#Journeyto30 A phone call shocks a nation
Epi Fabonan III (The Philippine Star) - May 7, 2016 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines – At 7 p.m. on Monday, June 27, 2005, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo faced the camera as she prepared to address the Filipino nation live from Malacañang. With a weary look on her face, she began her four-minute speech.

“Mga minamahal kong kababayan. For the last several weeks, the issue of the tape recordings has spun out of control. Tonight, I want to set the record straight. You deserve an explanation from me, because you are the people I was elected to serve,” Arroyo said.

“As you recall, the election canvassing process was unnecessarily slow even after the election results were already in and the votes had been counted,” she continued.

“I was anxious to protect my votes and during that time had conversations with many people, including a Comelec official. My intent was not to influence the outcome of the election, and it did not. As I mentioned, the election has already been decided and the votes counted. And as you remember, the outcome had been predicted by every major public opinion poll, and adjudged free, fair and decisive by international election observers, and our own Namfrel.”

“That said, let me tell you how I personally feel. I recognize that making any such call was a lapse in judgment. I am sorry. I also regret taking so long to speak before you on this matter. I take full responsibility for my actions and to you and to all those good citizens who may have had their faith shaken by these events…”

Arroyo’s address came after an audio recording surfaced, in which a woman who sounds like her was heard conversing with a Commission on Elections official on how to secure a million-vote margin in the May 2004 ballot. The official was believed to be former commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, who denied being the man in the recording. 

The president too denied being the woman in the recording. Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye even dubbed the recordings as maliciously edited as part of an opposition plot to oust the president. But as it went viral and as calls for her resignation gained traction, Arroyo had no choice but to come clean and shed light on the issue; hence, the speech.

Politicians, both from the government and the opposition, applauded Arroyo’s courage for addressing the controversy on live TV.

“Her admission of judgmental lapses leading to improper conduct on her part is a truly welcome development. She has made a strong beginning and I hope she will continue in the direction of better and more responsive governance. Let us pray for her and for all of us Filipinos,” said former president Corazon Aquino.

“It is not easy to admit lapses in judgment and, at the same time, ask the nation for forgiveness,” remarked then-Vice President Noli de Castro.

“President Arroyo showed a lot of courage and humility when she finally told the truth. I hope this would put an end to this political chapter in her life,” said then-Senate President Franklin Drilon. 

Despite her address, public distrust over Arroyo’s alleged cheating in the elections persisted. On July 1, various protest actions were held in Manila, Makati and other parts of the country. Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales issued a statement saying, “Genuine forgiveness demands more than an apology, and those who seek forgiveness should be ready to be called to accountability.”

Susan Roces, the widow of Arroyo’s presidential rival Fernando Poe Jr., even accused her of stealing the presidency “not once, but twice.” 

On July 8, a group of 10 senior government officials, including seven from Arroyo’s own Cabinet led by finance secretary Cesar Purisima, resigned. The Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines, the Makati Business Club, former president Corazon Aquino and the Liberal Party (once a staunch Arroyo ally) all withdrew their support. 

Nevertheless, Arroyo’s courageous admission seemed to have worked in her favor. On Sept. 6, in what was hailed as the longest Lower House session in Philippine history, her Lakas-Kampi-CMD allies successfully blocked impeachment attempts against her. And in the years that followed, she would deflect further attempts against her administration like a hot Teflon pan.

“The president has committed no crime nor even a mistake in judgment. There is no basis for her to resign or be impeached,” says then-Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

However, Arroyo’s fortune turned around in 2009 when the gruesome Maguindanao massacre happened. The following year, Sen. Benigno Aquino III won the presidential elections. In a bid to reach a convenient outcome for their case, some members of the Ampatuan family opted to cooperate with the Aquino administration, which was building an electoral sabotage case against Arroyo. 

In 2011, former Maguindanao provincial administrator Nonie Unas testified against Arroyo at a joint Comelec and Department of Justice probe. On Nov. 18, the Comelec in full session favored the results of the probe and filed charges of electoral sabotage against Arroyo and her cohorts at the Pasay City regional trial court. Judge Jesus Mupas immediately issued a warrant of arrest against Arroyo, who was arrested while on her way to the airport for a medical check-up abroad.

Since her arrest, Arroyo has remained in hospital arrest awaiting the court’s verdict. Last year, the Pasay court granted her a P1-million bail, which the Court of Appeals has affirmed. But Arroyo remains in hospital arrest for a different non-bailable case. 

Our country’s electoral history has always been marred with allegations of electoral fraud, from the first-ever elections during the 1897 Tejeros Convention up to our most recent elections. The practice is deeply ingrained in our political system and society that it seems impossible to weed out. Despite the reality of electoral sabotage, as freedom-loving Filipinos let us all be vigilant and be active participants in ensuring an honest, orderly and peaceful election tomorrow.

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