The question begs to be asked: Why would businessman Archibald Po say that former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s husband owned the used helicopters that were purchased as brand-new by the Philippine National Police if it were not true? Why would he make that claim, and thereby lay himself open to a certain peril that moved him to seek protection from the lawmakers, if Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo were in no way connected to the scam? On TV, testifying at the inquiry of the Senate blue ribbon committee into another apparent theft of public money, the president of Lionair Inc. did not come across as some crackpot spoiling for trouble. Street-smart, yes. But loony? Hardly.
In fact, Po, who had made the sale possible through Lionair’s marketing agent, Manila Aerospace Products Trading Corp. (Maptra), was not the first to trot out Mike Arroyo’s name in connection with the chopper scandal. Early last month, Sen. Panfilo Lacson called for an investigation of the sale to the PNP of used helicopters purportedly owned by the Arroyo couple, which were passed off as brand-new. (Lacson’s statement drew a denial from Mike Arroyo, as well as a retort that the public would be better off ignoring remarks from “a former fugitive from justice.” The retort was not apropos of nothing given the senator’s eyebrow-raising, yearlong period in hiding as a direct result of his indictment for the Dacer-Corbito murders, but, if one comes down to it, neither here nor there.)
Now Mike Arroyo’s lawyer is saying that Po perjured himself. Inocencio Ferrer Jr. points out that his client’s name does not appear in any of the documents presented by Po to the Senate committee, meaning that there is no paper trail to connect the man to the crime and ultimately damn him. Quite right. The cash payment ($700,000 for the two used choppers that Po said he delivered in April 2010 to Mike Arroyo at the latter’s office in Makati City), “blank deeds of sale” –these make up the standard operating procedure of people who want no traces of a deed lying around for unwanted reckoning. That Po, who does not seem wet behind the ears in business matters, went along with the transaction – indeed, that he purportedly admonished a nervous Maptra president Hilario de Vera to cool it, “FG” (First Gentleman) supposedly being on top of the deal – merely indicates the context in which the sale was pulled off.
It was this context that pushed ranking police officials to approve, in violation of the supply agreement, the purchase of patently second-hand helicopters for brand-new prices, that pushed members of a PNP inspection committee to let crumble into insignificance the basic fact that the merchandise was at least five years old. As De Vera said in his affidavit, supposedly quoting Po: “Didn’t I tell you that whatever you will deliver, the PNP will accept? I’ll take care of you. I also told you before that FG had issued instructions to [the PNP].”
This context of privilege and entitlement has allowed people in power to flout laws, cut legal corners, and generally push this country deeper into the abyss of anarchy (in its worst sense). Within this context, big shots call the shots and consider rules, guidelines, agreements, contracts, the fundamental points of propriety – in short, the safeguards of civilized society – as petty inconveniences to be brushed aside.
Thus the spectacle of members of the elite Presidential Security Group waiting head and foot on and even toting the handbags of a President’s numerous mistresses; of a President’s son with assets in the multimillions bagging a party-list seat in the House representing security guards and tricycle drivers; of, even further back in history, a President’s wife making a national bank her own automated teller machine at a time when the instrument was not yet in fashion, or treating a national carrier as her private airline. Ad nauseam.
It’s a pox on the body politic. And it all goes back to what President Aquino calls “kulturang wangwang,” a culture marked by the brazen abuse of power that he has made his crusade to stamp out.
We earnestly hope that he is not just tilting at windmills.
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