By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — After nine years in power, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has left the Malacanang palace. She is no longer cloaked with presidential immunity, which she and her allies had used to shield her from corruption charges, human-rights violations and other alleged crimes against the Filipino people.
Up to her last weeks in office, impunity presented itself. For two consecutive days, journalists Jesiderio Camangyan, radio anchor of Sunrise FM in Davao Oriental, and Joselito Agustin of dzJC Aksyon Radyo in Laoag City, were shot dead. After the elections, human-rights worker Benjamin Bayles of Negros Occidental, union member Edward Panganiban of Laguna and Bayan Muna member Jim Gales of Davao were murdered in separate incidents.
In the past nine years, journalists and activists have become easy targets for assassination. According to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), 104 journalists have been murdered under the Arroyo regime. Human-rights group Karapatan recorded 1,190 victims of extrajudicial killings under the Arroyo regime, from January 2001 to March 2010.
There had been 205 victims of enforced disappearances, 1,028 victims of torture, and hundreds of thousands were forcibly displaced in rural areas as a result of military operations.
These killings and other atrocities continue despite international condemnation and local protests. In fact, just this month, a five-member delegation of the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines had gone to Geneva and made oral interventions at the 14th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. They told the world that Arroyo’s counterinsurgency program has been the bloodiest and most vicious since martial law years.
Arroyo, as commander in chief of the armed forces, clearly condoned the killings. The absence of culpability of the known masterminds and the rewards given to the worst violators had emboldened the perpetrators even more to commit abuses.
Such impunity led to one of the greatest tragedies under the Arroyo regime, the Ampatuan massacre.
Closely allied with the Arroyos, the Ampatuans thought they could get away with the murder of 57 individuals, including 31 journalists. Already, the cases filed against the warlords of Maguindanao are at risk of going down the drain.
Impunity also persists in corruption and other scandals.
Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo have also pocketed billions in various anomalous deals in the past nine years.
Using money, Arroyo was able to suppress seven impeachment cases filed against her. Using deception and repression, she was able to quell public outrage against her regime.
Following the expose on the “Hello Garci” election fraud scandal, Arroyo issued Proclamation 1017 and arrested leaders of the opposition, including the late Anakpawis congressman and labor leader Crispin Beltran. She also issued what was called a calibrated preemptive response (CPR) to break up mass protests.
To cover up for the cases of corruption and other scandals, Arroyo signed Executive Order 464 barring government officials from testifying before public inquiries without her approval.
Just recently, the Ombudsman, a close friend of the First Gentleman and a known ally of the president, absolved Arroyo and her husband from the aborted multimillion national broadband network deal with the Chinese telecom company ZTE.
Arroyo’s declared wealth more than doubled in the past nine years. In 2001, when Arroyo took power, her total wealth was about P67 million. As of July 2009, according to her declared statement of assets and liabilities, her wealth has reached P144 million.
The “Jose Pidal” account that was exposed in 2003 had P321 million and the Arroyos’ real-estate properties in the United States totaled $7.1 million. The profligacy of the Arroyos, highlighted by that $20,000-dinner at Le Cirque in New York in August 2009, has enraged the poor and the hungry.
For how could she stomach the expensive dinner when back home, hunger has reached record numbers, with almost one in four Filipino households going hungry? In a 2009 report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the Philippines ranked 34th on a scale of zero to 100 among 84 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI).