POSTSCRIPT / June 9, 2005 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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If GMA can be bugged, this Republic is not safe

BIGGER NEW BOX: The claim of Edgar Ruado, former political officer of President Arroyo in the last May elections, that he could be the “Gary” talking with the President in tapped conversations will not clear up the confusion.

Ruado merely said in a sworn statement filed June 8 with the national bureau of investigation that he stepped forward after “it became clear to me that the voice of Gary sounded very much like my voice.” He did not say categorically it was him. He left ample room for possible clarifications or alterations.

His statement did not give hints of who tapped the President’s line and what the probable motive was. These points are expected to be debated endlessly in the days to come.

If, as the political opposition claims, the wiretapping story was concocted by Malacanang to draw focus away from “jueteng” payola issues taking their toll on the First Family, the wiretapping question may have opened a box of even bigger problems.

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WHO’S GARY?: “Gary” was the code-name assigned by the tape transcriber to the man talking to President Arroyo and, at other times, First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo. Ruado now works as chief of staff of Negros Occ. Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo, Mike’s brother.

The Palace has confirmed that the female voice on the tape is that of President Arroyo, but has not identified “Gary.”

There was talk spread by the opposition that “Gary” was Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano allegedly conniving with the President in fixing election results in Mindanao. The election official has denied it was him.

Ruado said in his affidavit, “As far as I can recall, the conversations I had with the President and the First Gentleman (Jose Miguel Arroyo) are normal conversations any political officer would have with his bosses.”

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TALE OF 2 TAPES: The original tape, about two hours long, recorded alleged conversations from late May to early June 2004. Its contents, as well as edited versions, have been burned into compact discs.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye gave out last Monday the CD copy of portions of alleged conversations of Gary with President Arroyo and her husband on May 26, 27, 28 and 31 and June 1, 2, 6, 8 and 10.

Bunye compared his full version with the opposition’s shortened copy, which he also distributed to media. He said the opposition planned to use its edited version for destabilization, hoping to show that President Arroyo cheated his way to victory last May.

Without going into details or confirming the text of the transcriptions making the rounds, Ruado simply said he remembered speaking with the President and the First Gentleman on various occasions during the 2004 elections.

“As one of the longest-serving political officers of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, she would normally call me personally regarding various political concerns,” he said.

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INTELLIGENCE JOB: The most widespread theory is that the wiretapping was done by government intelligence agents. The reason for this scenario is still unclear.

Based on their early reactions to the bugging stories, we can conclude that neither President Arroyo nor Ruado was aware of the electronic eavesdropping on their phone conversations.

Whoever did the bugging and for whatever reasons, what struck me was the grave danger that the Republic faces, considering that the President no less is not adequately protected from routine spying.

One logical conclusion here is that the bugging could not have been confined to the last elections. The likelihood is that the private lives of the President and her family, as well as that of key Cabinet members, have been raked open by the continuing eavesdropping.

The name of the game is blackmail. It scares me to think of the awesome power of whoever now holds the darkest secrets of the President.

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NO PROOF: There is a chasm between the bugged conversations and the questioned legitimacy of the Arroyo presidency — and the hoped-for resignation of the President or her removal by other means.

The tapes and CDs circulating in the political market do not prove anything except that they contain intelligible sound. They do not prove that there was massive election cheating in Mindanao last May.

Assuming parts of the recorded speech is actually that of President Arroyo, so?

The opposition knows the minimal probative value of the tapes. No matter. They can be expected to try wringing the tapes’ propaganda value to the last drop in the hope that they will help build in the public mind a preponderance of proof of massive cheating.

The noisy debate over the tapes will have no positive effect on making this country a better place to live in or making life easier for the population.

It can only abet destabilization — which is probably the idea.

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CORRECT ROUTE: President Arroyo will not commit the mistake of resigning as demanded by her detractors.

Neither can she be expected to set snap presidential elections, again as demanded by some opposition sectors.

The questions related to holding presidential elections out of season have long been settled. It is best for the public to ignore such a call. We should concentrate instead on making a living and supporting reasonable moves to achieve peace and unity in this suffering nation.

The process for changing the president and other constitutional officials is well-defined in the Charter. Holding snap elections is not part of it. There is no vacancy in the presidency, so why hold an election?

Even assuming the presidency is vacated, the correct procedure is for the vice president, now Noli de Castro, to become the president. This was the constitutional route taken by then Vice President Arroyo in 2001 when she took over from President Joseph “Erap” Estrada when he left Malacanang.

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NOLI DREAMING?: It is significant (amusing, some people will say) that De Castro affirmed his loyalty to the Constitution yesterday even as he asked the public not to be affected by talk of destabilization.

I thought that having run and won with President Arroyo, the former TV newsreader would ask the people to lend some support for his embattled president.

All he said was: “What our country needs at this point is for everybody to be sober and to unite in promoting the rule of law and in preserving our democracy… Let us not allow ourselves to be affected by talks of destabilization and impeachment, as these will not do any good for our country, especially our economy.”

For his clincher, he said, “As Vice President, I affirm my loyalty to our country, our people, and to the Constitution and its duly constituted authorities.” No mention of the President!

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 9, 2005)

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