Asian Focus
Jovita Rodas Zimmerman

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Tensions might ignite
an Arroyo impeachment
in the Philippines

When threatened by a move to impeach him, Richard Nixon resigned as president of his country. Bill Clinton was impeached, but survived as president. Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, faced with calls for her impeachment, says she will not resign. An impeachment would be the first such case in the Philippines and would be taken quite seriously by the people.

Arroyo's father was the president of my native country from 1961 to 1965. He was an honorable man whom the Filipinos respected, even loved. He was humble, approachable and, unlike his daughter, seemed more concerned about the economy than meeting heads of state. He was a senator when I was a reporter for the Manila Times.

Diosdado Macapagal came from a poor family in Pampanga, a province well known for its rich hacendero. As a young adult, his obvious intelligence and humane qualities convinced a wealthy man that Macapagal showed leadership promise. Macapagal, without looking for a benefactor, found one who chose him.

When Macapagal was the chief of state, he made it a point to help in the development of a steel industry founded by Fernando Jacinto, a man who had a strong vision for his country.

But President Ferdinand Marcos, because he could not match Jacinto's business acumen, was determined to destroy Jacinto's plans to establish an integrated steel mill with the help of Japanese and American investments. After Marcos declared martial law in 1972, he seized the mill and persecuted Jacinto and his family, who first took refuge in Liechtenstein, then moved to Hawaii. They bought the home of Richard Smart in Kahala, where the Jacinto brood, numbering eight sons and daughters, stayed or visited. The Jacintos were permanent residents until the senior Jacinto died in Manila during a short stay there.

In 2001, when Arroyo succeeded in pushing out the corrupt President Joseph Estrada, a Jacinto son, the junior Fernando was overjoyed, believing she would help revive the steel industry. But on gaining power, Arroyo announced no one would receive special treatment and the doors to the Jacintos closed.

Accusations of voter fraud in her 2004 re-election and a gambling scandal involving her husband and son have produced turmoil and growing opposition to Arroyo and fueled the talk about impeachment. The situation makes even overseas Filipinos fearful for their homeland. For us, it has made it necessary to probe how the country is doing under Arroyo. After the gambling or jueteng scandal surfaced, she announced that no one would be spared, emphatically declaring even those who considered themselves close to her would be punished.

Why, then, if one's husband and son are pointedly accused by the local media and abroad of the jueteng charges, why did she allow them to fly to Hong Kong? Any wife, particularly one in her position, should insist they face their accusers. Her own "misjudgment" (her word) over a telephone call she made to an election officer reportedly to protect the million votes she claims were cast in her favor in last year's election became another factor that heightened the crisis at home.

A study of articles printed by the Philippine News in San Francisco, widely read by the Filipino community in the United States and Canada, shows clear weaknesses in the way the country is being governed. The annual growth rate of the Philippines' gross national product is below 5 percent. Other discouraging economic news is that the International Finance Corp. prefers to deal directly with the local governments' union instead of the national government, which has failed to comply with the World Bank's requirement to put up 20 to 30 percent of the cost on a number of projects.

Arroyo has been urged to restore consumer confidence in corporate projects by dealing with the so-called "prestigious developers," who take seven to or more years to finish housing projects. She also has been advised to require that payments of buyers should be directed to an escrow/trustee bank. The worst case yet published has to do with the 2,474-acre island of Borocay. About 90 percent of the island's properties are owned without land titles, primarily because of loose controls prior to Arroyo's administration. Her environment secretary, Michael Defensor, wants all land ownership to be regulated and formalized. He is accused by land owners of taking the position that the government owns their lands -- or practically the whole island, which attracts thousands of tourists. The case is now in the Philippines' Supreme Court, a move made by Defensor after Borocay residents won a ruling from the appellate court. Borocay is considered a valuable and beautiful beach resort.

All the problems mentioned above raise meaningful questions. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, in a large photo in the Philippine News, is praying hard, eyes closed. For whom? We, those who are overseas, beg Filipinos to pray for our homeland.

Jovita Rodas Zimmerman is a writer who lives in Honolulu. She was born in the Philippines.

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