Trouble never seems to stop for Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Just after she gloated over the conviction of former president Joseph Estrada for corruption, she has been embroiled in her own “graft-related” scandal and to top that off, an attempted coup (rumoured) last week to “topple her”. True to her fighting form, President Arroyo is fighting back and staying on top of all her challenges –especially when her husband’s dealings often bring her to the brink of her presidency.
For one, last week’s hearing at the Senate on the National Broadband Network (NBN) project with China's ZTE Corp has elicited more bad news for President Arroyo. For now, the Philippine government has suspended the US$329-million NBN deal as Philippine legislators objected that the “contract was overpriced”. The House of Representatives is proceeding with its investigation into the scandal. The joint committees on good government and oversight intend to make Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. answer for the “allegations that he brokered the deal”. There will be a “face-off” between Abalos and his business rival, Jose De Venecia III, in the investigations.
De Venecia testified that “the contract was over-valued by at least $130 million” to accommodate kickbacks and that “he was offered $10 million to join the deal”. He added that Abalos brokered the deal and who later meted out death threats to him for not joining ZTF Corp and a journalist for exposing the shadowy contract. In addition, De Venecia said that the President’s husband, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, attended one of these business meetings and had pointed De Venecia in the face and told him to “back off” from trying to rival Abalos’ contract. However, De Venecia said that he had only met Mike Arroyo that one time and “was not aware of any further role he might have”.
Mike Arroyo has since flown to Hong Kong and President Arroyo is trying to keep her name clean and avoid “bad publicity”. However, critics are certain that “Mike Arroyo is not expected to escape unscathed in the expanded investigation”. Even if Mike Arroyo has only a “peripheral” role in all this, the President’s opponents are not going to let such an easy opportunity to bring her down go by.
This is especially so as Philippine armed forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon announced last week that “at least six junior officers suspected of recruiting soldiers for a coup attempt against the government” have been suspended or redeployed. He added that as “no movement has been detected among military units” officials believe that the recent recruitment efforts have been unsuccessful. The military is also looking into possible political-military linkages behind the latest destabilization bid.
Former President Fidel Ramos has also scoffed at the news of the attempted coup. He said, “There are only indications and we must weigh this with intention. Can they pull it off? They don’t have the logistics to go beyond one day or two days. There could be [attempts] but they will not succeed.”
Whatever it is, President Arroyo will need immense skill to manoeuvre through the masses which are baying for her blood, especially after the widespread public disapproval of the shaming of Estrada. Her opponents can use this incident to their advantage and the next attempt to bring her down (by whatever means) may just work. (24 September 2007)
Hidden agenda (ABS CBN, 24 September 2007)
FVR boosts Esperon tale on new coup plots (Manila Standard Today, 24 September 2007)
House to proceed with own probe on broadband deal (Inquirer, 23 September 2007)
Philippine Army 'Pre-Empts' New Plot (AP, 22 September 2007)
Philippine Arroyo's husband named over telecoms deal (Reuters, 18 September 2007)