Strange that I should have written about the 1972 American presidential election yesterday, since it is now clear that, like Nixon during Watergate, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo got into her current difficulties by taping herself.
However bored you may be by the three-month old “hello Garci” controversy I think you’ll enjoy the excellent piece of investigative journalism by the PDI-I team in yesterday’s Inquirer. It confirms that:
• The president used the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp) primarily to bug her political opponents. The taping of Comelec commissioner Garcillano was a by-product.
• To conduct this illegal operation she used equipment from the US to monitor suspected terrorists (the many critics of Ms Arroyo’s pro-American policies will derive a grim satisfaction from the fact that she met her nemesis through US-donated equipment).
• The motive for tapping Garcillano’s phone was distrust. “Garcillano was given millions to run the special operations for the May 10, 2004 elections to ensure GMA’s victory. Therefore he must be watched.”
• The tape rippled out from Isafp via the shadowy relationships that characterize so much of the military--political nexus in the Philippines. The initial crucial link was via former NBI Deputy Director Samuel Ong. The path of the ripple is something of a classic of its kind.
“When they gave these [tapes] to me, they said, Sir please take these tapes. For your ears only sir.” Ong recalled his meeting with his Isafp friends. … [Ong] said he made three copies and gave a copy to a “fraternal brother” who is a ranking officer in the AFP, another copy to a close friend who is also a ranking AFP officer and a copy to another “fraternal brother”. He kept the master tape of the the three recopies and gave the other three tapes to three fraternal brothers for ‘safekeeping’.
And the rest is history.
The route of the Garci tapes reveals a number of features of wider Philippine society.
• Like many Philippine employers Mrs Arroyo figured her employee (Garcillano) would cheat her at the first possible opportunity, so she decided to check on him. Lack of trust is a one of the major barriers to progress in the Philippines. Francis Fukuyama has pointed out that trust is the basis of “social capital” – societies that lack such social capital are much less likely to achieve prosperity than those with a high degree of social trust.
• Although the rich in the Philippines are always terrified about being ripped off by their staff, ironically it is usually the poor who are cheated by the rich. And so it was in this case: “The Insafp soldiers did as ordered, but half of the promised fee did not reach them. … It was then that they thought of reproducing the tape and selling it to the opposition.”
• Philippine politicians are great at taking the Americans for a ride. The article reveals that the US intelligence equipment was used to track coup plotters in the military, bug political opponents, and keep track of suspect employees. There is not one word about using it for its ostensible purpose, to combat Islamic terrorists.