Thursday, December 1, 2011

Corruption takes a backseat


The arrest of former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has caused an unnecessary public uproar, if not ambivalence. One side is almost ready to burn the former president at stake, declaring her guilty on all counts even without trial. While the rest call for slowing down the prosecution, reminding everyone that she is also entitled to a presumption of innocence.

But can a former head of state expect a fair public trial when it’s her political enemies who are in charge of the prosecution?
Former Philippine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is seen arriving on a
wheelchair at the Manila International Airport on Nov. 15, 2011. Photo by
 Noel Celis/AFPGetty Images. Click link to view "Gloria Arroyo charged with
 electoral sabotage,"
Just a wild thought: Wouldn’t it have been easier if Arroyo were lynched by a mob after being overthrown? Wouldn’t that be neat? Like Muammar Gadaffi when he was lynched by a mob of Libyan rebels in front of multiple cell phone cameras while the event was broadcast within hours all over the world. Or pretty much like every unpopular leader from Caligula to Ceaușescu after being deposed from power.

Filipinos can’t be blamed if they cry for blood. For years in power, Mrs. Arroyo had been suspected of plundering the economy to enrich herself and her own family. Remember all the scandals that plagued her administration, to mention just a few: the overpriced North Rail Project involving a $400 million loan from China's Export-Import Bank, the National Broadband Network (NBN) deal between the Philippine government and China’s ZTE Corporation, the ZTE-Mt. Diwalwal mining contract, bribery of members of Congress amounting to half a million pesos each to members of Congress in exchange for the dismissal of impeachment complaints against her, the so-called “Hello Garci” scandal wherein the President was caught on tape while tampering with the results of the 2004 elections, the fertilizer funds scandal which personally benefited Arroyo and some key officials of her government, and human rights violations, extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture of individuals opposed to her administration. All these happened while the poor majority of the Filipino people wallowed in poverty and the misery it breeds.

As president, Mrs. Arroyo was accused of rigging the electoral process so she could freely cheat and ensure that the election results would keep her in power. Four times Congress tried to impeach her but all failed because she had the money and political power to silence and derail members of Congress from acting.

Now that charges were brought against the former president preventing her from leaving the country, some have criticized the action of government as hasty and without due process. The culprit is now in police custody, yet holding her in captivity is being peddled as wrong and in violation of her legal rights. What’s wrong with this picture?

Imagine if former strongman Ferdinand Marcos had been captured while fleeing Malacañang during the final hours of the EDSA People Power revolution. He would have suffered the same fate as Gadaffi and the people would be rejoicing. The lynching of Gaddafi is the new standard for the treatment of deposed despots and it will be doubtlessly imitated by others.

The transgressions of the Marcos regime were no different from the Arroyo’s. Except this time, Gloria Arroyo has no more powerful friends left to save her. Any appearance of public lynching of Gloria Arroyo in the media is therefore understandable. Arroyo should be thankful that it is much more pacified and without the violent trappings of an actual mob lynching.

However, in spite of all the drama in prosecuting Gloria Arroyo for her past misdemeanour in office, the question that remains unanswered is, what happens now to President Noynoy Aquino’s crusade against graft and corruption?
Gloria Arroyo, the 'most hated' Phillipines leader since Marcos. Photo courtesy
of  The National Conversation. Click link to view "Unexplained wealth of President
 Gloria Arroyo,"
Arroyo has been charged with sabotaging the elections in 2007. Should Arroyo be convicted and sentenced to spend time in prison, her greater sin of economic plunder will remain unpunished. Is the Aquino government pursuing only the electoral charges against former President Arroyo because corruption is much more difficult to prove? That it would have a disrupting impact on government and a disincentive for future leaders? That it could possibly open a can of worms for the present administration when it leaves—that the successor regime might also consider prosecuting crimes of corruption and thus cause an endless cycle of partisan recriminations?

Everyone on the street will tell you unequivocally that all politicians steal, that no one is truly incorruptible. Not even President Noynoy Aquino. This is as much a way of life as it is the political culture in the country.

All past presidents have been dogged with rumours and allegations of corruption. No wonder, no president under the old Constitution was re-elected for a second term except for Ferdinand Marcos who knew how to wield and control the powers of the presidency for his own benefit. Every corrupt president did not merit re-election. There was no need for prosecution, the people could always boot out the incumbent every election. Thus, the presidency was a continuously revolving door, and corruption in government became part of the institution of the presidency.

With the present one-term limit for the president, this now appears too long for a corrupt president or for an ineffective leader. This is why many still favour the old system, a perpetual revolving door—a new president every four years. But Ferdinand Marcos broke the rule, except he did it differently. Marcos was also a dictator and he imposed his will on the people. Why he was never prosecuted in a Philippine court—for corruption, abuses, and all his crimes against the Filipino people—only shows the lingering influence of his regime over the country’s political and legal system. Consider, too, that members of his family and his former political allies are back in political power without any blemish of culpability for their role during the Marcos oppressive regime.
Former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Courtesy of  wikicommons.
 Click link to view "Martial Law in the Philippines,  1972-1986,"
It seems easier for the present government to prosecute Gloria Arroyo for an electoral offence than corruption. There’s no need to disclose Arroyo’s network of irregular financial transactions that may also lead to the identification of people whom the government doesn’t want to embarrass, like foreign governments, financial institutions and contractors, or local businessmen and politicians. The government doesn’t have to inquire about the unexplained wealth of officials who run the military establishment who could be beneficiaries of Arroyo’s corruption, the very same people whose loyalty the present government needs to support and back up its administration. Proving corruption is a very complicated matter and may entail a long time to finish, perhaps even beyond the term of the present administration.

Noynoy Aquino wants Gloria Arroyo in jail before Christmas. This he can easily accomplish by sticking to the electoral offences against Arroyo. What easier accomplishment is there than putting a former president in prison for sabotaging the electoral process to ensure that she could stay in power?

Gloria Arroyo’s family and its minions would probably appease and take her conviction with less rancour. Their ill-gotten wealth remains in their hands, and there’s no urgent need to ask for presidential pardon. Politicians and businessmen who benefited from Arroyo’s corruption remain untouched or undisclosed, so the best thing for them is to simply keep quiet.

President Noynoy Aquino will always be loved by the Filipino people for putting in prison the person they hated most. Insofar as corruption is concerned, every person on the street will continue to talk about it. Ironically, the culture of corruption remains unscathed, and no sitting or former president will ever be put to trial on account of it.

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