Maybe I made it up?

I must say I am disappointed. In comments he left in this blog, reflecting the views he posted in his own blog, John Marzan asks, rhetorically, how I could compare—-on October 21, 2001—-Sen. Tito Guingona’s famous "I accuse" speech of October 5, 2000 with a privilege speech of Sen. Ping Lacson delivered in August 2003.

The Lacson speech/expose wasn’t six years ago. Lacson’s speech was made during August of 2003.

So how were you able to compare the two speeches (guingona’s and lacson’s) on oct. 21, 2001?

How indeed? Maybe I made it up? Or maybe I was extraordinarily prescient?

John M does himself a disservice by lazily assuming that the "Department of the Underground" speech I was referring to in my Newsstand column today is the same as the "Incredible Hulk" speech he found online. My column specifies the section I wrote for ("Talk of the Town"), the date I wrote my analysis ("Oct. 21, 2001"), even the time the speeches I was comparing were delivered on the Senate floor ("Lacson’s privilege speech came almost exactly a year after Teofisto Guingona’s ‘I accuse’ speech"). Most telling, the excerpt from my analysis carried in today’s column quotes directly from Lacson’s 2001 speech ("off camera, it is to bring him the juicy slices of the bureaucracy").

Against all that, he found or remembered a privilege speech of Lacson’s from August 2003—-and assumed I got things wrong. Did he think Lacson delivered only one privilege speech against Mike Arroyo, and immediately assumed that I was wrong? Did he remember only that one privilege speech, delivered in August 2003, and immediately assumed that I must have gotten the dates wrong?

But if I got all that wrong, then John M must think I made things up, to the extent of attributing an imaginary privilege speech to an all-too-real senator, and then quoting confidently from imagination. If he paid attention to the column, instead of reactively reaching for his (figurative) gun, then he  cannot weasel out by pointing to the possibility that, perhaps, I only made an honest mistake—not with all those specifics (dates, quotes, circumstances of publication).

The Lacson speech/expose wasn’t six years ago.

Really now? Then I invite you to read the following pieces which appeared on Page A8 of the October 21, 2001 issue of the Inquirer (retrieved from the newspaper’s internal archive), as "proof" of this writer’s uncanny powers of anticipation.

We will follow this sequence: first, a short introduction (which I wrote, in my capacity as page editor); then Guingona’s "I accuse" speech, in full; then extensive excerpts from Lacson’s October 3, 2001 speech, accusing Mike Arroyo of running a Department of the Underground; Chavit Singson’s affidavit; excerpts from Robert Rivero’s; then finally my "Talking Points" analysis.

It should be fun!

What makes a scandal?

The power to conduct investigations "in aid of legislation" has brought the political circus to pitch camp on the Senate grounds almost permanently. Before the Senate has even recovered from the melee over the probe into Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s alleged links with organized crime, an all-opposition panel has started a new investigation, this time into the alleged misuse of government charity funds by the First Gentleman, Mike Arroyo. The methods used are by now familiar: an explosive privilege speech, a Senate probe, a tainted but engaging source. But what about the evidence? A comparison of the Teofisto Guingona-Chavit Singson and Ping Lacson-Robert Rivero events (almost exactly a year apart) shows the Senate’s standards have gone down, rather than up.

Maybe it’s time to update the old saying. History repeats itself, yes: first as tragedy, then as farce, then as a Senate inquiry.

I accuse!
Privilege speech of then-Sen. Teofisto Guingona
Delivered on October 5, 2000 at the Senate

I accuse Joseph Ejercito Estrada, President of the Republic of the Philippines, of betraying public trust. The people especially the poor reposed in him the trust that he would protect them from illegal gambling. Instead it appears that shortly after he assumed office in 1998 he entered into an arrangement with Messrs. Bong Pineda, Atong Ang and Governor Luis Singson to further institutionalize jueteng. In October 1998, President Estrada designated Luis Singson to make the collections of the jueteng operations and to deliver a substantial portion of the amount personally to him. Since November 1998 to August 2000, Luis Singson delivered to him an average amount of P10 million a month.

I accuse Joseph Ejercito Estrada, President of the Republic of the Philippines, of graft and corruption. Documents show that shortly after assuming office in 1998 the President asked for a portion from releases of funds allocated for Ilocos Sur under R.A. 7171, a law that sets aside a portion of excise taxes for the Virginia-tobacco producing provinces. After the DBM released the amount of P200 million, the President received P70 million out of said release, contrary to law.

I accuse Joseph Ejercito Estrada, President of the Republic of the Philippines, for violating his own oath of office to enforce the law, of violating the strict mandate of the Constitution against conflict of interest because he prejudiced public interest by purportedly releasing public funds for a public purpose when the real intent was to siphon off a substantial portion for personal ends, of violating the prohibition in the Constitution against participation in business during his tenure as President. When he made arrangements to get money from jueteng collections, the same was not only illegal participation in an illegal business, it was also an enforced extraction in exchange for illegal protection accorded jueteng operators.

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues-I hold in my hand the documents to sustain the charges. In the national interest therefore I ask that the same be referred to the Blue Ribbon Committee and the Committee on Justice to conduct the needed investigation pursuant to pertinent provisions of the Constitution and the statutes relevant thereto.

The people deserve to know the truth, they need to know who is accountable and why. We have a duty to perform. Let us do so without fear or favor.

Gloria’s underground department
Excerpts from the privilege speech of Sen. Panfilo Lacson
Delivered on October 3, 2001 at the Senate

There is a new dangerous office in government today. It is the first of its kind in our history. It is the Department of the Underground. And I rise to forewarn the Senate of the Republic and the Filipino People.

… The Department of the Underground has no parallels in history. Its Secretary does not only share the President’s bed. He more than shares her power of government.

… The Department of the Underground, Mr. President, has become the most inventive, creative and innovative agency of grease, graft and corruption. Its expertise is to broker crooked deals and win them. Its excellence is to assign cronies to positions of power and make money out of them. Its essence is to make the First Gentleman an honorable person before the camera. And off camera, it is to bring him the juicy slices of the bureaucracy.

Mr. President, what can be more juicy than the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office? There is no mad cow disease to avoid. There is all cash cow to satisfy the Honorable Miguel T. Arroyo.

Mr. Arroyo is not an accountable officer of government. This we already know. But he surely knows how to count his cash. Without fear of being cowed by anyone.

At the behest of Secretary Mike Arroyo during the May election, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office—in silver platters of unmatched charity—disbursed millions of pesos. This was to ensure the victory of Mr. Arroyo’s friends. It was also to hit a second bird—that of projecting to the Filipino People the power of the Arroyo Administration for good governance.

On paper, the money was to be used to air radio spots to promote the charities of the PCSO and its lotto madness in the Visayas and Mindanao. But the real intention was pure political propaganda—radio interviews, favorable commentaries, partisan media releases—for Mr. Arroyo’s candidates.

In the course of the campaign, the four beneficiary-candidates were regularly briefed and updated on the media campaign. They were informed of the frequency of their campaign jingles and news releases. They were informed of schedules for interviews.

Above all, they were made to know who the godfather was—the Honorable Miguel Tuason Arroyo.

The cover of disbursement, Mr. President, was made in the form of multi-million advertising contracts.

But that is only the tip of the payola iceberg.

Mr. President, now you can weep. The venerable PCSO—at the commanding behest of the Honorable Miguel T. Arroyo—approved into motion and pumped into action an advertising budget of P250 million. I thought this Administration was starved of cash!

Chavit’s affidavit

I, Luis C. Singson, of legal age and with postal address at 2nd Floor, LCS Building, South Superhighway, San Andres cor. Diamante Sts., Manila, after having been duly sworn to in accordance with law, depose and state that:

1. I am the Governor of the Province of Ilocos Sur.

2. I have known and have been a friend of President Joseph E. Estrada long before he became the President; in fact, I have been his friend during his early term as Mayor of San Juan. Aside from being friends, we have been compadres. I am the godfather of one of his children and he is the godfather of one of my children.

3. Sometime in August 1998, I was summoned to the house of President Estrada at Polk Street, Greenhills, San Juan, Metro Manila. When I arrived in the house of President Estrada, Bong Pineda and Charles "Atong" Ang were present. The four of us met and during this meeting, they discussed the jueteng operations all over the country. In the course of the meeting, President Estrada instructed Bong Pineda not to go to Malaca¤ang and deliver money since he has been close to him from the time the President was still the Vice President and Head of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime unit. He instructed us that henceforth, Bong Pineda should deliver the money intended for the President through Atong Ang and myself.

4. In the late part of October 1998, I was instructed by President Estrada to take over the duties of Atong Ang regarding the jueteng operations in the country. Complying with his instructions, starting November 1998, I took over from Atong Ang and I normally collected about P32 to 35 million a month. Out of this amount, I personally handed to President Estrada most of the time in his Malaca¤ang office or his other houses which I will identify in due time, the amount of P5 million every 15 days or P10 million every month. In addition, I was instructed by President Estrada to deposit the balance of my collections in my bank and to wait for his instructions. In order to supervise and audit my collections, President Estrada assigned Yolanda Ricaforte, wife of Tourism Undersecretary Ricaforte, to be his auditor, holding office in my office at the LCS Bldg, San Andres Bukid, Manila.

5. On or about the first week of August 1999, President Estrada instructed me to transfer the accumulated deposits in my account to Yolanda Ricaforte. I complied with his instructions and turned over the accumulated deposits amounting to P123 million to Mrs. Ricaforte, who in turn deposited the same to various accounts in Equitable Bank. A summary is herewith attached and made integral part hereof as Annex "A."

6. Sometime this year, the President instructed Yolanda Ricaforte to transfer P200 million to his account but with the specific instruction to transfer said amount to different accounts before finally depositing it to a designated account of his choice.

7. I have been remitting to President Estrada the aforesaid amounts regularly from November 1998 to August 2000.

8. I am executing this affidavit to attest to the truth of the foregoing.

Further sayeth naught.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this 14th day of September 2000 at Manila.

Rivero’s affidavit (excerpts)

I, ROBERT Fronda Rivero, of legal age, Filipino, married, with address at Unit 1026 Cityland 9, Dela Rosa Street, Palanan, Makati City, under oath, hereby depose and state:

1. Funds of the (PCSO) were used to finance the publicity/media campaign of senatorial candidates of the People Power Coalition (PPC) in the May 2001 elections upon the behest of Atty. Mike Arroyo … with the full knowledge of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo …

2. The PCSO’s funds have also been used by the present administration, with the full knowledge of President Arroyo, to bolster political support for her administration.

3. I met Atty. Arroyo sometime in 1995 after then Senator Arroyo’s reelection. At that time, I was a reporter of the Radio Mindanao Network … assigned to cover the Senate beat. I developed a professional and personal relationship with the Arroyos due to my support for Senator Arroyo by giving her continuous media exposure and coordinating these efforts with Atty. Arroyo.

4. My involvement with the Arroyos increased when I helped Atty. Arroyo in his media/public relations campaign for President Arroyo when she ran for the vice-presidency in 1998. In fact, when I got married in 1999, then Vice President Arroyo was one of the principal sponsors at my wedding.

Talking points

The similarities are striking. A senator rises "on a matter of personal privilege" and proceeds to lay down the gauntlet against a sitting administration. The Senate invokes its constitutional power to launch an investigation "in aid of legislation." A flawed character (necessarily tainted, to explain his inside access) steps into the spotlight he seems to have been born for. As with Guingona and Singson, so it is with Lacson and Rivero. Should we expect an impeachment proceeding and then a change of government to follow?

If we are to base the answer on the quality of the privilege speeches alone, the answer can only be an unambiguous No.

The privilege speech of Guingona’s, which President Macapagal has herself credited for starting the political groundswell that uprooted President Joseph Estrada and planted her in the Palace, is printed in its entirety. The printed version of Lacson’s speech (about the same number of words as Guingona’s) is only about half the length of the original. And yet it is clear which speech contains more meat.

"I accuse Joseph Ejercito Estrada, President of the Republic of the Philippines, of betraying public trust," Guingona starts simply enough. The allusion, of course, is to Emile Zola’s famous assertion in the Dreyfus case. But Guingona does not stop there. He accuses Estrada of three more specific charges: graft and corruption, violating the oath of office to enforce the law, violating the Constitutional stricture against conflict of interest. And then he "proves" the charges with specific examples of illegal activity.

What he is doing is clear enough: he is laying the legal groundwork for an impeachment case. What is the point of merely smearing a popular President, after all? Anything less than an impeachment case will demean Guingona’s sensational charges-hence the simple construction and the constitutional language.

Contrast this with Lacson’s entertaining, sound-bite driven speech. He uses media-savvy phrases: no parallels in history, the Department of the Underground, the President’s bed, and so on. And his main argument against Mike Arroyo’s Department of the Underground makes for great audio: "Its essence is to make the First Gentleman an honorable person before the camera. And off camera, it is to bring him the juicy slices of the bureaucracy."

Witty stuff for the cocktail circuit, but hardly the stuff out of which great legal cases are made. "Juicy slices" does not argue the case for legal, much less Senate, action-but it does make for good copy.

And there’s the rub, to use a phrase which Lacson’s speechwriters must be familiar with. The use of Shakespearean effects throughout the speech-the reiteration of the word "Honorable" recalling Mark Anthony’s famous dig at Brutus, the injunction to the Senate President ("Mr. President, now you can weep") dragging yet another allusion from "Julius Caesar," and so on-leads to the following possible conclusion. The speech is vivid in language because it is vague on the evidence.

Does this seem too harsh? Guingona’s speech offers an answer. The sponsoring senator did not waste his time on flourishes of style, because he had the goods on the President. There is nothing in his speech to indicate that it was Singson who was his source, but that it was Singson there is no longer any doubt. The evidence bears him out.–J. Nery

I DO NOT MEAN TO SAY, or even to suggest, that I do not make mistakes; of course I do, and because I write often, I have plenty of opportunities to exercise my right to be wrong. I also do not want to say or suggest that I do not welcome criticism; I do. (Well, maybe "welcome" is too much, but I am certainly open to critical feedback.)

My beef, in brief: Given all the specifics in my column, why would someone as intelligent as John M. immediately assume that I got something as important as dates and quotes and circumstances of publication wrong?  Like I said, he made a lazy assumption, or maybe acted instinctively, heedlessly. How disappointing.

POSTSCRIPT. I actually tried to leave a comment in John M’s blog, the increasingly misnamed Philippine Politics ’04, but because I do not have a Google or account, could not do so. The short note I wanted to leave read:

John M, you write:

It wasn’t six years ago. Lacson’s speech was made during August of 2003.

So how were you able to compare the two speeches (guingona’s and lacson’s) on oct. 21, 2001?

My reply: Maybe I made it up? : )

The Talk of the Town issue entitled "What makes a scandal?" was published on Oct. 21, 2001. Instead of checking online, I checked my (paper) file copies.

Obviously, the August 2003 (post-Oakwood) speech you refer to is entirely different (but of course also the same).

But thanks for paying close attention.

John N.



Filed under Readings in Media, Readings in Politics

3 responses to “Maybe I made it up?

  1. “But if I got all that wrong, then John M must think I made things up, to the extent of attributing an imaginary privilege speech to an all-too-real senator, and then quoting confidently from imagination. If he paid attention to the column, instead of reactively reaching for his (figurative) gun, then he cannot weasel out by pointing to the possibility that, perhaps, I only made an honest mistake—not with all those specifics (dates, quotes, circumstances of publication).”

    no, i assumed you got your dates wrong. my bad.

  2. Thanks, John. And thanks too (this is way late) for pointing me in the direction of Michael Totten. I followed your lead last year, and have been reading him since.

  3. Cool. I still read Totten too. He’s currently in Iraq right now.

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