400-million credit loan agreement with the Export-Import Bank of China, and chose China National Machinery and Equipment Corporation as prime contractor without public bidding. The anomalous project underwent a series of delays, and was eventually cancelled in 2011.

In 2002, the P600-million overpriced GSIS-funded 5.1-kilometer President Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard in Manila was exposed by Public Estates Authority board director Sulpicio Tagud Jr. . Three companies were assigned to build the road, including Shoemart Inc., DM Wenceslao, and Jesusito D. Legaspi Construction (JDLC), with the latter given supplemental contracts that increased the construction cost of their part of the project. The other construction companies were able to build their part of the boulevard at P54,000 per lineal meter, while JDLC built its section at P302,000 per lineal meter.

Arroyo’s other henchmen were also involved in several controversies. Her then transportation secretary Pantaleon Alvarez, the same one whom she recently forcibly replaced as House Speaker, also obtained several overpriced subcontracts for public works at NAIA Terminal 3.

Another case involved the Caucus of Development (Code-NGO) which used the Poverty Eradication and Alleviation Certificates (PEACe bonds) issued by the government to pocket around P1.4 billion in interests. Code-NGO was headed by Socorro Camacho-Reyes, sister of then Finance Secretary Jose Isidro Camacho, and involved other Arroyo officials including then Social Welfare and Development Sec. Corazon “Dinky” Soliman.

Arroyo also coddled the military and police force enabling various officials to commit money heists. In 2011, the “pabaon” or send-off system in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was exposed, a scheme which gave retiring AFP chiefs-of-staff at least P50 million. The outgoing AFP chief General Cimatu (currently environment secretary) benefited from such system. Other prominent cases involving police officials include the “Euro generals” scandal where then police comptroller director Eliseo De la Paz and his group were detained in Moscow for carrying undeclared cash amounting to €105,000 or about P7 million. In 2007, Navy Lt. Nancy Gadian also disclosed the malversation of funds in the 2007 Balikatan joint US-Philippines military exercises, wherein former Mindanao Command Gen. Eugenio Cedo pocketed P2.3 million of the P4.6-million fund for the said activity.

‘Hello Garci’

One of the scandals that caused waves of protests that nearly toppled the Arroyo regime was the “Hello Garci” scandal. In 2005, former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) deputy director Samuel Ong bared audio tapes of wiretapped conversations between Arroyo and then Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, in which Arroyo wanted to ensure that votes from the Lanao provinces will give her a leads of at least a million votes over her opponents, evidence that she actually rigged the presidential polls. This controversy sparked massive protests, prompting Arroyo to air her infamous “I am sorry” speech on live television in June 2005. Other evidence of the 2004 election tampering surfaced in latter years, including the payment of bribes to election officers, especially in Mindanao, to ensure Arroyo’s victory. Witnesses have pointed to then Philippine Ports Authority general manager and presently Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi as overseeing this bribery operation.

Corruption: Arroyo family affair

The corruption also runs in the family, with former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo figuring in the “Jose Pidal” scandal, wherein he was accused of funneling at least P321 million into a secret bank account named Jose Pidal. Even early into the Arroyo regime, in July 2001, Mike Arroyo was accused of taking a P50-million bribe which aimed to make his wife overturn the presidential veto on two franchise bills involving the Philippine Communication Clearinghouse and the APC Wireless Interface Network. In 2012, Mike Arroyo was also charged with graft for selling his used helicopters to the police as brand new.

Arroyo also figured in controversies connected to illegal gambling, something she had in common with her predecessor deposed President Joseph Estrada. Arroyo, who served as godmother to Central Luzon jueteng boss Bong Pineda’s son, was allegedly given P300 million by the Pinedas to fund her 2004 presidential bid. Another witness even claimed that Pineda’s wife, Lilia Pineda, handed out envelopes containing P30,000 each in a party at Arroyo’s residence in La Vista, Quezon City to several election officials in January 2004, barely four months before the presidential elections.

In Senate hearings on jueteng in 2005, Mike Arroyo and son Mikey again figured in as protectors of gambling operations, with witness Sandra Cam testifying that jueteng operators and bagmen in various regions gave monthly payoffs to the Arroyos worth P500,000 to P1 million each.

Dodging impeachment bullets
All of these corruption scandals did not go unnnoticed, with the Arroyo regime not only sparking massive protests left and right, but also regularly facing impeachment complaints. After sneakily winning the 2004 presidential elections, Arroyo annually faced impeachment cases, which she all survived with the help of her wide net of political patronage financed primarily by pork barrel.

The annual impeachment complaints from 2005 to 2009 accused Arroyo of vote-rigging, corruption, and human rights abuses, but were all readily dismissed by majority of legislators in the House of Representatives, proving how well-entrenched Arroyo’s sway is in Congress.

(Continued in Part 2: The trail of blood)