A Presidential Apology from Macapagal-Arroyo

From The Philippine Star (online edition):

GMA: I’m sorry, it’s me on tape
By Paolo Romero and Aurea Calica
The Philippine Star 06/28/2005

After almost three weeks of mounting pressure to break her silence, President Arroyo admitted last night that it was she who was heard on wiretapped phone conversations and asked the nation for forgiveness for the phone calls.

Mrs. Arroyo, however, denied opposition allegations that she attempted to rig last year’s presidential election. She also rejected calls for her to step down.

“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,” a somber-looking Mrs. Arroyo told the nation in a four-minute televised address aired live from Malacañang.

“I also 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. I want to assure you that I have redoubled my efforts to serve the nation and earn your trust,” the Chief Executive said.

Mrs. Arroyo did not categorically say in her address that she spoke with Commission on Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, whose appointment to the Comelec last year was contested by the political opposition over allegations that he was involved in vote-rigging in the 1995 senatorial elections.

The President said when she made the phone calls, the “outcome had been predicted by every major public opinion poll” and the elections adjudged free and fair by international observers.

“My intent was not to influence the outcome of the election, and it did not,” she said.

Mrs. Arroyo conceded that the “issue of the tape recordings has spun out of control” and she broke her silence because Filipinos “deserve an explanation from me, because you are the people I was elected to serve.”

She hoped that her admission would enable her to “close this chapter and move on with the business of governing,” saying the controversy could threaten the progress of her administration’s economic recovery efforts.

“Nothing should stand in the way of this work, or the next phase of my reform agenda, which includes new investments in education and social services with our new revenues, and an expansion of our successful anti-corruption and lifestyle checks,” Mrs. Arroyo continued.

“I ask each and every one of you to join hands with me in a show of unity, to help forge one Philippines, where everyone is equal under the law, and where everyone has the opportunity to use their God-given talents to make a better life.”

She pledged to “remain your humble servant” and “fulfill my constitutional oath of office to serve the people to the best of my ability.”

Earlier in the day, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye announced that Mrs. Arroyo would address the nation on an issue of “vital concern,” setting off speculation that she would break her silence on politically explosive allegations that she rigged last year’s election.

The allegations against Mrs. Arroyo center on audio recordings in which a woman who sounds like Mrs. Arroyo is heard discussing with a Commission on Elections official ways to secure a million-vote margin in the May 2004 ballot. The official was believed to be Virgilio Garcillano. He denies speaking with Mrs. Arroyo during the election period.

Bunye earlier said the recordings were altered and even presented to the press two compact discs, claiming one of them was the original and the other was an edited version.

He added the recordings could be part of an opposition-backed plot to oust her by inciting mass public protests. Congress began investigating the recordings last week.

Mrs. Arroyo until yesterday had refused to state whether the voice on the tape is hers and said she would deal with the scandal when political bickering has died down.

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo reached the decision to break her silence over the weekend after consulting lawyers headed by retired Supreme Court justice Jose Vitug.

“Every lawyer knows the President’s conversations weren’t illegal. There is no crime here. This proves there is nothing more than a lapse in judgment,” he said. “The only value in pursuing this at this point is political embarrassment.”

Bunye expects Arroyo critics to “continue to stroke the controversy for their own personal gain. But for most reasonable people, this issue is now behind us.”

For starters, let me come out clean and state for the record that I’ve never been a fan of La Presidenta.  She ousted a duly elected president, Joseph Ejercito Estrada through people power, and then supposedly won the last presidential elections in the Philippines over a popular movie actor who succumbed to a massive stroke as he tried to proclaim to all that he had been cheated of his chance to lead the Filipino people.

I was not in the country for either election because I had already moved here to New York, but I have always kept close tabs on the goings-on in my native land by reading not only the news articles but the opinion columns of the newspapers I had always regarded as reliably independent. 

There were doubts about the veracity of the tapes but hey, voiceprints, like fingerprints are unique.  They could have denied the truth and claimed that Ate Glow ( a popular comedian/Arroyo impersonator) was the one impersonating the President, but the voice of the other party on the line was another matter.  So there was really no way out but to just bow their heads (and pray for God’s blessing..) and ask the Filipino people to just accept an apology and some excuse.

Sorry won’t cut it.  This Presidency touted itself to be the better alternative because the lady was well-educated, with a pedigree considered by most Filipinos as the equivalent of local royalty.  She was, after all, the daughter of a former President of the republic as well.  With practically her whole family under attack, charges of graft and corruption raining on them for months now, a leave of absence or even a tearful apology will not suffice.

From a public relations point of view, they must’ve thought they scored a coup in doing the unexpected.  After all, no public leader has been so humble as to admit to the Filipino public that they were caught redhanded.  What eats me is how one can apologize and admit to the wrong doing, and then just ask the public in the same breath to just take it in stride and let’s go about our business as if nothing happened.  Is that supposed to be the end of it?

What now, Mrs. President?