Businessmen urged to speak out on graft
Lawmakers are urging Philippine business leaders to explain in Congress what the antisecrecy website WikiLeaks said they told US Embassy officials in 2005 about then First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo’s alleged involvement in smuggling and “jueteng,” an illegal numbers racket.
Arroyo’s activities, according to US diplomatic cables WikiLeaks released on Friday, were known and tolerated by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who at that time was grappling with accusations she had rigged the 2004 presidential election.
Akbayan Representative Walden Bello and Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro Casiño identified the businessmen as SGV founder Washington SyCip, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Francis Chua, and former Makati Business Club executive director Guillermo “Bill” Luz.
The lawmakers said in text messages to the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the businessmen—who were not immediately available for comment—should explain in a congressional hearing their statements as reported in the confidential cable titled “Philippines corruption: Business Leaders.”
Focus of inquiry
Bello said the House committees on justice and good government should look into the leaked US cable and summon SyCip, Chua and Luz, as well as invite the US diplomats who reportedly prepared the report.
“It would be important especially to have Chua talk since he had been linked by a number of reliable sources to the Arroyos and was seen as a key liaison of the Arroyos to the government of China,” Bello said.
“The Arroyo-China dimension appears to have been especially corrupt, and Congress should probe this closely despite the new atmosphere created by the Aquino visit,” he added.
Casiño said it was incumbent upon Congress to look into the WikiLeaks report on the involvement of Mike Arroyo in smuggling and jueteng because it was a matter of public interest.
“We are studying this option (inviting the sources of the US Embassy report) in the light of the many anomalies being unearthed under the Arroyo regime,” Casiño said.
In the report, SyCip said he knew about how Mike Arroyo’s behavior had undermined the credibility of his wife’s administration and stymied ability of the then President, now a Pampanga representative, to implement anticorruption reforms.
“SyCip claimed that Mike Arroyo is heavily involved in the illegal gambling or jueteng networks and closely connected with major smuggling syndicates,” the cable said.
It added: “President Arroyo, according to SyCip, is aware of her husband’s misdeeds, but she is unwilling to do anything to curb his activities because he was instrumental in marshaling campaign donations and is now keeping those supporters in line to help her maintain her grip on power.”
“This creates a practical difficulty for Cabinet secretaries, because many of these supporters have been placed in key government jobs and ‘report directly’ to the First Gentleman, bypassing the agency chain of command.”
The same leaked cable showed that Chua “echoed SyCip’s claim that the First Gentleman is a major problem with respect to corruption, pointing to his links to jueteng and the many politicians and local officials involved in the illegal gambling racket.”
The US Embassy, in its cable, also pointed out that Arroyo’s son, then Pampanga lawmaker and now Ang Galing Pinoy Representative Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, was involved in jueteng.
For his part, Luz did not make any specific claim against the Arroyos but he did say that “people should watch the rumors swirling around the First Family carefully.”
“Regarding Mike Arroyo’s involvement, Luz said he senses that the allegations will continue and sooner or later someone will come forward with clear evidence of wrongdoing. Although the President may be able to steer clear of any implications of personal wrongdoing, Luz said that there had been no previous instance in which a spouse’s scandal did not damage or bring down his or her partner,” the cable said.
The US Embassy report pointed out that the election of Senators Luisa “Loi” Ejercito and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada despite the conviction of former President Joseph Estrada refuted this claim.
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