Bishop after visit: Aquino admin 'persecuting' Arroyo

Louis Bacani - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Retired Lingayen Archbishop Oscar Cruz is not impressed with the present administration after three years in power, saying President Benigno Aquino III is always using former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as a scapegoat.

Cruz, a staunch critic of Arroyo, slammed the Aquino administration for blaming all the country's troubles to the now Pampanga lawmaker.

"I feel a persecutory stance on the part of the present administration. I can be wrong. But this is my perception. In fact there was no SONA (State of the Nation Address), that she was not mentioned as a kind of scapegoat," Cruz said in a live interview on Mornings@ANC on Wednesday.

But while the President continues to criticize his predecessor, Cruz said the issues of graft and corruption that plagued the Arroyo administration remain in the present government.

He said this includes the controversies involving the lawmakers' pork barrel, the Malampaya funds and the Bureau of Customs, which President Aquino himself lambasted in his previous SONA.

"It is during this administration that there is a bureau of corruption," Cruz said.

The archbishop-emeritus of the country's Catholic Church also belittled the Aquino administration's efforts in curbing corruption.

"Formerly I was also clapping my hands for 'Daang Matuwid.' But later on, when I hear it, I say 'Come on, let's get real,'" Cruz said. "I find it harder and harder to trust the present administration."

"If they were doing enough, how could these things happen? I'm sorry, I'm still not impressed by the present administration," he added.

President Aquino had claimed that his administration is taking steps to eradicate corruption in the government after Arroyo left the presidency.

However, Cruz said the justice system remains slow under President Aquino even if charges have been filed against government officials allegedly involved in corrupt acts.

"I hope I'm wrong but I'll be long dead and gone before these cases are resolved," he said.

Last year, the alleged multi-billion peso pork barrel scam was discovered and the Commission on Audit reported that the lawmakers' funds were diverted to questionable non-government organizations from 2007 to 2009.

Aquino admitted that the scam that was uncovered during his term affected his ratings, but he also blamed the Arroyo administration, saying the irregularities happened during those years.

During some of his public speeches last year, President Aquino also found opportunities to criticize his predecessor.

At the first state conference on the United Nations Convention Against Corruption last December, Aquino lamented that the Philippines missed opportunities during the Arroyo years and that the former President left him a government ruined by corruption.

"I myself have pointed out that the ten years before I stepped into office had been called a lost decade—one in which our country could have developed strong foundations to build upon. Instead, after my predecessor stepped down, our administration found a system of governance long decayed by corruption," Aquino said.

But despite these remarks against Arroyo, Malacanañg clarified that Aquino has no ill will towards the former president.

“The President strongly believes that the law must take its course and that we must exact accountability. And the President has no ill will towards the former President," Communications Sec. Sonny Coloma said at a televised press briefing last December.

Visit to Arroyo

Cruz made his comments after his recent visit to Arroyo at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City, where the former president remains under hospital arrest over her alleged role in the diversion of over P300-million from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

Feeling that he may have hurt the former President, Cruz said he visited Arroyo to seek for reconciliation and to explain why he has been a staunch critic of hers.

"I knew really I did not relent in speaking my mind out about some administrative decisions she made, which to my mind were wrong based on the social doctrines of the church," he told ANC. "I had to explain somehow to her that i did this not because I wanted to hurt her but out of my obligation to do so."

Cruz said Arroyo was "gracious," but there was nothing "profound or extraordinary" that happened during the visit.

"[Her] gestures to me were symbolic of her understanding, which hopefully I got," Cruz said.

As he reiterated his support in placing the congresswoman under house arrest, Cruz lamented the medical condition of Arroyo, which he described as a "poor lady."

"To me that is cruel (being under hospital arrest). Why don't you let her have house arrest?," Cruz said. "Where would she go with this physical condition?"

"There is no place like home to recover. If she were at home, she might be able to get her health back quite fast and quite easy," he added.

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