Is Figaro’s ‘luck’ running out?

Is Figaro’s ‘luck’ running out?

“Figaro” is the name of the main character in the play, “The Barber of Seville,” which was first played in 1775. But today – or should I say in the last decade – “Figaro” was the name of the most powerful and, allegedly, the most corrupt person in the Philippines. You don’t read “Figaro” everyday in the newspapers. It was only spoken privately — in whispers — among those who know him well… or, more specifically, those who did business with him. “Figaro” was the code name for “First Gentleman Arroyo” as he was then commonly known. Today, he is simply known as Mike Arroyo.

The only reference to “Figaro” that I could remember was in a news article that the Philippine Star published on March 13, 2007, titled, “Favorita” and “Figaro”: Another scandal hits FG. A certain Maria Celia Suarez (aka Virginia Suarez), who claimed to be Figaro’s former mistress, supposedly filed a petition for disbarment before the Supreme Court and Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for alleged immorality. However, the high court and the IBP refused to confirm the existence of the petition, citing “confidentiality.” Nothing came out of that case. It seemed that someone might have played a hand in deep-sixing the petition.

“Favorita” and “Igorota”
Suarez said that “Figaro” referred to her as “Favorita” and his wife, former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, as “Igorota.” She claimed that “Figaro” forced her to live in the U.S. like a “mendicant” with the promise of financial support.

“Figaro” was able to survive that scandal and other scandals that erupted during the nine-year presidency of Gloria including the “Jose Pidal” scandal. He was untouchable and he seemingly carried out his stealthy business dealings without any fear of prosecution. Then Ombudsman Merceditas “Merci” Gutierrez – his classmate in law school — protected him until she resigned last May 2011 to avoid impeachment.

“Chopper scam”
Recently, a new scandal involving Mike Arroyo erupted. It was alleged that he sold two pre-owned helicopters as “brand-new” to the Philippine National Police (PNP) for a whopping P105 million, which was more than the price of brand-new helicopters. A Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigation was initiated and heard the testimonies of PNP officers and several businessmen involved in the questionable transaction. And just when the investigation started, Arroyo took off for Hong Kong and checked into a hospital for an evaluation of his “heart condition.” Upon his return, the Senate invited him to testify. However, with the strength of his doctor’s professional opinion that he would be at risk of “heart attack” if he appeared before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, he was excused from testifying.

But that didn’t deter the PNP from filing plunder charges against Arroyo, former Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Ronald Puno, former PNP Chief Jesus Verzosa, and 14 retired and active police officers and private businessmen.

“One of most corrupt”
Recently, the anti-secrecy group, WikiLeaks, released a confidential U.S. Embassy diplomatic cable, which incriminated Mike Arroyo in jueteng operations and smuggling activities. Created on June 9, 2005, the cable said: “Washington Sycip, a founding partner of SGV (the country’s most prominent accounting firm and an affiliate of U.S. firm Ernst and Young) has become increasingly pessimistic, claiming privately that corruption nowadays is at its worst, surpassing even the Marcos era.”

In his meeting with U.S Embassy officials, Sycip claimed: (1) Mike Arroyo was one of the worst offenders, with a reputation for corruption seeping down to all levels of society and eroding his wife’s political standing; (2) Mike was heavily involved in the illegal gambling or “jueteng” networks and closely connected with major smuggling syndicates; (3) His son, Mikey Arroyo, was also involved in jueteng racketeering; (4) Gloria was aware of her husband’s misdeeds, but she was unwilling to do anything to curb his activities because he was instrumental in marshaling campaign donations and was keeping those supporters in line to help her maintain her grip on power; and (5) Many cabinet secretaries — who were placed in high positions by Mike – directly reported to him, bypassing the agency chain of command.

Conjugal presidency
If Mike was indeed directly involved in the affairs of state, what we had then was a de facto “conjugal presidency,” similar to the “conjugal dictatorship” of the Marcoses. With the Arroyos having total control of the military and the police, the House of Representatives, the Office of the Ombudsman, and to a great extent the Supreme Court, the Arroyos’ reign was a virtual dictatorship.

The only body that the Arroyos failed to control was the Senate. However, the Senate was rendered inutile because of infighting among its members and the presence of a small but cohesive minority that protected the Arroyos any which way they can. At that time, Gloria had presidential immunity. But for those charges filed against Mike before the Office of the Ombudsman, Merci simply dismissed them. Indeed, Mike must have considered himself, “lucky.” But as soon Gloria stepped down, a string of six plunder cases were filed against her… and more coming. But with Merci no longer around to protect the former First Couple, it seems that Mike’s “luck” might be running out soon.

Premature filing?
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigation on the “Chopper Scam” has documented a lot of incriminating evidence and testimonies against Mike and 16 others. However, the investigation is not yet complete, which led Sen. Franklin Drilon to wonder why the PNP did not wait for the Senate to conclude its investigation before filing the plunder case. Could it be that the “premature” filing was done to pre-empt the Senate investigation? If so, it could weaken the case just like what happened quite a few times before. And, with “luck,” Mike Arroyo might just beat the system once again.

This possible scenario puts Gen. Samuel Pagdilao Jr., commander of PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), which filed the plunder case, in the hot seat. Is he in cahoots with the accused? Was there a deliberate plan to derail the case once it reached the court; thus, absolving Mike and his co-accused?

But Pagdilao was quick to defend himself claiming that the “Chopper Scam” was being investigated long before the Senate started its own. He said that there was enough evidence to file the plunder case, saying: “We would not have filed the case if we did not believe it.” I just hope that Pagdilao has what the accused didn’t have — honor and integrity.

In the play, “The Barber of Seville,” Count Almaviva contacted his ex-servant and barber Figaro to help him gain access to Doctor Bartholo’s home to see Rosine whom he fell in love with when he met her the first time. At first, Figaro resisted; but he agreed after the Count promised him money. Figaro then devised a scheme for the Count to see Rosine, who was kept and locked by Doctor Bartholo, her guardian, who intended to marry her himself. With luck, Figaro succeeded. The play ended with the Count and Rosine getting married.

Will our modern-day “Figaro” – Mike Arroyo – be able to devise a scheme to extricate himself and his co-accused from the long arm of the law? Or, is Figaro’s “luck” finally running out?