POSTSCRIPT / July 4, 2004 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Mike Arroyo should stop all fund-raising activities

INTO ENEMY FIRE: At the risk of being misunderstood on a blessed Sunday morning, we here presume to offer unsolicited advice to First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.

It is not really our business what Mr. Arroyo does or does not do, but public perception of his activities impacts on the credibility of the President and the viability of her administration.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is just into the first week of her six-year term, yet her husband has already bumbled into enemy fire. As expected.

If this keeps on, the President and her 10-point program are doomed.

Once the goodwill traditionally given an incoming president is dissipated, and it can vanish very fast in our highly politicized milieu, that is the beginning of the end for her administration.

* * *

REPACKING NOT ENOUGH: The First Gentleman seems to have been made to believe by some people whose fortunes are tied to his being in that position of influence that all he needs to gain public approval is repackaging.

No sir, changing the wrapper will not do it. The reputation of Mr. Arroyo has been so badly shattered by the opposition, unfairly we think, that no amount of public relations epoxy can make him whole again. At least, not in the short term.

Most people are ready to believe the worst said of him without regard for its veracity. It is not fair to him, to his family and friends, but that’s the way it is.

With that, I think that if he wants to see his hard-working wife succeed in being president, he should minimize inflicting his presence on the official scene. He should lie low for a little longer, as he did during the last election campaign.

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NOT YET OVER: The elections are over, so he can come out now and help around?

No, the worst is not over yet. Precisely, the critical period of his wife’s mustering multi-sectoral support and proving herself as deserving of a fresh mandate has just begun.

But the First Gentleman so painfully wants to help his wife?

The plain fact is that the President does not really need him to make herself effective. In fact, the President can manage, and can operate more efficiently, outside his big shadow.

Their advisers who value their jobs and their Palace connections will not say these things to the First Couple, so we are doing it for them — as well as for those who want President Arroyo to succeed.

* * *

RAKING IN MILLIONS: Let us take Mr. Arroyo’s last birthday party to illustrate our point.

When the bash in the Palace came under fire, his apologists explained that the party was not what it was unfairly pictured to be.

But in their effort to cover all bases, his defenders said too much. They revealed, for instance, the not-so-well-known fact that whenever the First Gentleman holds birthday parties and similar gatherings, a motley group dutifully shows up bearing millions.

In Mr. Arroyo’s last birthday party, the Palace said in an official statement, donors gave him some P50 million. Of course they added that the money was given not to him for his personal pocket but for his foundation and then passed on to charity.

They want us to believe that the money moved that fast, from the donor to the left hand of Mr. Arroyo and then to his right hand to the waiting beneficiaries.

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AUDIT FOUNDATIONS: The First Gentleman and similarly situated spouses of top officials should drop this ruse of setting up foundations as fronts for fund-raising and charity work.

(Remember how former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada also got into a financial and political mess after he allegedly funneled millions to his foundation supposedly for Muslim scholars.)

In other places, they call this money-laundering. If they don’t stop this suspicious fund-management, an honest audit should be conducted in full view of the public.

The rules should be made stricter, but with many lawmakers themselves into such foundations, how can we expect Congress to amend the law?

* * *

LEGITIMIZED BRIBERY: Birthdays, as it is with our prolonged Christmas season, have fallen into disrepute in the hands of people in government and their spouses.

Were it not an official’s birthday, giving money to him on special days would be tantamount to bribery or, under certain conditions, extortion.

But with our values having been twisted through the years, an official’s birthday or the advent of the long Christmas season legitimizes what otherwise would be a criminal transfer of funds

* * *

TIME TO LIE LOW: It is now or never for President Arroyo seeking her proper niche in Philippine political history.

If Mr. Arroyo wants to help his wife the President, he should immediately take these steps:

  1. Dissolve all his charitable foundations and other outfits of his that are used to solicit donations, even if part of those donations is supposedly shared with charity beneficiaries.
  2. Stop involving himself, or allowing his name to be used, in any fund-raising.
  3. Withdraw quietly into the background. He can put his time to better use spoiling his grandchildren.

* * *

GREEN PASTURES: If the President catches on to what we are saying, she might want to terminate the services of her husband’s friends grazing in the greener pastures of the bureaucracy and its tempting fringes.

This point immediately calls to mind the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, the Philippine Ports Authority, the Manila International Airport Authority and the Public Estates Authority, among other juicy agencies.

If it is not yet too late, she might also want to review her and her husband’s relationship with an influential Makati law firm. We said it might be too late, because the firm already knows too much.

* * *

NONE ON CORRUPTION: Everybody knows that corruption is one of the biggest problems plaguing this country.

Even international bodies officially report that as much as 40 percent of public funds are swallowed by corruption. The Philippines ranks high in any listing of the most corrupt governments in the world.

In recent remarks before Rotarians (some of whom may be bosom buddies of Mr. Arroyo), the US embassy’s interim charge d’affaires Joseph Mussomeli pointed to corruption and overpopulation as the two biggest stumbling blocks to national recovery.

Yet, when we looked at President Arroyo’s 10-point agenda for the next six years, we noticed with disappointment that there was not one item on curbing corruption in government.

This oversight, coupled with the continued presence of a big shadow in the foreground, gives her supporters some anxious moments.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 4, 2004)

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