By Greg B. Macabenta
With these words of contrition, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo hoped to cleanse her presidency of the grave sin of “influencing” the 2004 election, which she had just pulled from under the feet of Tagalog movie action king, Fernando Poe Jr.
Arroyo had just emerged victorious in a bruising contest for her first full-fledged presidential term, having served the balance of the aborted tenure of another film star, President Joseph “Erap” Estrada.
Estrada had been forced out of office through the combined efforts of the Philippine Congress, the Supreme Court, the military, civil society and his then-Vice-President Arroyo.
According to political pundits, it was the pseudo-Constitutional equivalent of a shotgun wedding. In a protest march reminiscent of the 1986 People Power dethronement of President Ferdinand Marcos, the military and civil society forced Estrada to “resign” the presidency. This was after an attempt by Congress to impeach him was suddenly discontinued without the requisite Senate trial and verdict of guilt. Estrada was, in effect, simply told to “cut and cut clean” like Marcos.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr. then swore in Arroyo as president on the grounds that Estrada had “resigned.” Actually, like Marcos, Estrada was threatened with forcible eviction, so he felt compelled to leave Malacanang.
At any rate, because Arroyo only served the balance of Estrada’s term that technically allowed her to run for a full term of six years. However, her election became questionable because of allegations of corruption. In fact, Arroyo stated at one point that she had no intention to run. However, she eventually changed her mind – and that was how she was pitted against another film star, FPJ.
In a country that has always had difficulty telling the difference between reel and real heroes, Poe was expected to win handily.
Obviously not wanting to take any chances, Arroyo placed a call to an official of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), Virgilio Garciliano, nicknamed, Garci.
And thus did “Hello Garci…” become part of Philippine political lore.
Arroyo insisted that it was a perfectly legitimate call. She just wanted to have a sense of where the election was heading. Of course, in the course of the “legitimate” conversation, she also suggested that Garci should ensure a million-vote victory for her.
And Garci agreed. What’s more, Garci delivered.
Thus was coined the term, “Garcified” and “Garcification.”
The trouble was, somebody in Malacanang recorded the conversation. The recording was subsequently leaked to the media and the political opposition in the Lower House moved to impeach Arroyo.
Of course, Americans are familiar with what happens to an impeachment proceeding against a President who has control of the Senate. Those who don’t know about the failed attempt to dislodge Donald Trump from the White House must have been asleep like Ichabod Crane in Washington Irving’s short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
It was also a “perfectly legitimate” phone call to Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine (rhymes with Ichabod Crane), that got Trump into trouble. Trump wanted Zelensky to make a public statement that the government of Ukraine was investigating allegations of corruption against Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice-President Joe Biden, apparently to dissuade Biden from challenging Trump’s reelection bid. This was an impeachable offense and the US democrats who had just regained control of the House of Representatives filed impeachment charges against Trump.
Unlike Arroyo, Trump was impeached but was, expectedly, acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate. In the case of Arroyo, she controlled both Houses of Congress and the attempt to impeach her did not prosper.
At the outset, Arroyo was rattled enough to actually go on national television to express remorse for what she had done. But as it became clearer and clearer that the impeachment threat was headed nowhere, she dug in her heels and in the classic tradition of Philippine politics, she went on to serve a full six years.
But at least, Arroyo said, “I…am…sor…ry!” Which is more than anyone can expect from Donald Trump.
And Arroyo did it only once. Or, at least, she was exposed only once.
Trump’s version of “Hello Garci” was first exposed when he called up the President of Ukraine. And like the proverbial dog who returns to his vomit, Trump made another questionable phone call again. And he has been exposed again – with an audio recording, no less. A virtual “smoking gun,” in the words of Washington Post’s Carl Bernstein, recalling the White House audio recordings in the Watergate scandal that forced President Richard Nixon to resign.
Last week, still unwilling to accept the prospect of vacating the White House on January 20, Trump called up, Brad Raffensperger, the Secretary of State of Georgia, a fellow Republican, and suggested – and then demanded – that 11,800 votes be produced to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the hitherto Republican-leaning State.
Fortunately, Raffensperger is one Republican with both cojones and integrity. Over Trump’s insistence that the election in Georgia had been “rigged” the Secretary of State denied that it was – in fact, the results had been counted and recounted two more times, with Biden’s victory being confirmed in each case. Trump even threatened Raffensperger, warning that the latter could get into trouble for not complying with Trump’s demand. But the Secretary of State held his ground.
This scandal is still developing. By the time this piece sees print, the Senate runoff elections in Georgia will have been held and the winners – whether the Republican reelectionist Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler or their Democratic challengers Jon Ossooff and Raphael Warnock – will have changed the balance of power in the US Senate. It will have shifted to the Democrats or will have remained in Republican hands.
How Trump’s version of “Hello Garci” will affect the Senate runoff is anybody’s guess.
What is certain however is that Trump will never say, “I…am…sor…ry…”
Note that the results of the Georgia runoff elections are different from the chaos – and possible violence – that Trump will have incited on January 6, when the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, as President and Vice-President, will have been confirmed by a joint session of Congress. I shudder to think of what could happen, with fanatical Trump supporters clashing with the police and anti-Trump marchers in Washington DC.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to kill Americans by the thousands every day.
It has not been a good start for the New Year.