POSTSCRIPT / September 11, 2001 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Achilles heel of GMA looks like Mike Arroyo

MIKE’S MINIONS vs GLORIA’S GOFERS: Someone has to say this sooner or later, and it now happens to be our unpleasant task to volunteer the observation that the Achilles heel of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is beginning to look like her husband Mike Arroyo.

As the political calendar creeps nearer to the 2004 presidential elections, we can almost see scandals exploding in media involving Mr. Arroyo and his boys deployed in juicy posts in government.

As GMA still has a teflon-like protective veneer, expect the opposition to try getting her through her vulnerable husband.

In the short term, we see as an early indicator of this lurking problem the rumbling turf war between Mike’s Minions and personalities who consider themselves Gloria’s Gofers. Trust the opposition to exploit this rivalry.

Our observation is most likely to be ignored, but we’re making it nonetheless for the record, and for future reference.

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MIKE CAN’T LIE LOW?: If he cares for his wife’s presidency, and we presume he does, Mike should be as low-key as possible. He should just be, like the husband of Margaret Thatcher, a social appendage who is never seen as a separate power pole in the Palace.

As precaution, GMA should have a strict rule that anybody recommended by Mike should be subjected to stringent screening, if not outright rejection, and any deal or contract being pushed by him, or his lawyers, disapproved on sight.

This is to prevent any hint of hanky-panky, baseless or otherwise, tainting her administration. GMA can very well handle things anyway without the need for the husband poking his finger into state affairs.

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HONEST, SIMPLE LIVING: No less than the presidency is at stake. The greed of anybody close to the Arroyos should not be allowed to get in the way of GMA’s minimum vision of being a “good” president.

Like her father President Diosdado Macapagal, she should make honesty and simple living the hallmarks of her administration and official life. This she cannot do if some characters close to her or her husband have something else in mind.

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TESTING MIKE: Critical eyes are watching every move of Mike and his minions, particularly involving deals and projects that fetch millions. Nothing, absolutely nothing, escapes scrutiny.

If it is not Mike himself who would make a misstep, it could be some of his runners who appear to be in a hurry to raise funds ostensibly for her 2004 campaign. If you ask us, that 2004 campaign kitty line could just be a cover for big-time graft.

It’s not fair to GMA, and her loyalists should be concerned, but there is talk already that the fund-raising for 2004 has started.

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ABAD CLINGS ON: As of yesterday, meanwhile, administrator Anthony Abad of the National Food Authority is still clinging to his post despite his having been caught with a stinking rice mess and his having publicly embarrassed the President.

Even from sheer delicadeza, Abad should have resigned on the spot after President Arroyo herself flew to Mabini, Batangas, and found 1.2 million sacks of imported rice almost rotting in a private warehouse.

The NFA has sold the imported rice, worth P1.5 billion, to bidders. But Abad is reportedly still paying for the warehousing while the favored bidders are waiting for the best time to withdraw it and unload the cereal at maximum profit.

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PEREA CLIQUE: Why is Abad so confident as to say over radio that President Arroyo may have been fed wrong information about the rice? And why is he insistent on staying?

The theory in the coffee shops is that Abad may have thought he is untouchable since he is with the powerful Perea clique of Mike Arroyo. Perea refers to that street in Greenbelt in Makati where Mike’s reported favorite law firm holds court.

The scuttlebutt in business and elsewhere is that any big shot who wants ironclad protection and favored treatment from the Arroyo dispensation must retain The Firm.

How many minions have been deployed to control money-making agencies? Let’s reserve the topic for some other time.

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MOVIE IN HER MIND: Who’s the handler of police undercover agent Mary “Rosebud” Ong? He or she should tell Rosebud to stop those runaway interviews, especially those on television, about her life story being made into a movie.

Her daydreaming about becoming the subject of a bioflick is destroying her image as a serious witness against the many crimes she had attributed to Sen. Panfilo Lacson and his supporting cast. Let her focus first on Lacson, nothing else.

A movie on one’s life is a legitimate dream of anybody in the limelight, but in her particular situation she should keep quiet about it lest it ruins the bigger movie on the fight against the narcotrade.

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HIGHER LEVEL?: The protracted inquiry in the Senate on Lacson’s alleged involvement in serious crimes, including drug trafficking and money laundering, should have been finished before Congress went into recess before the weekend.

If Lacson accepted the three-point challenge of AFP intelligence chief Col. Victor Corpus, there would have been nothing else for the senators to pretend to investigate since the two main protagonists — Corpuz and Lacson — would have raised the discussion to a higher level.

It would have become mainly a police matter. (Did we say “higher level”?)

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PING MISSED IT: After Lacson (1) makes under oath a public denial of the charges, (2) signs the waiver of his rights under bank secrecy laws, and (3) takes a lie-detector test together with Corpus, military-police investigators could then leave the Senate and attend to wrapping up or dropping the cases.

If he were innocent of the charges, Lacson could have found it easy doing those three things contained in the challenge hurled by Corpus. He could have shot back at Corpus: Call!

But the macho general failed miserably to rise to the occasion. His not responding positively to the challenge was widely taken as a hint that he had something to hide. That’s bad.

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NUMBERED ACCOUNTS: Central Bank Gov. Rafael Buenaventura reportedly favors allowing numbered bank accounts, and he wants a provision to this effect approved together with the passage of a new law against money laundering.

The numbered account idea, he says, is patterned after that of Switzerland with some modifications and safeguards. He adds that there is nothing wrong with numbered accounts as long as the true identity of the beneficial owner is known to the top officers of the bank.

He says that numbered accounts are preferred by foreign and local investors looking for security.

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FELON SOLONS: It would be interesting to keep track of the evolution of the anti-money trafficking bill. Scrutinizing the provisions being introduced, deleted or rewritten will give the student of legislative intent an insight into the mind of lawmakers who are themselves laundering dirty money.

In the anti-money laundering bill being discussed in Congress, there was a provisions calling for bankers found guilty of money laundering being sent to prison for up to 20 years. Some jittery lawmakers cut it down to 10 years!

The final test, we think, is how the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force organized by industrialized countries will rate the law that our Congress will pass eventually. If the new law is toothless, expect the FATP to go ahead with its threatened sanctions against the Philippines.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 11, 2001)

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