Goodbye, ‘Hello, Garci’
By the time Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo steps down from office on June 30 this year, she’d be basking in a clean slate — all cases against her arising from her controversy-hounded presidency of nine years all gone, and her legendary skill at political survival coming full circle.
Her presidency was rocked by scandal after scandal, but Arroyo would perhaps be remembered most for that incriminating phone call she made to then Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano while votes were still being counted in the 2004 elections, where she stood to gain as an incumbent running for a full term.
The “Hello, Garci” scandal would come to define arguably the longest, most scandalous presidential term in the post-Edsa milieu.
In the tape, exposed a year after the 2004 elections, Arroyo was heard asking Garcillano if she would still lead the count by more than 1 million. That 1 million she did get over her opponent, Fernando Poe Jr.
After much denial and damage-mopping, Malacañang staged a carefully choreographed televised “I am sorry” speech, in which, while not admitting to fraud, Arroyo apologized for her “lapse in judgment.” (Student performers at the University of the Philippines would later parody the phrase as Arroyo’s “collapse in judgment.”)
Not even the subsequent resignation of Cabinet secretaries dubbed the “Hyatt 10” and three impeachment cases shook Arroyo’s hold on power. By the time she ended her term in 2010, the prescription period for filing cases on vote-rigging had lapsed, ending hopes of bringing the wizards of election manipulation to justice.
To this day, Arroyo has not been held to account for the monumental crime of “Hello, Garci” — that brazen, recorded attempt by a sitting president to cheat and violate the people’s vote.
On Dec. 17, 2018, the Pasay City Regional Trial Court dismissed the very last case Arroyo was facing, for electoral sabotage — not even over the “Hello, Garci” case, but on charges that she ordered the manipulation of the 2007 senatorial race in Maguindanao to ensure a 12-0 administration victory.
The court said the prosecution failed to prove Arroyo’s guilt. It was the last nail undone in the woman’s incredible political resurrection.
Benjamin Abalos, the Comelec chair at the time of “Hello, Garci,” also got entangled in scandal with Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo in 2007, over the $329-million NBN-ZTE national broadband deal.
Allegedly overpriced by $130 million, the deal would explode into a sensational case with its own lexicon of corruption, such as “bubukol” (whistleblower Jun Lozada’s warning that kickbacks would bloat the deal’s price too obviously) and “moderate their greed” (then Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri’s advice to Lozada on how to deal with the behests of vested interests). But, for all the uproar, the Sandiganbayan dismissed the case in 2016.
In the same year, the Supreme Court dismissed a plunder case against Arroyo and several officials for the diversion of P336-million intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office. The decision was affirmed in 2017.
The Ombudsman dismissed a fourth case — the alleged misuse of P900-million Malampaya Fund by Arroyo and her officials in 2009.
In 2003, Sen. Panfilo Lacson exposed how Arroyo’s husband amassed P200 million in campaign contributions and kept them in a secret “Jose Pidal” account.
The following year, Lacson also accused Arroyo of vote-buying through the use of the P728-million fertilizer fund. And in 2005, Arroyo’s husband, son and brother were named as recipients of protection money from illegal numbers game “jueteng.”
These and other scandals, and a military mutiny, marked Arroyo’s tumultuous reign. But all of them are now piddling historical footnotes for a people known for their short, forgiving memories, and a political system that routinely enables the powerful to skirt responsibility.
Still, a recounting must be made, to put these incontrovertible facts on record.
After weathering prosecution and hospital detention under President Benigno Aquino III’s administration, Arroyo completed her astounding political redemption by becoming Speaker last year.
She has denied wanting to become prime minister of the federal government being pushed by her own draft charter. Instead, she vows to retire and write her memoirs after June 2019.
But given her political savvy, ruthlessness and affinity for power, it would be more than foolish to count Gloria Macapagal Arroyo out of the political fray ever. Just look — it’s now goodbye to “Hello, Garci” and all that.
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