Friday, December 26, 2008


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich have something in common. They are both plagued by scandals involving serious questions about their honesty and integrity as public servants, and the high public offices they hold are – make that was for GMA – threatened by impeachment.

To those who do not know Blagojevich (pronounced as Blah-go-ye-vitch), he is the embattled governor of the US State of Illinois who is under investigation by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) for allegedly selling the vacated senatorial seat of US President-elect Barack Obama. According to the DOJ charges, Blagojevich – who by Illinois law is authorized as governor to fill the Senate seat vacated by Obama – was engaged in a “pay-to-play” scheme by seeking monetary consideration or a position in the Obama administration in exchange for appointing someone to the Senate seat.

Blagojevich’s scheme was foiled by DOJ Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and his team after they decided they’ve heard enough of the taped conversations between the governor and contenders for the position, allegedly revealing the nefarious horse-trading. This reminds us of the infamous “Hello, Garci” tapes when GMA was caught talking on the telephone to then Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcilliano about her votes, during the height of the 2004 presidential elections.

The “Hello, Garci” incident, the fertilizer fund scam, and what retired Supreme Court Justice Isagani Cruz calls the malodorous NBN-ZTE deal, among others, have steered GMA’s presidency into perilous waters by being constantly threatened with impeachment.

As we all know, of course, these impeachment attempts have died as fast as they have been resuscitated, and there’s no telling that the remaining year of GMA’s presidency will no longer be haunted by another impeachment, if only to show contempt for her.

The specter of removal from office also looms big against Blagojevich as the Illinois legislature deliberates on the impeachment complaint against him.

Just like GMA, Blagojevich remains unfazed by the popular calls for his resignation by declaring in no uncertain terms that mere charges are not enough to make him step down from office. Perhaps GMA could get Blagojevich’s veteran criminal lawyer Ed Genson, who confidently dismissed the accusations against his client by saying that Blagojevich and others caught on tape with him were merely talking. Nothing wrong there, he said.

Both GMA and Blagojevich have what we in the vernacular call, “makapal na pagmumukha.” The two have conveniently remained insensitive to public outrage by clinging tightly to their lofty, but scandal-ridden posts. That GMA would take such a stance is no surprise, however, for it is a known and unfortunate reality of Philippine politics that no public official voluntarily yields his or her office even in the face of grave scandals; in fact even when there is a court order to vacate the prized office.

But Blagojevich comes as a surprise. American politics is rich with examples of disgraced public officials willingly surrendering their offices even as the charges of wrongdoing against them have yet to be tried or even filed in court. Just recently New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in the wake of accusations that he had patronized a prostitution service. Blagojevich, it seems, has learned the Filipino politician’s shameless stubbornness of staying in power.

The similarities between GMA and Blagojevich will soon fork into differences. While the prospect of GMA facing prosecution remains uncertain after she steps down from office, there is certainty that Blagojevich will soon confront Fitzgerald in federal court, who will undoubtedly prosecute him as zealously as he did Vice Pres. Dick Cheney’s top aide Scooter Libby. And this is aside from his possible impeachment by the Illinois legislature that is all but bent on redeeming Illinois politics from its tarnished image, after it took the world political spotlight with the historic election to the presidency of its favorite son.

GMA is lucky to be different from Blagojevich in this respect. But it appears that she is not taking any chances by apparently orchestrating a Charter change that – although it may not really provide for term extension – might give her immunity from prosecution after she relinquishes her post in 2010.

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