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Mike Arroyo: It’s payback time?

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Mike Arroyo was quoted in newspaper reports last week that he was deprived of due process when the Philippine National Police (PNP) “rushed” the filing of plunder charges against him and several others in connection with the allegedly anomalous purchase of used helicopters by the PNP in 2009. He refused to testify during the Senate investigation of the so-called chopper scam and dared the senators to file the case in court where he would defend himself, and now he is saying he was deprived of due process.

Instead of whining, Arroyo should be happy that the charges were finally filed in court. After all, he had always dared critics to file charges in court instead of making allegations in media. Now, he will have all the chance to defend himself before a court of law. It’s a classic case of be careful what you wish for.

Perhaps, critics such as Senators Ping Lacson and Franklin Drilon and the Office of the Ombudsman should follow the lead of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the PNP and file criminal charges against Arroyo involving the other allegations that they have made in the past.

For example, Mike Arroyo and her wife Gloria had been accused of involvement in the highly scandalous $320-million NBN-ZTE broadband mess, but neither the Ombudsman nor the Department of Justice has filed plunder charges against the two. There have been so many cases where the two Arroyos were accused of conspiring to defraud the government of billions of pesos, such as the P728-million fertilizer scam, the $2-billion irrigation scam, the P325-million missing PCSO intelligence funds, the Pagcor anomalies, the overpriced rice importations, and so many others.

And yet, the two Arroyos, who have repeatedly challenged their critics to file the charges in court, have yet to be formally charged criminally.

Mike Arroyo first broke into our consciousness in July 2001, just a few months after Gloria was illegally sworn into office by Chief Justice Hilario Davide following the second People Power revolt on EDSA, which we were to learn later was allegedly a by-product of a coup plot being planned then by the couple with some generals.

That month, just as Gloria was scoring “pogi” points with her first State-of-the-Nation (SONA) address, a scandal threatened to spoil the credibility of her young administration when her childhood friend and classmate, Bing Rodrigo, who was also her correspondence secretary, abruptly resigned and claimed that a person “very close” to President Arroyo had received a P50-million bribe from a prominent businessman.

It was later revealed that the person “very close” to the President was Mike Arroyo, who was claimed to have received P50 million from businessman Jose Dichaves, one of the more prominent cronies of deposed President Estrada.

The huge sum was supposed to ensure the recall of a presidential veto of a bill that would give a special telecommunications franchise to a company allegedly owned by one Pacifico Marcelo and Dichaves, who once said he was the owner of the controversial Jose Velarde accounts with Equitable Bank. Marcelo also initially claimed that Mike accepted the bribe.

The allegations could have been easily dismissed as another destabilization plot on the Arroyo administration by the opposition and rightist groups, except for the fact that the claims were made by Rodrigo, who was one of the closest persons to Gloria Arroyo, being a childhood friend and classmate at Assumption College.

A few days after the allegations were reported in the newspapers, Gloria Arroyo was photographed seeing off her husband at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport for a two-week vacation in the United States, that was just as easily dismissed by media and the opposition groups as an apparent escape from the heat.

That sudden vacation was the first in many instances when Mike would leave for either Hongkong or the US every time he was involved in a scandal.
We all know, of course, that in time the P50-million bribe scandal vanished like thin air, only to be replaced by bigger scandals involving Mike Arroyo that also disappeared from the public consciousness in time. Both Marcelo and Rodrigo recanted their statements after alleged high-pressure tactics from Malacanang.

Less than two years later, Sen. Ping Lacson charged that Arroyo had deposited bribes and unused campaign funds amounting to P271 million under the name of “Jose Pidal,” Lualhati Foundation, Victoria Toh, Thomas Toh and Kevin Tan. All the bank accounts had the same address — 8th floor, LTA building in Makati, which is owned by Mike Arroyo and where he holds office and entertains businessmen, politicians and media personalities.

Lualhati Foundation was founded by the Arroyo couple while she was still a senator and was believed to be used as a conduit for receiving funds from campaign donors and other “friends.” Victoria Toh was Mike Arroyo’s personal secretary and accountant, and was alleged by Lacson’s star witness as the First Gentleman’s mistress. Thomas Toh is Victoria’s brother, while Kevin Tan is Victoria’s brother-in-law.

Lacson claimed that the signatures of Mike Arroyo and Jose Pidal bore striking similarities. It was also revealed later by an enterprising journalist that Mike Arroyo’s grandfather, a former senator, was coincidentally named Jose Pidal de Arroyo. We all know, of course, that Mike’s brother, now Rep. Ignacio Arroyo, owed up the name Jose Pidal and the signature.

*The case was all but forgotten.

More than a year after his wife stepped down from office, Mike continues to hog the scandal limelight.

Just two weeks ago, Wikileaks released confidential reports from the US Embassy saying that three prominent businessmen told US Embassy officials in 2005 about Mike Arroyo’s alleged involvement in smuggling and “jueteng,” an illegal numbers racket.

The businessmen were identified as SGV founder Washington SyCip, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Francis Chua, and former Makati Business Club executive director Guillermo “Bill” Luz.

In the report, SyCip said he knew about how Mike Arroyo’s behavior had undermined the credibility of his wife’s administration and stymied the ability of Gloria Arroyo to implement anti-corruption reforms.

“SyCip claimed that Mike Arroyo is heavily involved in the illegal gambling or jueteng networks and closely connected with major smuggling syndicates,” the US embassy cable said.

It added: “President Arroyo, according to SyCip, is aware of her husband’s misdeeds, but she is unwilling to do anything to curb his activities because he was instrumental in marshaling campaign donations and is now keeping those supporters in line to help her maintain her grip on power.”

The same leaked cable showed that Chua “echoed SyCip’s claim that the First Gentleman is a major problem with respect to corruption, pointing to his links to jueteng and the many politicians and local officials involved in the illegal gambling racket.”

For his part, Luz did not make any specific claim against the Arroyos but he did say that “people should watch the rumors swirling around the First Family carefully.”

It’s about time government prosecutors grant Mike Arroyo’s wish that he be allowed to clear his name before the court of law. I suggest they dig out all these buried scandals, gather the evidence and call out the original whistleblowers, then file the criminal charges in court.

That should keep the Arroyos’ battery of top caliber lawyers busy in the next several years defending their power clients.

Sen. Ping Lacson was right. It’s payback time!

By Val G. Abelgas




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