Arroyo’s Cabinet member quits amid scandal

Manila: President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, facing charges she rigged elections and demands that she resign, lost a key Cabinet supporter Thursday and sent her husband, himself accused of corruption, into exile in Hong Kong.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, facing tax-evasion charges, said he was stepping down to clear his name and spare Arroyo further damage. Staying on would be a “no-win situation for the president that I serve,” he said.

Separate accusations that Arroyo’s relatives, including her husband, Mike, took kickbacks from illegal gambling have deepened the political scandal that has buffeted her administration, causing the stock market and the peso to slide.

Arroyo’s husband, as well as a son and his wife, daughter and nanny, left for Hong Kong on Thursday evening.

It wasn’t immediately clear how long Mike Arroyo planned to stay in Hong Kong.

He has been accused of taking kickbacks from operators of jueteng, a popular illegal numbers game in the Philippines. The allegations – which also involve Arroyo’s son and brother-in-law – have become the subject of a Senate inquiry.

His exile was part of a series of public-relations moves aimed at protecting Arroyo’s reputation – badly damaged by accusations she rigged the presidential election in 2004.

Arroyo acknowledged in a speech Monday that she had talked to an election official about protecting a million-vote victory margin during the election. Although she apologized what she called “a lapse of judgment,” she denied meddling with the polls and has refused to heed calls to resign.

Arroyo is a staunch U.S. ally in the war on terrorism, although she hit a bump with Washington after her government withdrew a small peacekeeping force from Iraq to save the life of a kidnapped Filipino truck driver.

Yap, 39, the agriculture secretary and a close Arroyo ally, said she accepted his resignation. An adviser to the president, Rep. Joey Salceda, said that in coming weeks she would remove from her government “people who erode her credibility.”

“Unsatisfactory,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer said Thursday of Arroyo’s moves.

“It didn’t set the record straight or provide the explanation that she herself said the Filipino people deserved,” the Inquirer said in an editorial. “Neither has it eased the political turmoil engulfing the nation, nor has it allowed her to buy time, as she obviously hoped it would do. Instead, it seems to have provoked her opponents to step up their campaign to bring her government down.”

Arroyo herself replaced Joseph Estrada was forced from office in 2001 amid mass protests over alleged corruption. She was elected to a full six-year term last year and is constitutionally prohibited from seeking another. She has promised to implement needed reforms no matter the political fallout.

Police in Manila went on alert Thursday as about 2,000 left-wing opponents and supporters of Estrada demanded Arroyo’s resignation, calling her a “fraudulent president.”

The outspoken widow of Arroyo’s main challenger in last year’s election has emerging as a rallying point for the fractured opposition.

Susan Roces, whose husband, Fernando Poe Jr., died of a stroke in December without conceding defeat, called on Arroyo to step down and accused her of having “stolen the presidency.”

Former President Corazon Aquino, who succeeded late dictator Ferdinand Marcos after he was toppled in massive “people power” street protests in 1986, urged Arroyo opponents to avoid any repeat of such protests and to stick to constitutional measures.

The constitution “contains all the ways by which one may safely effect even the most difficult political changes,” she said.

Hrvoje Hranjski, The Guardian (UK), June 30, 2005

Categories: Asia, Odious Debts, Philippines

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