The idea came in a flash at the dining table on Christmas eve. The family was talking about the latest political gossip and aggravations. About how PNoy was taking a three-day leave to get his coughing fits under control.
About Czar Lacson’s multiple bank accounts in the US. About Mayor Binay’s dustup in Dasmariñas Village. About MVP Pangilinan’s insatiable greed in the utility business. And then suddenly from out of the blue, the thought of President Arroyo as trophy prisoner struck me like a thunderbolt from heaven, amusing at first and then mutating into an itch that needed to be scratched. And now this Christmas morning, anno domini 2013, it’s demanding to be written down—thought about, analyzed and argued.
Because Christmas for us Filipinos has always been more about family than food, today’s column is a meditation on the strange case of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo—her continued detention in a hospital since she left office and her descent into near anonymity under the vengeful eyes of BS Aquino.
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 ascending 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.
A trophy for display
The reason, I submit, is that GMA is a trophy for display of President Aquino.
The trophy idea first came into vogue with the popularization of the term “trophy wife” to refer to a wife, usually young and attractive, who is regarded as a status symbol for the husband, who is often older and wealthy. William Safire, the language maven, claimed that the term trophy wife was coined by Julie Connelly, a senior editor of Fortune magazine, in a cover story in the issue of August 28, 1989, and it immediately entered common usage.
Since then, trophy wives have been a regular staple in US politics, business and entertainment.
By the same token, one can also have a trophy girlfriend—which is the distinction of Sen. Francis Escudero, who found a willing trophy in entertainer Heart Evangelista.
President Aquino evidently thought about getting a trophy wife or girlfriend himself, when he dated a young female politician from Valenzuela City, but then she flew the coop and hitched up with another politician. He also tried a Korean substitute (the fourth K after KKK), but this also did not pan out.
So with President Aquino the bachelor, we can do a parody of Anderson Cooper and declare: “There is no wife, no girlfriend, and definitely no children to crow about.”
This left him in the odd predicament of needing another trophy to put on display. This is where his trophy prisoner comes in. And her name is Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, former president of the republic for nearly 10 years, and, if we can believe her associates, the architect-economist of 40 continuous quarters of growth of the Philippine economy.
Update on cases vs. Arroyo
To get a quick update on Arroyo’s cases, and on the off-chance that the Internet might yield something, I googled the topic “Gloria Arroyo’s cases.”
Surprise, surprise, it came up with a full story published in early 2013 on the ABS-CBN website, and headlined “Cases vs. GMA going nowhere”
In a statement, Arroyo lawyer Raul Lambino said that the cases filed against Arroyo were unraveling. He said that of all the corruption allegations against Arroyo, only one has kept her in detention—the PCSO case. Others have been dismissed or filed under lower offenses.
“Most of the cases that were filed against the former president were dismissed, beginning with the Iloilo airport case and several other cases.
There are only two cases so far, the electoral sabotage case—which is non-bailable—and the PCSO plunder case, which is also non-bailable,” he said.
Arroyo was freed on a P1-million bail for the electoral sabotage charge after the court found it wanting of a strong evidence of guilt—only to be detained again months later for a plunder charge over the alleged misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds.
The lawyers contend that the OMB already issued a resolution that found lack of probable cause in the PCSO case to indict President Arroyo for the crime of plunder. But Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales set it aside in order to continue the case.
Arroyo’s plight has become a case of moral muddling and abuse.
It’s puzzling why the women in this country—particularly those who are part of the intelligentsia and those who pride themselves on upholding women’s right to an equal seat at the table—do not take up her case to champion.
It’s the men—congressmen to be exact—who took up the cudgels for her in filing a House resolution and in petitioning the Sandiganbayan for compassion for her and her family during this holiday season.
To the lasting credit of former President Joseph Estrada, he decided on his own without little prodding to visit President Arroyo at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMCC). And he made the visit not only a PR coup, but a telling blow for presidential dignity and compassion.
Preceding him by a month was former President Fidel V. Ramos.
In his conversation with GMA, FVR is said to have told her: “Why are they [Aquino administration] keeping you here with your situation? They should let you go [on bail].” Ramos posed for a picture with her inside her detention room, flashing his famous thumbs-up sign.
Hobbled by ill health, GMA seems like a wraith of the feisty leader who made “a strong republic her calling card.”
It seems such a waste to see her wasting away at the VMCC, because she is clearly one of the most able, and best educated presidents we have ever had, and she can still share with us her insight and experience.
The last time we publicly heard from GMA was when she penned the stinging critique of Aquino: “It’s the economy, student.” Everyone had fun recalling that GMA was at one time Aquino’s economics professor at the Ateneo.
Since that piece, she has kept in dignified silence away from the spotlight—fighting her court battles as Prisoner Anonymous.
The case against GMA is shaky. It depends almost wholly now on the testimony of witnesses who cannot be trusted, and co-accused persons willing to turn witness against her. It has depended on newspaper stories and columns. It has from the first been propped up by the noise of the Yellow mob, which has gone quiet of late.
All that is not enough to hold in prolonged detention a former president.
The Aquino government will have a mini-crisis in its hands when the international community and the international media take an active interest in Arroyo’s plight. Imagine some ambassadors, such as the US and European ambassadors, trooping to the VMCC to visit her. Imagine a heavyweight like Bill Clinton coming to Manila to visit his classmate.
And above all, imagine Anderson Cooper coming back to this country to do a report on the case of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo—and declaring on live TV, “there is no justice in the Philippines.”
That could cause President BS to lose a lot of face.
Ironically, the administration and the nation need not have this predicament at all. We only have to abide by elementary principles of justice and decency.
Faced with a situation that was unsustainable and an incarcerated president who was becoming more popular in detention, President Arroyo decided to pardon President Estrada. By making that choice, she corrected a constitutional infirmity that the international community never accepted. And she spared herself further aggravation as Estrada’s jailor.
Now, it is the turn of President Arroyo to expect the humane treatment from her successor.
President Aquino will have similar options before him this coming year.
He can heed the call of decency and compassion. Or he can insist on keeping his trophy prisoner.
But soon or late, Aquino must face a public and a nation who are weary of and dismayed by President Arroyo’s ordeal. They do not buy the rationale that Aquino is waging this vengeful campaign against Arroyo in their name.
If GMA is being detained inhumanely on our behalf, then we all have the right to demand answers from President Aquino regarding the grounds for his actions and whether he means to keep her in detention for the remainder of her mortal life.
If Arroyo continues as a trophy prisoner, she could become a millstone around Aquino’s neck.