Meeting the Challenge of Political Governance

Speech before the Negros Press Club

The former Japanese ambassador once told me there are three most prominent lies on earth. One, when a delinquent American tenant tells his landlord the check is in the mail. Two, when a Japanese lover tells you he is more romantic than a Frenchman. The biggest lie of them all is when a Filipino politician tells you he is about to deliver a very short speech.

To the newly inducted officers of the Negros Press Club, to the respected members of the Negrense media, ladies and gentlemen, good evening.

I am honored to be here today to talk about meeting the challenge of political governance in the context of today’s political morality. Governance, both political and economic, is a prime theme and rightly so. Without accountability, it is difficult for our country to take off and I am with you in realizing this reality. 

The single most telling indicator of poor governance over the past seven years has been the high incidence of pervasive corruption.

The problem of political governance in our country is mainly due to the limited accountability and lack of transparency.

There is a lack of public scrutiny of public administration.

And a general lack of citizens’ demand for improvements in public administration which can be explained by the increasing politicization of public institutions. This has led to an erosion of trust in government and its political leaders.

The Senate seems to be just the only institution in this country that remains collectively independent and refuses to be co-opted by the present administration of GMA.

Here is the first point I want to make. The concern for today’s issues is well and good, but we have to understand them in the broader context.

As you might be aware, there has been an increasing trend in paid advertisements by the Arroyo government and how it has single-handedly staged a so-called economic miracle for this country.

With your indulgence, I would like to recount how Mrs. Arroyo has actually performed for the past seven years.

Barely days after her proclamation, Mrs. Arroyo fast-tracked the signing of an anomalous power plant contract. I refer to the $470-million power contract granted to the Argentinean company IMPSA in January 2001, which probably earned her and her associates, among them former DOJ Secretary Hernando Perez, a collective payoff to the tune of $14 million. Only the $2 million “commission” awarded to Mr. Perez has ever been traced, to a bank in Switzerland. The rest of the money seemed to have vanished as if the transaction never existed.

In case you forget, the previous administration rushed a wide avenue that would run parallel to Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City, and in essence lighten the traffic going to and from the Manila International Airport. The highway, already almost completed, was then negotiated for a price of P650 million. Under Mrs. Aroyo, the project price had ballooned to double its original cost of P1.1 billion.

The Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard stands today, all 2.2 kilometers of it, built at a cost of P1.1 billion or half a billion pesos per kilometer. It is now known as the most expensive boulevard in the whole universe.

In the second half of 2003, I uncovered incontrovertible evidence pointing to a huge money-laundering scheme being urn by a certain Jose Pidal. Mr. Pidal’s strokes on the checks that were presented to me bear an uncanny resemblance to the signature of one Jose Miguel Arroyo.

These incriminating documents were provided by a certain Udong Mahusay, a confidante and personal assistant of the First Gentleman and Ms. Vicky Toh. Mr. Mahusay would also stand as my witness against Jose Miguel Arroyo’s web of corruption.

Many things happened after that. Someone else stood up to claim that he was the real Jose Pidal. He is now a congressman representing the fifth district in Negros Occidental, and for all his so-called wealth, this man was paying only P8,000 as taxes.

As for Udong, his story reads like a James Bond novel: an extraction by Mike Defensor aboard the presidential chopper and an eventual delivery to the “safety” of Malacañan.

In 2004, Mrs. Arroyo decided to run for the presidency. To ensure her victory, she installed the now-famous owner of Ben’s Borjer, Benjamin Abalos, and a certain “Garci,” a.k.a. Virgilio Garcillano, as Comelec commissioners. Further, she filled her war chest with proceeds coming from jueteng sources, from funds cleverly disguised within circuitous items of the reenacted budget and, of course, from the fertilizer fund.

The fertilizer fund project was originally earmarked to help small farmers increase their efficiency. However, every centavo of its P728-million allocation all went to known political allies of the Arroyos.

The Senate investigated. Former undersecretary Joc-Joc Bolante, the architect behind the scam, refused to appear. Later, he simply flew to the United States and is currently fighting deportation proceedings.

Little did we know that at almost exactly the same time, a P2.2-billion swine scam was also happening. It involved Quedancor and is now known as the biggest swine delivery by the Arroyo government against the Filipino people.

As the greed became greater and more insatiable, it has become harder to hide corruption at its finest.

And so we now arrive at the $329-million ZTE deal, which has become an entity on its own and has spawned numerous rallies and protests.

But where does the president stand amidst all these?

Mrs. Arroyo looks at our country today and scoffs at calls of change as merely the machinations of media-hungry grandstanding opposition senators and presidential aspirants.

She insists that it is possible to feed a family of five at a salary of P8,000. She insists that you can eat noodles and rice with dignity. She insists that she is the only president qualified to rule this country.

Well, this very competent leader is busy trying to get past our noses a deal granting the Chinese government commercial interests in our Spratlys.

That this agreement involves geographical areas that are already part of our recognized coastline does not seem to matter. Or the fact that the Spratlys comprises the world’s fourth largest source of gas and oil and this government is handing that our to foreigners.

Instead of ensuring that it leaves a progressive legacy, Mrs. Arroyo’s government is letting this country come apart at the seams with scandals, corruption and crises like the current rice crisis.

And yet, the president still insists that our house is in order.

Easy words to say, since she won’t be here to pick up the pieces when this country implodes because of her undoing.

During the elections, I have traveled to most parts of our country and have seen what conditions are like at the barangay level. In many areas, health and education facilities have deteriorated, basic services are lacking, and many of our people suffer because of them.

This is not the kind of insecure world we would want to leave to the next generation.

We have a shared responsibility as citizens of this country. It means that whether we work in the government or in private business or in the media, there is no longer an excuse to sitting in the sidelines while others fight our fight. Nation building requires not one or two people. It needs our collective consciousness and our effort to lead and live with dignity and integrity.

It is once said that to sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards of men.

In every aspect of our lives, our focus should not be on ourselves but on others.

That is how we can manage any challenge of our times.

Thank you very much.