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Wikileaks cable: Mike Arroyo 'one of most corrupt' under wife's rule, business leaders assert

Former First Gentleman Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA – Corruption in the Philippines during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was “at its worst, surpassing even the Marcos era,” and the former president’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, was one of the most corrupt.

This assertion was made by Washington Sycip, a respected business leader who founded the top accounting firm SGV, during a meeting with US Embassy officials in Manila in 2005, a year after Macapagal-Arroyo won the presidency in an election marred by allegations of massive fraud.

The former president, Sycip supposedly said, was also aware of her husband's allegedly corrupt ways but couldn't do anything.

 “President Arroyo's husband, he claimed, is one of the worst offenders, with a reputation for corruption seeping  down to all levels of society and eroding PGMA's  political standing,” the cable, marked confidential, reads. The document is one of the tens of thousands made public last week by the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks.

 According to the cable, Sycip told embassy officials that Mr. Arroyo “is heavily involved in the  illegal gambling or ‘jueteng’ networks and closely  connected with major smuggling syndicates.”

 The cable further states that “President Arroyo, according to Sycip, is aware of her  husband's misdeeds, but she is unwilling to do anything to curb his activities because he was instrumental in marshaling campaign donations and is now keeping those  supporters in line to help her maintain her grip on power.  This creates a practical difficulty for cabinet secretaries, because many of these supporters have been placed in key government jobs and "report directly" to the  First Gentleman, bypassing the agency chain of command.

 Mr. Arroyo, like his wife, has been dogged by allegations of corruption, the latest of which pertains to the allegedly anomalous purchase of helicopters by the Philippine National Police. He has been charged with plunder as a result and his political enemies in Congress promised that they won’t let up in making him accountable. Mr. Arroyo has consistently denied the charges.

 During that meeting with US Embassy officials, Sycip, who is described in the cable as a “long-time embassy contact,” supposedly asserted that the Philippines might be better off reconsidering democracy, pointing out the experience of Singapore, Malaysia and China – countries that have” made more progress in improving their  citizens' well-being through non-democratic systems,” the cable reads.

 Embassy officials “strongly objected” to Sycip's assertion, “underscoring that the US would not support any move to  non-democratic leadership.” But Sycip argued that “in countries with per  capita GDP under $3000, Western-style democracy leads to cronyism and corruption.” He also pointed out that “two out of  the last five presidents elected here have been removed  from office by non-democratic means, leading him to  conclude that the Philippine democratic process is  choosing the ‘wrong’ leaders.”

 In that same meeting, Francis Chua, president of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese  Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FFCCCI), supported Sycip’s allegations against Mr. Arroyo, saying “the First Gentleman is a major problem with  respect to corruption, pointing to his links to ‘jueteng’  and the many politicians and local officials involved in  the illegal gambling racket.”

 Chua said the Chinese-Filipino business community  “encounters corruption on a regular basis in the tax bureau, customs, and other government functions” and that corruption “is increasingly undermining the ability of  companies to operate efficiently in the (Philippines).

 Bill Luz, then the director of the Makati Business Club  (MBC), was also in that meeting where he predicted that the allegations against Mr. Arroyo “will continue and sooner or later someone will  come forward with clear evidence of wrongdoing.” The surfacing recently of businessmen who claimed to have worked with the former First Gentleman in the allegedly anomalous helicopter deal seems to have validated Luz’s prediction.

 Luz, however,  “optimistically noted that he sees more people  jumping into the fray to battle corruption.”

 The cable notes in its “comment” section that “clearly, serious minds are increasingly questioning the current administration's ability to lead  the Philippines out of its difficulties.  The irony is that,  as they note, the government is doing more to combat  corruption, but the problem is getting worse. Such  assessments alarm potential foreign investors and may  foreshadow serious growth problems down the road, as the  government fails to attract outside investment and finds  itself unable to adequately invest in the country's future.”