Sunday, February 8, 2009

“I am sorry”

It could not happen in the Philippines, certainly never under the illegitimate presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

President Barack Obama of the United States admitted the other day that he made a mistake in nominating Tom Daschle as his Health and Human Services secretary. “I think I screwed up”, Obama said. And added, “I take responsibility for it and we’re going to make sure we fix it so it doesn’t happen again.”

Wow! That was the president of the world’s most powerful nation admitting that he made a mistake in vetting his appointment to an important cabinet position. And humbly taking responsibility for oversight his staff may have actually been negligent at, assuming, as most of us do, that a former Democratic majority floor leader should easily pass the Senate’s confirmation hearings with little question.

What mistakes did he and his staff make? Daschle improperly reported 15,000 dollars in charitable donations, failed to list 80,000 dollars in lobbying income, and, imagine this --- he did not report as income a car and a driver lent to him by a friend. But Daschle filed amended tax returns, and paid more than 140,000 dollars in back taxes, including interest, for the years 2005 to 2007 when these “mistakes” occurred.

The new president of the United States was embarrassed. And Tom Daschle felt bad about giving his president such an embarrassment, that he himself withdrew from being the nation’s health secretary, even if he is touted as among the most knowledgeable in the whole country on the issue of health care reforms which he championed in the Senate, and which has been one of the main anchors of Obama’s presidential campaign platform.

If you are a Filipino, you cannot but wonder if all these are for real. Tax avoidance? Why, the president’s brother-in-law, who claimed to be oozing with hundreds of millions, as Jose Pidal, kuno, paid an income tax often thousand pesos only for the three years he had those mysterious millions, on top of “owning” valuable real estate in downtown San Francisco by the bay.

Dito sa ‘Pinas, barya lang yung itinago ni Daschle. But hey, that is America, where crime does not pay, and they always get to the bottom of even minor transgressions that their officials do “when no one s watching”.

In these desperate isles, we have a secretary of energy who is clueless about the supply and demand of LPG and helpless about both prices and shortages, simply giving deregulation as an excuse for rank incompetence. Everyone wondered why he was appointed to the DOE, after a lacklustre stint in the DENR. He was shafted to the new post after the 2007 elections, to give way to former Mayor Lito Atienza, a favourite of Dona Gloria. Before that, Angelo Reyes was DILG secretary, but was asked to move out, simply because another palace favourite, Ronaldo Puno, congressman from Antipolo City and political operator of the Dona, wanted the position. When he was Secretary of National Defense in the first part of Dona Gloria’s reign, junior officers mutinied against her government at posh Oakwood, and among their demands were the removal of Reyes and his devious right-hand man, Victor Corpuz. She removed him right, but his key role as the armed forces chief of staff who deserted his duly-elected president in 2001 was a debt of gratitude his Dona has to repay and repay several times over. And so he has been recycled from one cabinet position to another, never mind if he is just a jack of all trades and master of none. Trouble is, even as a jack, his hydraulics don’t work.

We have as the new head of the Presidential Management Staff another former chief of staff of the armed forces, who distinguished himself in earlier position as Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, by approving a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a document which he probably had not read, or assuming he read the same, probably did not comprehend the meaning of. The document raised such a furore because it could effectively dismember the Republic for which he fought in the field of battle, and for which Republic his soldiers shed precious blood. Mercifully, the Supreme Court declared the MOA-AD unconstitutional. In any other clime, the guy would have been sacked, or would have resigned in disgrace. But hey, this is the Philippines of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. In these benighted parts, nobody resigns. “Morir antes de dimitir” is the lay of officialdom. “Magkamatayan na sa pwesto”, the Tagalogs would say.

But then again, Hermogenes Esperon will be with his Dona till her dying days. He after all was instrumental, according to the tales of the Hello Garci tapes, for insuring that she should win in 2004 “by a million votes”, and had no compunctions about using the stars on his shoulders to order military men to participate in the cheating enterprise. So now he is with her day by day, perhaps even into the long night, because the PMS chief rivals only the Executive Secretary in proximity to power. “Bagay na bagay sila”, the Tagalogs would again say.

Another Hermogenes, a former PNP chief, has done the rounds, as DPWH secretary, then national defense, then back to the DPWH. Now he stews in the hot seat, for sins committed in his department before his watch, with no less than the World Bank condemning the corruption of collusion among favored contractors. Most of these happened under the watch of a certain Florante Soriquez, the favourite of Dona Gloria and her esposo from the time she was senator and head of The Pinatubo Commission, when flood control dikes were constructed left and right and everywhere, but disappeared as soon as the first rush of lahar destroyed these built-to-be washed-away contraptions.

Her secretary of the humongous gravy train called the Department of Transportation and Communications is another former police chief who has reigned in that department for the longest time. Under him operate some two dozen government agencies in charge of land, air and sea transport and even communications, by obsolete posts or modern telecommunications. For her and her esposo, as well as the Comelec chairman who knew what she and her Garci did “when no one was watching”, Leandro Mendoza signed a MOA with ZTE, for an NBN project, in the airport of Hainan, in the wee hours of the morning, with her as living witness. He probably did not even know what he was signing, “basta --- utos ni Ma’am”.

Under his watch, the DOTC has seen the mushrooming of previous police characters into positions of pelf and power. These low-life could not do any wrong, and even when it became obvious that their filthy hands were into cookie jars a hundred million times bigger than the kotong of their yesteryears, they are never fired--- they are merely recycled around in a game of musical chairs to the tune of Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive”.

An ambassador who used to head La Gloria’s armada of rusting kopong-kopong vessels spends his time more as a student in an Australian university than as diplomat. Everybody in Canberra is wondering why he is still in his post, but maybe his boss, La Gloria, wants him to finish higher studies, the better to groom him to become Foreign Affairs secretary, to replace the rusty politician who heads it now. Several former generals are ambassadors elsewhere, and when she has run out of postings, she invents items for envois extraordinaire et plenipotentiaire for these indispensables and untouchables.

Of course there is her Executive Secretary, Mr. Suave como Jimmy Paule, who beamed when he suggested that President Obama should take a leaf or two, and learn from La Gloria’s marvellous management of the presidency. Earlier, when an Arab journalist threw his shoes at the former POTUS in Iraq, this former general turned congressman turned second most powerful Filipino (sorry Atty. Mike, but that is the protocol) claimed that such an incident could never happen here because we Filipinos are more “civilized”. I didn’t know that timidity and sufferance have become the hallmarks of civility, but that’s Eduardo Ermita’s opinion.

The palace courtiers are quick and fast at condemning any affront to power, whether legitimate or illegitimate, here and abroad, as being “uncivilized”. Note that Dureza dismissed the people power protests in Thailand as politically immature, earning a strong protest from the ambassador of the Kingdom. Now, incidentally, his boss woman has the effrontery to invite the product of such people power protests, Prime Minister Abhvisit, to visit her benighted islands. Such gall.

Now Dureza’s merciful replacement, Sergio Remonde, chides a British subject for the latest shoe-throwing incident, this time aimed at China’s Wen Jiabao, in Cambridge at that. “It will not happen to President Arroyo, because Filipinos are a civilized people”, Remonde postulates. How lovely it should be if we were as “uncivilized” as these Brits and these Arabs, and throw our shoes at her the next time she says “I am sorry”. But then again, an Obama she is not. She has neither the grace nor the humility to accept mistakes. Not only that, she will never accept she has committed crimes against the people. Remember that she was sorry for having talked to Garci but not for conspiring with him to cheat. And she will never accept that she is a poor parody of a leader, as she continues to lie and cheat and steal in her unending lust for power.

So let me be the one to say “I am sorry”.

You see, in April of 1991, I convinced then Sen. Orly Mercado (still a Liberal at the time), to endorse then Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan to run for president. In furtherance of our quest to make Fernan the presidential candidate of his party, I arranged for him and I to meet then Garments Board assistant secretary Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in June of that year, over lunch at the now closed El Comedor fronting the old site of her alma mater, the Assumption Convent. (I made sure the details are right --- from venue to trigger memories, to the cuisine that I know my guest would love.) As daughter of a former president who ran under the Liberal Party, my scheming mind thought that if she would endorse Fernan too, and run as senator under his ticket, I would emerge with a political coup. She begged off, because that would put her papa Dadong on the spot, but her eyes glinted at the prospect of being senator of the realm.

My political cookie slowly crumbled when it took then Chief Justice Fernan months and months of agonizing before he finally took the political plunge, and it became too late. Accepting to be Ramon V. Mitra’s vice-presidential candidate instead, Fernan brought me into the LDP political stable, where I was to be appointed the campaign spokesman. One of the last senatorial candidates to be convinced to run under the Mitra-Fernan tandem was Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who deserted her papa Dadong’s Liberal Party origins because its candidate, Jovito Salonga, did not have resources enough to run a full-fledged national campaign, while we in the LDP of the late Tata Monching were oozing with money. Of course, we lost, to the parsimonious FVR and the fire-breathing Miriam Defensor Santiago, and even the “boss”, Danding Cojuangco. My candidate, Marcelo Fernan, already assured of winning the vice-presidency, lost when Joseph Estrada suddenly lowered his sights from the presidency to numero dos.

As campaign spokesman, I recall most distinctly that Gloria would correct me each time I called her Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. “Drop the Arroyo”, she would say, “just Macapagal --- that has name recall”.

These days I wonder if the nation would have been better off if she dropped the “Arroyo” not merely as name, but for real. Maybe it would not have made any difference. Still and all, for what little part if any that I may have contributed in convincing the teacher turned bureaucrat to cast covetous eyes on political power, let me apologize to the nation and to history.

I am sorry, and I mean it --- from the bottom of my heart.