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PUBLISHER’S NOTES| Those agonizing final days of Pres. Gloria M. Arroyo

  1. I served President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in five (5) cabinet positions for nine (9) long years starting from 2001 when President Joseph “Erap” Estrada was forced to resign assuming for 3 (three) years the remaining term of Pres. “Erap” and her regular 6 (six) years when she was elected Philippine President.

At the end her nine (9) years in the highest office of the land, she suffered what was to me a “worst case scenario” of an exiting president who had meticulously served well the nation.

I am recalling here that time when she was criminally charged by President “Noynoy” Aquino and detained at a Manila hospital.

Unfortunately for GMA, she did not get that reprieve that she also deserved. Her successor, President Noynoy Aquino made her a convenient and hapless “poster girl” in his “anti corruption roadshow”, clearly just for show! She was stopped at the Manila international airport on her way to get treatment abroad even when the courts cleared the way for her departure. It was tragic because she was intentionally denied the courtesy, nay the right, by no less than Malacanang itself where she served long and with distinction. Ironically, President Noynoy’s own father, the late senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino had the privilege of getting such reprieve when he was allowed to leave the country after being convicted by the military court of a repressive regime under martial law. Ninoy was to get medical treatment in the United States for his ailment.

Let me put this straight at the outset. For being my “boss” for all nine (9) years of her administration, I am naturally and obviously sympathetic of former President Gloria. So, take it in this light as I expressed sadness for what was happening to her — not so much to elicit sympathies from the public . But this is just to share some sadness and misgivings on what had befallen of her after nine (9) years of “giving her all” to the nation.

I have seen up close how she “gave her all” to the country. For all of her nine (9) years in office, I was there in Malacanang in various capacities. She was a workaholic and even if she would deny this, she would tend to micro-manage things. She was impatient for results and demanded a high rigor of excellence and performance from everyone. Woe on anyone coming to a meeting with her unprepared or “shooting from the hip”. She was dreaded for verifying on the spot any claim or any information so don’t ever “pull her leg” lest you get a public “dressing down” from her. Her cellphone number was “numero ng bayan” dating back to her cabinet days as head of the Dept of Trade & Industry (DTI) and the Dept. of Social Welfare and Develipment (DSWD). So anyone could text or call her. There was no such thing as “cordon sanitaire” that high officials usually get sucked into. The problem with that situation however was that she was often receiving “unprocessed”information that presidents ought to avoid getting. But that’s how it was with her.

She was usually a stern, “pastmaster” that required those working with her the highest standards of performance. She had both extremes: quick to shrill laughter and equally quick to extreme temper.

One time, she admitted during a cabinet meeting that she was so “formal and official” to all of us and so she suggested an informal outing for ” bonding”. Of course she got hemmed in by the lady members of the cabinet. Leisure to her was scuba diving but not too many of us were into it. So we had to be contented with standing by at some boat waiting for her to surface.

Over so many official foreign trips that I joined, I could not recall ” fun time” with her. It’s not that I am now complaining but her schedules were so hectic that I could not even get to go to a pharmacy store to get some analgesics during one trip in New York City. The only time I had my own private time was when I got hospitalized due to some bad pizza I ate after missing lunch during her attendance at the United Nations in New York City. The presidential party left and headed back home while I remained in the hospital until I fully recovered.

Her stern personal facade gave her obviously that “mataray” image to the public but she wanted nothing about rehabilitating it. I recall
during one Christmas season in December when an ABS CBN broadcaster, in order to help “soften” the public’s perception of her, proposed that a Christmas episode portraying her as a doting mother to her children and grandchildren (which she really was) be done to be shown on nation-wide TV. Yes, she was indeed close and loving to them, especially to her grandkids and that planned TV Christmas show was just to show her real self, a bit different from what the public regarded her. Unfortunately, she thumbed down the project by merely saying: “My private life is privately mine alone.” Period! (End of discussion.)

Her critics of course had a mouthful about her. But let that be. And let the Sandiganbayan and the courts make their final determination on her accountability to the nation. But in the meantime, I cannot but feel sad that this was happening to her, my “boss forever!”

Here’s “one for the books” . She later returned back to public office as Congresswoman of Pampanga and then Speaker of the House of Representatives. She can go down in history as the only public official who served the country the longest in the highest posts of the land. And the distinction of having headed the two (2) co-equal and independent branches of the government, namely the executive and the legislative branches.

Fortunes and yes, fate too, have indeed their own way of correcting a grievous wrong!

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