March 2008

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

A ‘Rubberized’ Supreme Court

Finally, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has achieved every totalitarian’s dream –absolute power. And she didn’t even have to declare martial law. The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos would have been awed at the way Arroyo acquired wealth and power.

Arroyo and her “royal family” must now be celebrating at the prospect of staying in power beyond 2010. Why not? After the 9-6 Supreme Court decision upholding Romulo Neri’s right to invoke “executive privilege,” nobody would now be in a position to block Arroyo from doing what she pleases to accomplish including changing the constitution so she could remain in power indefinitely.

The Supreme Court’s controversial decision has brought to the forefront of debate the issue of “judicial independence.” Never in its 107-year history had the Supreme Court made a decision that has generated apprehension among jurists, politicians, and the public that the High Court’s independence has been compromised.

While the decision specifically addressed Neri’s petition, it has set a precedence which would allow Arroyo to rule in total secrecy, all in the name of “executive privilege.” As Sterling Seagrave, in his book “Gold Warriors,” said, “Secrecy is power. Power corrupts. Secret power corrupts secretly.”

In his petition, Neri sought guidance on the possible invocation of executive privilege on three hypothetical questions which he might be asked by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee in its investigation of the $329-million ZTE-NBN scandal: 1) Whether President Arroyo followed up the ZTE-NBN project; 2) Whether Neri was dictated by Arroyo to prioritize the project; and 3) Whether Neri was told by President Arroyo to go ahead and approve the project after being told about the alleged bribe offer.

The gist of the majority decision penned by Associate Justice Teresita J. de Castro is that “the Executive has a right to withhold documents that might reveal military or state secrets, identity of government informers in some circumstances, and information related to pending investigations.”

Chief Justice Reynato Puno, who penned the dissenting opinion, proved that the three questions were pertinent to the Senate inquiry. He said, “The three assailed questions seek information on how and why the NBN-ZTE contract — an international agreement embodying a foreign loan for the undertaking of the NBN Project — was consummated.”

In a separate opinion, Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said, “Executive privilege cannot be invoked to hide a crime because the President is neither empowered nor tasked to conceal a crime. On the contrary, the President has the constitutional duty to enforce criminal laws and cause the prosecution of crimes.” Further, he said, “Executive privilege must be invoked with specificity sufficient to inform the Legislature and the Judiciary that the matter claimed as privileged refers to military, national security or diplomatic secrets, or to confidential Presidential communications.” And in direct reference to Neri’s petition, Justice Carpio said, “Executive privilege must be invoked after the question is asked by the legislative committee, not before. A witness cannot raise hypothetical questions that the committee may ask, claim executive privilege on such questions, and on that basis refuse to appear before the legislative committee.” In regard to the bribery issue, Justice Carpio said that Neri “categorically admits that his discussions with the President ‘dwelt on the impact of bribery scandal involving high Government officials.’ Petitioner’s discussions with the President dealt not on simple bribery, but on scandalous bribery involving high Government officials of the Philippines.”

Justice Carpio concluded, “Executive privilege can never be used to hide a crime or wrongdoing, even if committed by high government officials. Executive privilege applies only to protect official acts and functions of the President, never to conceal illegal acts by anyone, not even those of the President. Public office is a public trust and not a shield to cover up wrongdoing.”

But regardless of Justice Carpio’s brilliant and concise legal opinion, nine of the 15 justices favored the convoluted opinion penned by Justice de Castro. Many people are of the belief that Arroyo’s appointment of Justice Arturo Brion to fill a vacancy on the High Court tilted the High Court in favor of Neri’s petition. Critics said that Justice Brion should not have participated in the final vote on Neri’s petition. First of all, he was a former cabinet member — and a political appointee as well — of Arroyo’s government; thus, he may be privy to a lot of “secrets” that Neri and Arroyo wanted to hide from Senate inquiry and public scrutiny. Secondly, he did not participate in the High Court’s hearing on Neri’s petition. And thirdly, his appointment to the Supreme Court was perceived by a lot of people that he was appointed by Arroyo to stack the deck in favor of Neri’s petition.

In addition to Justice Brion, another justice’s participation in the vote was questioned. Associate Justice Presbiterio Velasco Jr. is said to have been a “golf mate” of Neri. According to whistleblower Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, the two frequently played golf together at Wack Wack Golf and Country Club where the ZTE-NBN “commissions” — or kickbacks — were allegedly discussed by the “Greedy Group.” Justice Velasco admitted that he played golf with Neri only once but claimed that Neri “is but an acquaintance.”

But what remains a mystery is that nobody filed a motion to inhibit Justices Brion and Velasco from participating in the final vote, although it was reported that Senate lawyers have been preparing to file such motion. Makes one to wonder if the Senators had succumbed to pressure to not rock the boat. Has the long tentacles of Arroyo finally gripped the Senators — particularly the “presidentiables” — into submission?

With nine Supreme Court justices due to retire next year, Arroyo will have a grand — and timely — opportunity to appoint “political justices,” the likes of Justice Brion. As Justice Carpio — who graduated cum laude and valedictorian at U.P. in 1975, and placed sixth in the Bar — said in 2006 after he penned the 8-7 decision which dismissed the petition for a people’s initiative to amend the constitution, “the most important qualification of a judge is independence, not brilliance.” Indeed, the 9-6 decision upholding Neri’s petition may be the precursor of a “rubberized” Supreme Court, where decisions would be conveniently stamped to satisfy Arroyo’s political and personal agenda.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

March 28, 2008

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

The Grand Deception

In my article, “Economic Boom or Boo-boo Economics” (Nov. 30, 2007), I wrote: “With 50% of Filipinos poor — 40% of whom have experienced hunger — and with unemployment rate at 7.8%, what we will soon hear is the ‘astronomic boom’ of discontent and the cry of the helpless poor. Indeed, Arroyo’s boo-boo economics has created a short span of high — albeit false — expectations. She promised jobs for the people, yet more than one million Filipinos are leaving each year for jobs overseas.”

That was four months ago when the OFWs were praising Gloria for calling them the “bagong bayani” (new heroes). Indeed, the OFWs’ remittances in 2007 set a record high of more than $14 billion. But little did the OFWs realize that their remittances would make the peso stronger; thus, decreasing the value of their dollar earnings. But in spite of the strengthening of the peso, prices of commodities have mysteriously been skyrocketing.

The decrease in OFWs’ earnings has a direct effect on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which measures economic growth. Since the OFW families would be inclined to spend less on personal consumption, it would have an adverse effect on the GDP. With “personal consumption expenditure” accounting for 74% of the GDP, a decrease in personal consumption spending would bring down the GDP; thus, cooling off the economic growth.

Last January, the Arroyo government announced that the country’s GDP grew 7.3% in 2007, the highest since 1976. For the past two years, President Arroyo has been painting a rosy economic picture of the country. In May 2006, she declared that she envisioned the Philippines becoming a First World country — an “Enchanted Kingdom,” she said — in 20 years. Since then, she had launched a media blitz heralding her achievements. Indeed, everything seemed to be going so well that Arroyo’s “new heroes” have become her zealous defenders against her critics, particularly the media. Not anymore. Today, the “new heroes” feel that Arroyo has betrayed them.

On February 3, 2008 the Daily Tribune editorial said, “There was something smelly and not palatable with the way statistics are being suddenly and drastically revised by the Arroyo government.” The source of the stink was in the fine print of a footnote on a government statistics report which said that the GDP was revised from 6.6% to 7.4%. Well, a change of 0.8% in GDP is substantial.

The editorial further stated, “The sudden spurt in the government growth record was the reason Gloria, fresh from the World Economic Forum at the Swiss Alps, was able to proclaim to the world that the economy, in terms of GDP, grew 7.3 percent, while the gross national product (GNP) that takes into account remittances of the army of Filipinos working overseas rose 7.8 percent last year.”

Three weeks after the Tribunal editorial, Peter Wallace of Standard Today wrote an article, “Time to face the Facts,” which debunked Arroyo’s economic data. He said, “if you were told that GDP really only grew about 4.8 percent, and that family spending declined, and that there were more people who went hungry during the past three years than in any period during the past 10 years, you’d think much differently.” Now, there’s an ocean of difference between a 4.8% growth and the 7.8% growth that Arroyo has been trumpeting. Wallace explained, “In 2007, the economy, had exports and imports grown as they did during the past 20 years, would only have grown at about 4.8 percent. What created the 7.3 percent wasn’t a dramatic improvement in the factors that contribute to growth but, instead, a worrying massive decline in imports.” Wallace further stated, “Imports were 6.6 percent less in 2007 than they were in 2006. Now in a healthy, growing economy that’s a most unlikely event.”

My question is: What caused imports to decline in a “growing economy”? One explanation is that smuggling has increased; thus, negatively impacting legitimate trade activities. And this rationale was unwittingly collaborated by an article in the Warrior Lawyer which said, “one of the many criticisms leveled against this administration is how smuggling is not only rampant, but allegedly condoned at the highest levels of government.” In the past seven years, cheap smuggled goods have been flooding the Philippines. For the first time in the country’s history, the rich and the poor are wearing the same expensive brand names. The only difference is that the poor wear fake brand names smuggled from China. Recently, former Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr. has implicated First Gentleman Mike Arroyo and his son, Congressman Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, in smuggling operations.

Another interesting article was written by Manuel L. Quezon III — grandson of the late President Manuel L. Quezon — which showed a graph titled, “Real GDP Per Capita Quarter-on-Quarter Growth Rate.” The graph, covered the period from the 4th quarter of 1981 to the 2nd quarter of 2007. Noticeably, the graph has a gap between the 4th quarter of 1999 and the 2nd quarter of 2001. Quezon noted, “You will see on the chart above, which comes from a presentation of Dr. Michael Alba, that the line showing the country’s GDP is broken at one point. I asked him what that meant. He said, it represents a change made in the manner GDP is computed, which makes all previous data and all subsequent data not precisely comparable to each other.” In other words, had the manner in which GDP was computed not change in the 2nd of quarter 2001, the GDP would have been different from what Arroyo had been showing the world. It is interesting to note that Gloria Arroyo took over the presidency from Joseph Estrada on January 20, 2001, the first quarter of that year. Did Arroyo manipulate the GDP computations?

The biggest victims of Arroyo’s grand deception are the poor. A recent survey by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) showed that the number of poor Filipinos has increased and poverty overall has worsened during Arroyo’s term. Poverty incidence rose from 24.4% in 2003 to 26.9% in 2006. Compounding this is the latest survey by the Hong-Kong based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) which revealed that the Philippines — for the second time in a row — is perceived as the most corrupt economy in Asia. With the rice shortage and rising cost of commodities, particularly oil and rice, the economic downturn is hurting whom would hurt most — the powerless poor.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

March 21, 2007

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

Disconnecting the Wack Wack Connection

With the recent brouhaha over the ZTE-NBE and other corruption scandals involving the First Family and their business cronies — the “oligarchs,” according to Romulo Neri — the Wack Wack Golf and Country Club had been, or may still be, the place for the “players” to play a real life game of “Monopoly.” Indeed, the place could be aptly called “Wack Wack Gold Counting Club.” In the midst of all these scandals was former COMELEC Chairman Benjamin Abalos, a slick operator who was tagged as the man in middle — the conduit — of all these questionable multi-million dollar transactions.

Founded in 1930, Wack Wack Golf and Country Club has been the place to be for the rich and the famous. Named after the “uwak” (crow), Wack Wack has become synonymous with power and influence; that is, political power and influence peddling.

The ZTE-NBN scandal has brought Wack Wack to the limelight. It was the venue for a series of rendezvous involving Philippine government officials and businessmen from China. One of these projects — the $329 million National Broadband Network (NBN) — was allegedly brokered by Abalos and which implicated the First Gentleman, Mike Arroyo, as having exerted influence — for a hefty commission — on his wife, the President. The disclosure was made by Jose “Joey” de Venecia III, son of former Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr., in his testimony before a Senate panel. De Venecia claimed that Abalos tried to bribe him for $10 million to withdraw his bid in favor of ZTE Corp., China’s third largest telecommunication firm. De Venecia also accused Mike Arroyo of telling him to “back off” the project. And all of these alleged incidents happened at Wack Wack.

Why Wack Wack? It turned out that Abalos had been wearing too many hats and his fingers on too many pies. Abalos owns substantial shares of stock and is also the President of Wack Wack. It’s sounds wacky but Wack Wack is Abalos’ exclusive domain — his little enchanted kingdom.

Wack Wack has been a dominant part of Abalos’ life since his birth. He was born poor in Pangasinan on September 21, 1935. His father, Ciriaco Ruiz Abalos, worked as a locker room attendant at Wack Wack and his mother, Efroncina Santos Abalos, worked as locker room girl. He grew up in Madaluyong where Wack Wack is located and when he was old enough to work, he worked as a caddy. Golfing became his passion. And golfing also helped him connect with the rich and the powerful.

As president of Wack Wack, it was not uncommon for his VIP guests to pay him a visit at his office. In one interview with a newspaper reporter, Abalos said, “With so many VIPs I’ve spoken to and met at Wack Wack, I might be accused of brokering a lot more deals.” Huh? Was that a Freudian slip?

At one time, by his own admission, Abalos hosted ZTE officials at Wack Wack. And at another time, he played golf with Romulo Neri, who was then the director general of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA). Neri claimed that Abalos offered him a bribe of “200” — this figure was presumed to be “200 million pesos” — to endorse the ZTE contract. Neri immediately reported the incident to President Arroyo. According to Neri, the President told him not to accept the bribe but to go ahead and endorse the contract with ZTE, which he did. Within a short period of time after that, President Arroyo abruptly terminated him as NEDA chief and appointed him as officer in charge of the Commission on Higher Education. Did Arroyo do that to insulate Neri from the heat that was about to ignite?

With the recent testimonies of NBN consultant Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada and ZTE consultant Dante Madriaga before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, details of the ZTE-NBN deal were exposed including the involvement of the shady “Greedy Group plus plus” which — according to Madriaga — was composed of Abalos, Leo San Miguel, Ruben Reyes, Quirino dela Torre, and the First Couple. Madriaga also alleged that the group received an advance of $41 million from the Chinese, $30 million of which went to the First Couple. Had the contract not been cancelled, the total “commission” would have amounted to $200 million.

Madriaga told the Senate panel that the “commission” from the ZTE-NBN deal would have amounted to 60% of $329 million which would have been divided as follows: the first 20% markup would go to ZTE; the second 20% markup would go to the “consortium” composed of ZTE and the “Greedy Group plus plus”; and the third 20% markup would go again to ZTE and the “Greedy Group plus plus.”

With the ongoing investigation by the Senate, the “commissioners” — a pejorative term for those who got “commissions” or kickbacks — were expected to be summoned to testify. Reyes, whom Madriaga tagged as the “bagman” for the “Greedy Group plus plus,” was subpoenaed by the Senate but left the country on a “business trip.” Leo San Miguel appeared as a “surprise witness” only to surprise the senators that he has no knowledge of “tongpats” — Filipino slang for kickbacks — in the ZTE-NBN deal. Lozada immediately contradicted San Miguel by presenting an email from San Miguel to Lazada which contained an attachment detailing the “tongpats.” San Miguel countered that the attachment was “doctored.” Well, what else would he say, admit it? However, during a lunch break of his testimony, San Miguel was overheard talking to a person in a cell phone, saying: “Yes ma’am. Yes ma’am, I’ll deny it, ma’am.” Senator Panfilo Lacson believed that the person at the other end of the call was the “Ma’am” herself — President Arroyo.

With the ZTE-NBN scandal and other controversial deals that have been “cooked” at Wack Wack, “High Commissioner” Abalos — whose demand for a $130 million commission from the ZTE-NBN deal has opened a stinking can of worms — has been trying to project an innocent image by challenging Lozada to a debate. However, he refused to appear before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee. If he was innocent, why wouldn’t he testify before the Senate? Recently, he “won” a raffle prize held at Wack Wack for a vacation trip abroad. He said that he’ll use it in April. That means that he would not be able to testify in the Senate for probably an indefinite time should he choose to stay abroad for an extended time. This reminds me of Joc-joc Bolante who took off a few years when the P3-billion fertilizer scam was being investigated by the Senate. With “High Commissioner” Abalos out of the country soon and the alleged “bagman,” Ruben Reyes, on a business trip to China — hmmm — the Senate would be dealt once again another “Houdini” vanishing act by persons involved in scandals in the Arroyo administration.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

March 14, 2007

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

The Spratly Betrayal

In my article, “Dangerous Liaison or Masterful Plan?” (September 24, 2004), I wrote: “After surviving the biggest threat — the Angelo de la Cruz kidnapping — to the stability of her presidency, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) made a bold move by visiting China. Chinese President Hu Jintao rolled out the red carpet for GMA’s state visit.

“A total of five bilateral ‘agreements of cooperation’ were signed covering tourism, energy, fisheries, trade and investments. China and the Philippines agreed to conduct a ‘seismic study’ of potential petroleum reserves in the South China Sea which included the Spratly Islands, a small group of islands claimed by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei. Included in the deal were financing of several major infrastructure projects. And, according to Philippine Communications Director Silvestre Afable, Jr., ‘the two countries agreed to cooperate on defense and security by sharing intelligence and technology.’ It was not clear if ‘sharing intelligence and technology’ was covered by an ‘agreement of cooperation’ or, simply, by a good-faith handshake between the two leaders, the mechanism of which would be worked out by their respective resident spies, oops, I mean diplomatic attaches. What was in GMA’s mind when she thought of paying her giant neighbor a visit?

“It’s like a kitten entering the tiger’s den and extending her cute little paws as a friendly gesture. Evidently, it worked. GMA left a good impression upon President Jintao and took the bacon home.”

Little did anyone know — except for a small number of Arroyo’s henchmen and business cronies — that the five bilateral ‘agreements of cooperation’ were loaded with anomalous transactions. In hindsight, I should have titled my article, “Dangerous Liaison and Masterful Plan.” Arroyo didn’t bring home the “bacon,” she brought the “lechon” to Hu Jintao on a silver platter. And, as alleged by Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada and Dante Madriaga before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, there’s dirty money — millions of dollars — that would change hands under the table.

Recently, an article by Barry Wain in the Far Eastern Economic Review stated that Arroyo “has made breathtaking concessions in agreeing to the area for study, including parts of its own continental shelf not even claimed by China and Vietnam. Through its actions, Manila has given a certain legitimacy to China’s legally spurious ‘historic claim’ to most of the South China Sea.”

“Continental shelf” is land under relatively shallow water that extends from the coast to a point where it drops to the bottom of the ocean. The Philippines has claimed the continental shelf around Palawan under the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas. Thus, the Camago-Malampaya fields and the Kalayaan island group, which is part of the Spratly Islands, are integral parts of the continental shelf of Palawan.

In an attempt to ward off criticism against Arroyo, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez was reported to have said that “the undertaking will be conducted by private oil companies and not by the governments themselves.” This was another example of Gonzalez’s double-talk. Once again, Gonzalez has put his foot in his mouth with his outlandish claims. The original signatories to the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) were Philippine National Oil company (PNOC) and China National Offshore Oil Exploration (CNOOC), both of which are state-owned. Since Arroyo was present when PNOC President and CEO Eduardo Mañalac signed the agreement in China, Mañalac obviously had Arroyo’s official sanction.

On March 14, 2005, Vietnam — after making a lot of noise — was added to the JMSU agreement. The area covered by the tripartite JMSU included 24,000 square kilometers of undisputed Philippine territory. According to Gonzalez, three trillion cubic feet of oil have “already been found” in the area. That’s 535 billion barrels of oil! By comparison, Saudi Arabia has proven oil reserves of 264 billion barrels. It is no wonder then that seven countries have claimed ownership of the Spratly Islands. China, Taiwan, and Vietnam claimed all the islands while the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei claimed parts of the islands.

One of the provisions of the PNOC-CNOOC agreement states: “PNOC shall assign all its rights and obligation under the Agreement to one of its affiliates (it is understood by the Parties that such affiliate shall be PNOC EC).” “PNOC EC” is PNOC Exploration Corporation, a subsidiary of PNOC. However, there is nothing in the agreement that would disallow PNOC EC to subcontract the work. As most people would know, government subcontracting is where “dirty money” or kickbacks are funneled through. It’s interesting to note that, according to recent news report, Mañalac was “fired” in November 2006 by Arroyo for “‘hurting’ oil companies that had lines to First Gentleman Mike Arroyo and presidential brother Diosdado ‘Buboy’ Macapagal, Jr.”

The details of the agreement were so secret that it took 3 ½ years before the anomalous agreement was exposed as a result of the Senate investigation on the ZTE-NBN deal. Malacanang justified the secrecy by saying that it couldn’t disclose the details for reasons of national security and diplomatic relations. The lack of transparency led a lot of people to believe that Arroyo was hiding something. As Sterling Seagrave, in his book “Gold Warriors,” said, “Secrecy is power. Power corrupts. Secret power corrupts secretly.” Indeed, “secrecy” has become the trademark of Arroyo’s presidency where she used “executive privilege” to shield her secret dealings with China from the scrutiny of Congress and, ultimately, the Filipino people.

Right after the JMSU was signed, China agreed to commit $2 billion in Official Development Assistance (ODA) loans each year from 2007 through 2010 for a total of $8 billion. Among the projects that would have been funded by Chinese ODA loans were the controversial $329-million National Broadband Network, $465-million Cyber Education, $500-million NorthRail, $932-million SouthRail, and the $4-billion Fuhua agricultural projects. Under the Fuhua agricultural agreement, one million hectares — a tenth of the Philippines’ agricultural land — were to be leased to Fuhua. Legal experts believe that it is a violation of the Philippine constitution.

Arroyo’s dangerous liaison with China and her “masterful plan” of allowing China to explore — and ultimately exploit — the Philippines’ rich natural resources is a treasonable act. While corruption by itself is a very grave offense, selling out a piece of the country’s territory is a betrayal of the people’s trust and should — nay, must — not be condoned.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

 
Spratly-Islands.1In my article, “Dangerous Liaison or Masterful Plan?” (September 24, 2004), I wrote: “After surviving the biggest threat — the Angelo de la Cruz kidnapping — to the stability of her presidency, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) made a bold move by visiting China. Chinese President Hu Jintao rolled out the red carpet for GMA’s state visit. 

 

“A total of five bilateral ‘agreements of cooperation’ were signed covering tourism, energy, fisheries, trade and investments. China and the Philippines agreed to conduct a ‘seismic study’ of potential petroleum reserves in the South China Sea which included the Spratly Islands, a small group of islands claimed by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei. Included in the deal were financing of several major infrastructure projects. And, according to Philippine Communications Director Silvestre Afable, Jr., ‘the two countries agreed to cooperate on defense and security by sharing intelligence and technology.’ It was not clear if ‘sharing intelligence and technology’ was covered by an ‘agreement of cooperation’ or, simply, by a good-faith handshake between the two leaders, the mechanism of which would be worked out by their respective resident spies, oops, I mean diplomatic attaches. What was in GMA’s mind when she thought of paying her giant neighbor a visit?

 

“It’s like a kitten entering the tiger’s den and extending her cute little paws as a friendly gesture. Evidently, it worked. GMA left a good impression upon President Jintao and took the bacon home.”

 

Little did anyone know — except for a small number of Arroyo’s henchmen and business cronies — that the five bilateral ‘agreements of cooperation’ were loaded with anomalous transactions. In hindsight, I should have titled my article, “Dangerous Liaison and Masterful Plan.” Arroyo didn’t bring home the “bacon,” she brought the “lechon” to Hu Jintao on a silver platter. And, as alleged by Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada and Dante Madriaga before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, there’s dirty money — millions of dollars — that would change hands under the table.

 

Recently, an article by Barry Wain in the Far Eastern Economic Review stated that Arroyo “has made breathtaking concessions in agreeing to the area for study, including parts of its own continental shelf not even claimed by China and Vietnam. Through its actions, Manila has given a certain legitimacy to China’s legally spurious ‘historic claim’ to most of the South China Sea.”

 

“Continental shelf” is land under relatively shallow water that extends from the coast to a point where it drops to the bottom of the ocean. The Philippines has claimed the continental shelf around Palawan under the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas. Thus, the Camago-Malampaya fields and the Kalayaan island group, which is part of the Spratly Islands, are integral parts of the continental shelf of Palawan.

 

In an attempt to ward off criticism against Arroyo, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez was reported to have said that “the undertaking will be conducted by private oil companies and not by the governments themselves.” This was another example of Gonzalez’s double-talk. Once again, Gonzalez has put his foot in his mouth with his outlandish claims. The original signatories to the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) were Philippine National Oil company (PNOC) and China National Offshore Oil Exploration (CNOOC), both of which are state-owned. Since Arroyo was present when PNOC President and CEO Eduardo Mañalac signed the agreement in China, Mañalac obviously had Arroyo’s official sanction.

 

On March 14, 2005, Vietnam — after making a lot of noise — was added to the JMSU agreement. The area covered by the tripartite JMSU included 24,000 square kilometers of undisputed Philippine territory. According to Gonzalez, three trillion cubic feet of oil have “already been found” in the area. That’s 535 billion barrels of oil! By comparison, Saudi Arabia has proven oil reserves of 264 billion barrels. It is no wonder then that seven countries have claimed ownership of the Spratly Islands. China, Taiwan, and Vietnam claimed all the islands while the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei claimed parts of the islands.

 

One of the provisions of the PNOC-CNOOC agreement states: “PNOC shall assign all its rights and obligation under the Agreement to one of its affiliates (it is understood by the Parties that such affiliate shall be PNOC EC).” “PNOC EC” is PNOC Exploration Corporation, a subsidiary of PNOC. However, there is nothing in the agreement that would disallow PNOC EC to subcontract the work. As most people would know, government subcontracting is where “dirty money” or kickbacks are funneled through. It’s interesting to note that, according to recent news report, Mañalac was “fired” in November 2006 by Arroyo for “‘hurting’ oil companies that had lines to First Gentleman Mike Arroyo and presidential brother Diosdado ‘Buboy’ Macapagal, Jr.”

 

The details of the agreement were so secret that it took 3 ½ years before the anomalous agreement was exposed as a result of the Senate investigation on the ZTE-NBN deal. Malacanang justified the secrecy by saying that it couldn’t disclose the details for reasons of national security and diplomatic relations. The lack of transparency led a lot of people to believe that Arroyo was hiding something. As Sterling Seagrave, in his book “Gold Warriors,” said, “Secrecy is power. Power corrupts. Secret power corrupts secretly.” Indeed, “secrecy” has become the trademark of Arroyo’s presidency where she used “executive privilege” to shield her secret dealings with China from the scrutiny of Congress and, ultimately, the Filipino people.

 

Right after the JMSU was signed, China agreed to commit $2 billion in Official Development Assistance (ODA) loans each year from 2007 through 2010 for a total of $8 billion. Among the projects that would have been funded by Chinese ODA loans were the controversial $329-million National Broadband Network, $465-million Cyber Education, $500-million North Rail, $932-million South Rail, and the $4-billion Fuhua agricultural projects. Under the Fuhua agricultural agreement, one million hectares — a tenth of the Philippines’ agricultural land — were to be leased to Fuhua. Legal experts believe that it is a violation of the Philippine constitution.

 

Arroyo’s dangerous liaison with China and her “masterful plan” of allowing China to explore — and ultimately exploit — the Philippines’ rich natural resources is a treasonable act. While corruption by itself is a very grave offense, selling out a piece of the country’s territory is a betrayal of the people’s trust and should — nay, must — not be condoned.

 

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

 

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

Gloria’s “Omerta”

On September 26, 2005, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive Order 464 which prevented members of the cabinet, police and military generals, senior national security officials, and “such other officers as may be determined by the President” from attending congressional hearings unless approved by the President. Arroyo issued EO 464 when two military officers appeared before the Senate Committee on National Defense to testify during the investigation of the “Hello Garci” election cheating scandal.

With a single stroke of the pen, Arroyo imposed a “code of silence” in her administration. And like the Mafia’s “Omerta,” EO 464 made sure that what happens in Malacanang stays in Malacanang. So far, nobody dared to break Gloria’s “Omerta,” except Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada.

When Joey de Venecia III exposed the ZTE-NBN deal, he implicated Romulo Neri — then the Director of NEDA — for recommending approval of the overpriced $329 million deal. However, Neri said in his testimony before the Senate in September 2007 that former COMELEC Chairman Benjamin Abalos offered him P200 million for his endorsement of the deal. Neri then called Arroyo and told her about the bribery offer. Arroyo told Neri not to accept the bribe but to go ahead and endorse the deal. When asked for details, Neri invoked “executive privilege.”

In January 2008, the Senate issued a warrant of arrest for Neri and Lozada to compel both of them to testify before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee. Consequently, Neri petitioned the Supreme Court for prohibition against the arrest warrant claiming immunity under EO 464. On February 5, 2008, the Supreme Court issued a “status quo” order which temporarily restrained the Senate from arresting Neri. Three days later, Lozada surfaced and appeared before the Senate and blew the whistle on the ZTE-NBN “sweetheart deal.” He testified that Abalos wanted a $130 million kickback from the deal, $70 million of which would go to First Gentleman Mike Arroyo.

The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear the arguments of Neri on March 4 and would then decide whether EO 464 would prohibit Neri from disclosing the details of his conversation with Arroyo. It is interesting to note that in 2006, the Supreme Court ruled in the Senate vs. Ermita case that the doctrine of “executive privilege” was constitutional but failed to define the limits of such doctrine. However, it is the opinion of some legal experts that “executive privilege” can only be invoked when national security is involved. They are also of the opinion that “executive privilege” cannot be invoked when corruption is involved. Corruption is a crime and not even the President can shield anyone from prosecution of a crime.

Recently, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a “pastoral letter” which condemned the “continuing culture of corruption from the top to the bottom of our social and political ladder.” They recommended, among other things, the “abolition of EO 464 so that those who might have knowledge of any corruption in branches of government, may be free to testify before the appropriate investigating bodies.” They also asked Arroyo to “allow her subordinates to reveal any corrupt acts, particularly about the ZTE-NBN deal, without being obstructed in their testimony no matter who is involved.”

Arroyo immediately formed a legal team to study the possibility of scrapping EO 464. The members of the team were DoJ Secretary Raul Gonzalez, Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Sergio Apostol, Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs Manny Gaite, and Government Corporate Legal Counsel Alberto Agra. This would be like “Godfather” Vito Corleone appointing his Consigliere and capo regimes to come up with a recommendation on how to do away with the “Omerta” code of silence.

As expected, Malacanang said that it has deferred its decision to repeal or not repeal EO 464. Their excuse: “We have to clarify what the CBCP meant.” Really? Was the pastoral letter not clear enough? Arroyo’s legal team wanted to have a “dialogue” with the bishops. Once again, Arroyo pulled one of her tricks. But CBCP’s reaction was: if Malacanang would not revoke EO 464, the 55 bishops will meet again to study their next move.

From what I understand, the CBCP was divided on how to deal with the corruption issues against Arroyo and her administration. After more than 10 hours of discussion, the pro-Arroyo majority favored a soft approach to dealing with the corruption issues. It was revealed that Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos threatened to oust Jaro Bishop Angel Lagdameo, the President of CBCP, if he wouldn’t listen to the pro-Arroyo majority. It is interesting to note that Bishop Pueblos was appointed by Arroyo to the Melo Commission to investigate the extrajudicial killings. Now, with Arroyo’s hesitation to abolish EO 464, the CBCP might change its stand and join the chorus in demanding her resignation. Among those who are urging Arroyo to abolish EO 464 were Vice President Noli de Castro; Gov. Ed Panlilio of Pampanga; Arroyo’s political ally and close friend Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri; and — surprisingly — Philippine National Police Chief Avelino Razon.

With Arroyo’s control of the Executive Branch, the House of Representatives, the military and the police, the only government bodies that she could not control — or influence — are the Senate and the Supreme Court. If the high court ruled in favor of Neri’s petition, the Senate would be rendered inutile and put an end to its role as fiscalizer of the Executive Branch.

But the real issue is: What is Arroyo hiding from the public that she has to prohibit government officials from testifying in cases of corruption? There is a public clamor for the truth in the ZTE-NBN and other corruption cases. The only person that is keeping the truth from being disclosed is Gloria Arroyo. The people deserve to know the truth and if she continued to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the massive corruption in her administration, then she has lost the moral authority to lead the nation.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)