FIRST Gentleman Mike Arroyo has been daring equally controversial Senator Panfilo Lacson to take him to court over the sizzling Jose Pidal accounts exposè. What Mike Arroyo does not realize is that Lacson had actually taken him to the Court of Public Opinion -- the highest court of politics. In this court, he is all but sentenced and convicted.
The First Gentleman of course had been hoping to be tried in familiar territory -- the so-called Philippine justice system which not only conjures images of rogues in robes but is also the reputed fiefdom of his friends in The Firm. Well, no thanks to the long trail of judicial controversies and The Firm's now much-discussed clout, Lacson's striptease of evidence is now treating the public to an exciting peep show of moral decadence and excesses. Like the outburst of shock and disgust over Imelda Marcos's profligate lifestyle, Lacson's exposè in the Court of Public Opinion has empowered the people to emote and act according to what they see and hear from the deluge of information from our digitally-boosted harsh Philippine media environment.
Unfortunately for Mike Arroyo, public opinion and public perception already weigh so heavily against him that his urgent calls for a court trial had only raised more suspicions and seem to confirm the unsavory reputation of our courts and the formidable political and judicial grip of The Firm.
Of course, the recent Viaje series in Manila Times of former presidential publicist, Dante A. Ang, and the Tribune Piatco series, which identified the Villaraza law firm as the moving force behind the government to takeover PIATCo's Terminal III, help justify Lacson's refusal to allow Mike Arroyo to be heard in a court of his own choosing.
From Day One, on August 25, the day Jose Pidal made a dramatic entrance on the halls of public opinion, was the very day Mike Arroyo had been indicted to face the more ruthless and incontrovertible Court of Public Opinion. In this particular court, the power and glory of The Firm is inutile. What 'convicts' Mike Arroyo in the Court of Public Opinion are the following:
1. Mike Arroyo has the Velcro image -- opposite of the Teflon image which repels, every issue hurled against Mike Arroyo clings fast and hard and easily becomes part and parcel of his character packaging. Ronald Regan is an example of someone with a Teflon image. Mike Arroyo could even be referred to as SuperVelcro because his image is so bad that some spin doctor may even succeed in making him take the blame for engineering the 9/11 New York terrorist assault. Even before the Jose Pidal controversy, Mike Arroyo has already been implicated in a good number of big money scandals involving the administration. Although nothing has been proved, the cumulative effect on his overall image is worse than guilt itself.
2. On the first day Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed the presidency, Mike Arroyo was already into what I call the Imelda Syndrome. First Spouses were never as controversial until the advent of the 'Imeldific' era from 1965 to 1986. After Imelda Marcos, the public viewed every presidential spouse with suspicion. When I was an adviser in 1996 - 97 to the aborted 1998 presidential bid of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, I already told the Arroyo couple during one of our planning sessions, that Mike will have to reckon with the Imelda Syndrome. At that time , rivals were already using this 'Rasputin' tag on Mike Arroyo. People who I tried to encourage to support Gloria M. Arroyo would often react -- "But do you know her husband Mike?"
No real issue had been brought forward except for maybe a couple: One is that San Francisco Building which the Arroyo couple claimed was merely a trust held for brother Ignacito (now claiming to be Jose Pidal). The other was a paternity suit some tabloid used to talk about. Tabloids not taken seriously, that paternity suit topic was never given much credence. But then the seeds of doubt had been sown and the First Gentleman Mike Arroyo was the 'man to watch'.
3. Mike Arroyo cronies in the Makati Central Rotary Club found their way in juicy positions in money-laden government agencies. This, despite the hype about a supposed Professional Search Committee for key government posts. Moreover, it defies all odds that we will find all the "best and brightest recruits" from only one particular club -- the club where Mike Arroyo goes.
In one visit to her office, President Cory Aquino said to me that she tends to be highly suspicious of people who offer to assist her in government and want to be assigned to the BIR and Customs. As to why Mike Arroyo's cronies have opted for positions in PCSO, Pagcor, PEA, NAIA œwell, your guess is as good as mine.
4. Mike Arroyo's reactions to the Jose Pidal expose created more doubts than answers. His senate appearance last Tuesday, September 2, was a box office disaster insofar as credibility is concerned.
His first claim that he did not know any Jose Pidal -- and later to be in the news as the name of his grandfather -- already bashed Mike Arroyo's chances to clear himself before the public's scrutiny. Redeeming himself and having the public believe whatever else he will say in his defence henceforth had become an impossibility.
How can he not know his grandfather? How can he not know a Jose Pidal when he himself later on admitted that 'brother Ignacito was Jose Pidal' -- something he acknowledged knowing years ago. Think of a white horse then don't think of a white horse -- the public mind does not work that way.
In the senate, Mike Arroyo's statements smacked of cautious, self-preserving legalese, which unfortunately does not sit well with the public. His claims that he does 'not know', or failure-of-memory statements like 'I am not aware of that', and blame-deflecting words like 'you have to ask my brother' proved the case in the public mind for Sen. Panfilo Lacson even without incontrovertible proof presented. What Mike said may not convict him in a court of law but what he refused to say certainly 'convicted' him in the court of public opinion. Arroyo said so many 'I don't knows' that I wonder how he ever passed the Ateneo school standard and the bar exams. It would be interesting to check how many times Mike Arroyo took the bar exams -- if we were to judge his capacity based on his responses to the Senate.
The court of public opinion is very harsh and ruthless. It only follows the laws of perception, which in turn defines credibility and integrity. In this court, Mike Arroyo does not have the benefit of lawyer's protection. No one will object for him when his rights are violated or when he is getting a raw deal. In this court, judgment is passed and no appeal is possible.
President Arroyo had been spared so far from complicity but unfortunately for her, she will have to bear the consequences of all the destabilization the issue against her husband had triggered. Corruption and plunder are not the stuff of idle chatter. Corruption and plunder amid widescale poverty brought down Marcos and her predecessor Joseph Estrada. Corruption and plunder -- not 5-star hotel mutinies or coup threats -- are what destabilize and bring down regimes.
Neither Marcos nor Estrada were convicted in a court of law. Not yet, at least for Estrada. But both were convicted in the court of public opinion which led to the two editions of People Power in this country. Such is the threat posed by Jose Pidal to the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime.
Behind a successful man is a woman, a favorite quote. Alas, for our woman president, will the man behind her cause her downfall?
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org