Lapse of judgment?

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines shocked her people as well the world by her televised apology on Monday. The president admitted that she indeed had that infamous "Hello Garci" conversation with election commissioner Garcillano urging him to ensure her victory in the presidential polls last year.



The Philippine leader was forced to apologise to the nation after taped copies of her wiretapped conversation with the election official had rocked the country.

In her "I am sorry" speech, President Arroyo has asked her people to forgive and forget the whole episode. But can the Filipinos forgive her? Hardly. The president’s detractors and opposition parties have got a Godsend in the tape episode. If Ms Arroyo wanted to silence the wagging tongues of her critics and clear doubts in people’s minds with her apology, she has failed in her attempt. The apology has only angered the Filipinos who are beginning to wonder if she indeed rigged her way to power.

The fact that Arroyo’s opponent the late actor Fernando Poe Jr had accused her of rigging the poll also strengthens popular suspicion about the president.

Although the president admitting a "lapse of judgment" has insisted she did not try to influence the outcome of the election, the cloud of suspicion hanging over her will not easily go away. As a result, within months of her victory when she was beginning to enjoy her second term, President Arroyo finds herself at her most vulnerable. No wonder the opposition, until recently in disarray, scenting blood is moving in for the kill. A reinvigorated opposition is prepared to accept nothing short of the president’s resignation.

However, dislodging Arroyo so soon after the presidential poll will not be easy. People wouldn’t like the burden of yet another expensive presidential election. Also, even if Arroyo decides to step down, it is hardly going to benefit opposition parties. If worse comes to worst, the Vice President or Senate speaker could step into Arroyo’s shoes.

But this is not about finding alternatives to Arroyo. What is at stake is her credibility as an honest leader. More importantly, the Filipinos would like to know the truth of serious charges brought against her. So at the heart of this controversy is not a minor "lapse of judgment" — as Arroyo puts it — but the crucial question of honesty and probity in public life. Sadly, Arroyo has lost the confidence of her people on this score. In the days and months to come, pressure on the Philippine leader is only set to grow. So what should worry the Filipinos is not the question who after Arroyo but if she has the mandate and integrity to lead the country.


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