THE intertwined lives of former Presidents Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Benigno BS Aquino 3rd strangely mirror the lead characters in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables—the hero Jean Valjean and his obsessed tormentor, Javert.
In this Filipino version of the classic novel and musical, Gloria is the victim, and Noynoy is her implacable tormentor. Even a grade school student can immediately tell who is the heroine and who is the villain.
The local version is destined to be poster-ized and remembered, because the real-life protagonists happen to be former Presidents of the Philippines and members of the Filipino oligarchy.
This long-running tale has stretched on for four years like a telenovela, and would have gone on further had the Supreme Court not stepped in this week to pronounce Arroyo innocent of the charges Aquino filed against her, and order her immediate release.
Arroyo as trophy prisoner
When I first wrote about the plight of Arroyo under the administration of Aquino (“Gloria Arroyo: Aquino’s trophy prisoner,” Manila Times, Dec. 25, 2013), I essayed the view that she had become a trophy prisoner of Aquino—a revenge object to display to the nation and the world, as proof of the potency of his campaign against corruption.
I wrote then:
“The idea that she is a trophy prisoner struck a chord because as far back as I can remember, putting her behind bars was always the obsession of Aquino. He talked about it during his campaign for the presidency in 2010. He incessantly talked about it once ensconced in Malacañang.
“Now, three and a half years after acceding to office, and in the twilight of his watch, he still boasts that her being detained is a high point of his presidency.
“In a country that disputes everything, including when a human being can be considered dead and qualified to become a casualty statistic, how did President Aquino succeed in keeping GMA in detention for so long without giving her a proper trial, without her getting bailed or getting freed, without the alarming state of her health getting full consideration, and without our people demanding that she be given justice or freed?
“The reason, I submit, is that GMA is a trophy for display of President Aquino.”
But Arroyo proved to be nothing like a trophy wife, who is usually content with being a wallflower or pretty vase.
This trophy prisoner had her passionate defenders, including the celebrity wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney who succeeded in getting a United Nations committee to declare Arroyo a human-rights victim. GMA and her lawyers fought spiritedly against the pile of cases that Aquino ordered filed in court by his justice secretary, Leila de Lima, and the Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales. They got most of the cases dismissed, leaving finally the plunder case, which the High Court has now voided.
Feud about Hacienda Luisita
I wrote a second column on Arroyo’s case to get at the heart of Aquino’s vindictiveness against her. I sought to understand how two political leaders from the same region, and nominally both Kapangpangan, could wind up as bitter enemies.
Reviewing what was available in the records, I concluded that the animosity stemmed mostly from Arroyo’s refusal to back Cory Aquino’s crooked formula for shielding Hacienda Luisita from agrarian reform—the infamous stock distribution option (SDO).
When the Arroyo administration scuttled the SDO, it was war from then on. Cory was most bitter toward GMA because she thought her support was instrumental in the overthrow of Joseph Estrada, and the accession of Arroyo to office.
When BS Aquino was installed in turn in the presidency in 2010, he fantasized that it was payback time against Arroyo. He started by orchestrating successfully the impeachment of then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, who had to be removed for any assault on Arroyo to succeed.
Aquino’s vindictiveness—which sometimes took comical turns by incessantly blaming Arroyo for his administration’s shortcomings, and grabbing credit for the achievements of Arroyo as President—was always about Hacienda Luisita.
Like Javert’s obsessive pursuit of Valjean in Les Miserables, Aquino’s obsession to secure the conviction of Arroyo knew no bounds. He dangled prospective appointment to the Supreme Court as an incentive for Sandiganbayan justices to keep Arroyo in continued detention. Aquino kept people like De Lima and Risa Hontiveros perpetually indebted to him by helping to secure their election to the Senate. Both issued press statements to assail the SC decision.
How will this drama end?
From the pictures and TV footages, it looks like Aquino has noticeably aged since he left Malacañang. He looked emaciated in the first pictures of him in his new digs in his house on Times Street, in Quezon City. He did not get a boost of energy from the SC decision to free Arroyo.
Meanwhile, his adversary, Arroyo, is raring to take her seat in the 17th Congress, on Monday, July 25.
She could find a new lease of life as a legislator. Before Congress could convene, she already filed two significant legislative proposals. And she enjoys a comfortable relationship with President Duterte, who offered her a pardon, but which she prudently declined.
In a major role reversal, Aquino now faces a future of multiple lawsuits arising from his misdeeds in office—starting with a case filed by the families of the victims of the Mamasapano massacre, and another on his approval of the illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). In contrast, Arroyo appears to be recovering her spirits, if not exactly her health. The self-confidence that was eroded by her four years of hospital detention has slowly been rebuilt in resistance to Aquino’s efforts to destroy her.
She says she would not wish what happened to her on anyone. Maybe not even her tormentor.