Column: The last Arroyo, the only Abad

Published on July 27, 2010.

By the last of the Arroyos, I do not mean Mikey Arroyo, who returned to Congress Monday as the “prince of security guards”; or his brother Dato, for whom a gerrymandered duchy was carved out of Camarines Sur; or indeed for their mother, the queen herself, the new representative of the second district of Pampanga. The last Arroyo in national office is the dauphin Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Do I protest too much? Zubiri is not even related to the Arroyos (at least as far as I know). And I am certainly biased in favor of the senatorial candidate he cheated, who is a friend from childhood. But if there is a national politician who follows the Arroyo political template, who can be considered Arroyo’s true political heir, then it is Zubiri. (I am happy to say that I am not alone in thinking of Zubiri as Arroyo redux. Manuel Buencamino, to cite just one example, has written a strongly argued case for it.)

Consider the following facts that I am confident will withstand the scrutiny of any bias test:

First, like Arroyo, Zubiri did not win the seat he currently occupies. The Senate Electoral Tribunal, despite its shameful decision of June 4, 2010, has already proven that Zubiri benefited from systematic electoral fraud in Maguindanao and Lanao del Norte. The latest resolution allows Zubiri to proceed with his preposterous counter-protest, but it recognizes that Koko Pimentel has already recovered a quarter of a million votes.

Second, like Arroyo, Zubiri cheated without regard for consequences. As Buencamino sums up the evidence from Pimentel’s 664 pilot precincts, “the large-scale cheating perpetrated by warlords and Commission on Elections … operators bore all the marks of carelessness and stupidity, the byproducts of a climate of impunity.”

Third, like Arroyo, Zubiri is using the privileges of an incumbent, including the forging of key political alliances (“Magnificent 7,” anyone?), to overturn the very principles of logic and science. Rule 79, the key SET rule, is based on the laws of probability. It mandates the SET to canvass 25 percent of a protesting candidate’s total of contested precincts, self-evidently as a statistical measure with which to gauge the validity of the protest.

But as Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, the SET chair himself, noted in his dissenting opinion: “In Zubiri’s pilot precincts, consisting of 18,227 precincts, he was able to recover only 11,948 votes, subject to adjustments, translating to 0.66 average vote recovered per precinct. His projected total recovery is only 33,794 votes in his remaining 75 percent non-pilot protested precincts, or a total projected recovery of 45,742 votes in all his 70,607 counter-protested precincts. On the other hand, Pimentel’s net recovery in all his protested precincts is 257,401 votes. Even if we deduct the number of votes contained in the fake ballots, Zubiri’s projected net recovery cannot successfully overcome the net recovery posted by Pimentel.”

In other words, Zubiri’s counter-protest and the SET majority resolution (backed by at least three members of the so-called Magnificent 7) violate the laws of probability—part of the Arroyo-style dismantling of science that columnist Randy David warned us against.

Not least, and like Arroyo herself, Zubiri continues in national office through the help, not only of the terrible power of the Ampatuans of Maguindanao, but also and especially through the complicity of morally flexible politicians.

* * *

President Noynoy Aquino is indisputably popular, but it is not true to say he won the largest mandate in Philippine election history. During the Commonwealth era, Manuel Quezon won reelection in 1941 with an 80-percent share of the vote. Since the Third Republic, the largest mandate rightfully belongs to Ramon Magsaysay, who won the presidency in 1953 with almost 69 percent.

President Noynoy’s mandate is, without a doubt, massive, especially in the context of the 1987 Constitution’s pluralist politics. But the absolute number of voters should not be the gauge; that is largely a function of a growing population. It’s the proportions we should pay attention to. He won with 42 percent of the vote, more than two percentage points more than Arroyo’s disputed 2004 total. He also won over the second-placer, Joseph Estrada, by 5.7 million votes. This is a landslide—but in fact a smaller one than Estrada’s own victory over Jose de Venecia. In 1998, Erap’s margin was 6.1 million votes.

* * *

It pains me to see the incorruptible Abads suffer so much speculative intrigue, when anyone who knows them at all can testify, not only to their commitment to public service, but also to their integrity.

I’ve known Dina from when I was a student; I’ve followed Butch’s career from the 1980s, when he (I think) was still in law school; I’ve known their eldest daughter Julia since she was Dinky Soliman’s chief of staff at the DSWD.

The idea that, somehow, because Butch is now secretary of the budget, and Dina is senior vice chair of the House appropriations committee, and Julia is chief of the Presidential Management Staff, which has been given responsibility for disbursing the President’s Social Fund (and her brother is chief of staff of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima), the Abad family will now control public monies is absurd. In fact, what I think this means is that we can expect greater transparency in the use of public funds.

I am not entirely comfortable with the PMS being given primary responsibility for the PSF, not because of Julia, whom I and many others trust, but because of the nature of the fund itself. It is, in effect, the net income of the gaming firm Pagcor, and the President must take a more active role in determining its recipients. If there is any “give” on this matter, I think it is only Dina who can give way; she can decline her appointment to the committee. Butch and Julia cannot say no to Noy.

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