Manila – At a time when her government is facing increasing public discontent, President Gloria Arroyo must now grapple with a new political hot potato: Allegations that the First Gentleman and her eldest son have been receiving kickbacks from illegal gambling operators.
Three gambling operators of jueteng - a popular but illegal numbers game - claimed that Mrs Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel, and their son, Juan Miguel, have been receiving hundreds of thousands of pesos in payoffs from operators of the grassroots lottery. The three men are expected to testify before a Senate committee investigating the racket.
Mr Jose Miguel Arroyo and his son - who have been dogged by claims of corruption and influence-peddling - have denied the latest allegations.
The President’s Executive Secretary, Mr Eduardo Ermita, said the latest controversy could be part of a destablisation plot against the Arroyo administration.
“It may be part of what I call body punches to weaken the administration or the credibility of its leaders," Mr Ermita said.
Some analysts believe that Mrs Arroyo is in no danger of being forced from office because of the latest scandal.
“In the absence of a smoking gun, this will become one of those bombastic stories that end with a whimper. People won’t take it seriously,” Mr Gladstone Cuarteros, an analyst at the Institute for Popular Democracy, told The Straits Times. “It may embarrass her but, for as long as nothing is proven, President Arroyo can ride out this latest challenge,” he added.
However, an analysis in the Philippine Daily Inquirer offered a grimmer assessment of the jueteng scandal.
"Although it would be hard to prove involvement of members of the President's family in alleged jueteng payoffs, the Senate inquiry into the scandal cannot but damage the administration politically and further erode public confidence in Mrs Arroyo," the newspaper’s columnist, Mr Amando Doronila, wrote.
He added that the scandal had once again elevated “corruption as a major issue against the administration - as important as the fiscal deficit crisis, deterioration and breakdown of law and order, the President's phlegmatic leadership style and lackluster accomplishment record".
“Corruption as an issue and its highlighting as a national concern is dangerous because it has become the focus of attempts of political destabilisation, most notably by groups that have been increasingly reported as plotting to overthrow the government through coups. It has provided conspiratorial groups the issue around which to mobilise mass support and military support behind coup plots to hasten the overthrow of the elected government,” Mr Doronila said.
* The politics of stalemate: Year of living dangerously (Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 23)
* GMA orders all-out war vs jueteng (The Philippine Star, May 22)
* Exposé part of destabilization plot, say Arroyo's men (Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 21)
* Big blow to Manila’s anti-graft battle (The Straits Times, May 21)