They say that ‘behind every successful woman is a meek little man’. During the era of the Arroyo presidency that seemed to be the case; as her wife Gloria Arroyo swooped to power and was continuously ranked among the most powerful women in the world, Mike appeared to be the modest husband who kept himself out of the spotlight. At the end of Gloria’s presidency however, people doubt if modesty was indeed the reason why Jose Miguel Arroyo maintained a low-profile.
When we look back today into the decade-long Arroyo reign as the nation’s head-of-state people very seldom mention her exempting the 13th month pay from taxes or her measures championing women’s rights. Instead, the rampant corruption practice and numerous controversies that occurred during her term springs to mind. Rightly so I might add, the bad politics were so severe that it indeed dampened all the positive contributions she made.
However, those familiar with the inner-circle of the so-called ‘corruption ring’ would come to her defense and say that she was not all to blame for the shenanigans that happened. The bigger evil, according to insiders, was her husband Mike.
The presidential spouse projected a very subdued and restrained image that he became an enigma to the public. People would be forgiven to forget that President Arroyo was married in the first place. Miguel Arroyo, a practicing lawyer, stuck to the sidelines and fostered a role as a family man instead, appearing with his wife during their family’s celebrated vacation trips.
Yet, perceptions are not always correct and indeed Mike Arroyo was no stranger to controversies. After being implicated in several controversies and scandals Mike’s portrayal as a timid person seemed like a delusion.
The first case that rocked Mike Arroyo’s reputation came as early as 2001, barely a year since his wife took office after a mass protest ousted the predecessor Joseph Estrada. Then First Gentleman was accused of accepting a US$1M bribe from two telecommunications firms to overturn the President’s recall of a grant given to the said firms. The whistleblower, a journalist named Bing Rodrigo, was a close aide of the Administration that time which made her even more reliable. Strangely however, just a week after her expose she recanted her statements and resigned from her role with Arroyo’s Cabinet. So was she just fishing for attention or was there something suspicious going on?
The scandal could not have come at a worse time as well. It was only a few months since Arroyo stood tall against Joseph Estrada and made a bold promise to the furious Filipino public that she would ‘stamp out corruption’. Off to a good start I see.
Then in the same year, another anomaly hounded the First Gentleman. For some strange reasons, the popular radio station Bombo Radio and local station Radio Mindanao Network showed strong support for senatorial candidates aligned with Gloria Arroyo. It came as no surprise therefore that the Administration ticket won eight of the 12 seats up for grabs. It seemed like fairplay, except late that year a revelation was made. A consultant of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office who was fired from his position revealed that his agency’s funds were tapped to make donations to – you guess it – Bombo Radio and Radio Mindanao Network. That explained everything.
How could the public ever forget the Jose Pidal saga? When it was found out that jueteng organizers were paying protection money to a high-ranking official’s bank account under the name Jose Pidal which was found out to be a pseudonym. The account was allegedly owned by Mike Arroyo, and had existed as early as 1998 to fund his wife’s campaign as Vice-President. In the heat of the trial, Mike’s own brother Ignacio stepped in and claimed ownership of the bank account. Was he being a martyr or did he tell the truth? It seemed too illogical to be the former, yet too suspicious to be the latter.
Skip a couple of years and Miguel Arroyo is once again involved in a scandal, this time in the bogus importation of Php10M worth of rice. Rice that was far below the export quality, in fact the shipment was rotten and inedible. The importer of the rice was an Indian trader who happened to be a close friend of Mike’s.
Of course, the most glaring blemish on President Arroyo’s record was the ‘Hello Garci’ scandal. Wiretapped conversations between the President and the election commissioner, that itself being illegal, narrated alleged manipulation of the 2004 Presidential elections. During the investigations, and further backed by investigative journalists’ own field work, the First Gentleman had apparently flown to Mindanao to deliver crates filled with hard cash estimated to sum up to Php500M. How would Mike Arroyo gain access to such huge amount of cash you might ask? It was convenient enough that in that same year, an anomaly in the procurement of hundreds of millions of pesos worth of agricultural equipment was recorded. A project worth Php728M was deemed to be overpriced and the delivery was delayed and incomplete, also the items delivered to the beneficiaries were substandard. More than seven hundred million pesos of public funds were susceptible to plunder or graft, exactly how much is trivial.
All that however, was just the tip of the iceberg; the public were yet to see the real stripes of the First Gentleman. The biggest scandal was the National Broadband Network scandal of 2008, where a contract to improve national internet connection was marred by rampant bribery and political lobbying and Mike Arroyo was pinpointed to be among the masterminds.
Whistleblower Jun Lozada, a consultant of one of the firms involved, said Mike was indeed the most prolific of the people lobbying for Chinese company ZTE. While Jose de Venecia III, a majority shareholder for one of the competing firms in the bidding, testified he was personally told by Mike Arroyo to ‘back off’ from the bidding. ZTE eventually picked up the contract for the project, which was scrapped in the end due to massive corruption. To add to that, de Venecia’s father who at that time was the Speaker of the Lower House was ousted by an administration-backed impeachment trial. It seemed like someone was getting back at the de Venecias.
Several more allegations beleaguered President Arroyo’s husband, all involved administrative cases and bidding processes. It was found out that Mike Arroyo had connections to a firm blacklisted by the World Bank for corrupt practices, then there was the more recent PNP-helicopter project scam where the police acquired two helicopters presented to be brand new but were actually owned by the First Gentleman himself. Even bigger scams such as the Malampaya scam, the Fertilizer Fund Scam, the AFP Generals payout scandal and several others mentioned Mike Arroyo’s name in their proceedings.
All these allegations diminished what ever ‘good guy’ image Jose Miguel Arroyo had, or clings on to. He defends himself by saying it is all politically-motivated but yet there seems to be too many allegations pointed at him for the former First Gentleman to dismiss it as a mere political ploy. As the saying goes, if there’s smoke there’s fire. Surely if Mike Arroyo indeed is that meek, low-profile guy he portrays himself to be, he would not have this many enemies condemning him. There is also evidence from all circles, whether it be those who worked for his wife’s Administration or those in the opposition, that implicates him or at least makes him a candidate for an inquiry. It’s very difficult to believe that all those evidence were pulled out from nothing.
A rumor also surfaced out in 2008, at the height of the NBN-ZTE scandal that the Philippines was ran by two sets of Cabinets – the legitimate, Constitutional one composed of appointed secretaries and a second version, made up of oligarchs and prominent political scions who were close to the Arroyos. This second, “midnight” cabinet was headed none other than Mike Arroyo himself – allegedly.
If that were true, then it would make sense how the former First Gentleman became so involved in government deals and projects. Mike Arroyo being some sort of a de facto head of state would explain why he was the one who received the million dollar bribe from the telecoms companies, why he would care about the election campaigns of other politicians, why would he go to great lengths to secure Gloria Arroyo’s presidency by flying into Mindanao – on his own private helicopter – to personally deliver hundreds of millions of bribe money or to persuade popular media outlets to vouch for his coalition’s campaign ticket.
It would make sense why Mike was the one receiving jueteng protection payments in the Jose Pidal bank account. It explains how close entities such as the Indian rice trader Kishore Hemlani or the Chinese firm ZTE were granted favorable decisions by the government. If Mike Arroyo indeed wielded that amount of power, it would not be a surprise why he would be implicated in all those controversies and scandals.
Proving that to be true would be like the final piece of the puzzle that completes the entire picture, it would be like drawing the final line in a web of corruption. Conclusively electing Mike Arroyo into the equation would be monumental in solving the gaps of the country’s biggest corruption investigations. But it all goes down to evidence, hard authentic evidence of which there is none of to definitively implicate the former First Gentleman. And because of that, the riddle has yet to be solved.
The current administration of Benigno Aquino III has laid out a concise plan to stamp out corruption and to chase after the corrupt, despite allegations that have come up recently – perception still remains that they are truthful and committed to that vision. More whistleblowers have stepped forward lately and more scams are being uncovered which occurred during the term of the former President. It is unfair to label Mike Arroyo as anything but innocent as of now, but with new evidence being presented and more whistleblowers stepping forward who knows? We might be able to decode the mystery very soon.