Why was there no Mike in Manny’s fight?

First Gentleman Mike Arroyo had never missed Manny Pacquiao’s fights before. In fact, his attendance in those fights had been a source of criticism for its extravagance. But in the epic De La Hoya-Pacquiao “dream match” earlier this week, the President’s husband was conspicously absent. What could be the reason?

You see, when Mrs. Arroyo was on the way to Peru through Los Angeles for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, Mike suddenly decided to come back to the Philippines through Osaka. The official reason for this is because the President’s husband suffered from diarrhea.

I don’t know about the presidential plane, but all planes I’ve been on had toilets. So it’s hard for me to understand why the First Gentleman had to be rushed to an Osaka hospital and from there be fetched by a private jet back to Manila simply because he had loose bowel movements.

A while ago, my professor shared to our class a rumor that’s been spreading in the media and in the blogosphere lately that explains why Mike cancelled his trip to Peru and didn’t show up in Las Vegas for Manny’s fight. The word is that in the middle of the 12-hour flight from Manila to Los Angeles, the presidential delegation was informed that someone among them would be picked up by US authorities upon landing in LA for money-laundering activities. Evidence were supposedly unearthed by federal authorities “in the wake of Lehmann Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG and so many other Wall Street corpses.” Allegedly, this freaked the First Couple out and so it was decided that Mike should come back to Manila.

Columnist Tony Abaya backs this rumor up with a key observation:”that six hours out of Manila, in a non-stop 12 hour flight eastward towards Los Angeles, PAL Flight 001 would have been within or near a triangle described by Wake Island, Midway Island and Hawaii, the first two US territories, the third a state in the American Union.” Indeed, if Mike really needed medical assistance for his LBM, he could have been rushed to any hospitals in those American islands. Making a 180-degree turn to Osaka only fuels the speculation that, indeed, the First Gentleman was deliberately avoiding the United States.

What’s more, Abaya reports that the head of the Philippine Anti-Corruption Movement USA, Frank Wenceslao, said that “GMA, husband and their children are reportedly barred to enter the US by virtue of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and the Bush administration’s ‘No Safe Haven’ policy to deny kleptocrats to enjoy the fruits of corruption.”

He adds:

“The (First) Family’s last visit when the policy was specially lifted was when Ambassador Kristie Kenney thought that the MOA on Ancestral Domain would push through and the US could negotiate a bases agreement with the Bangsa Moro.

“GMA’s US visit (last October) was only allowed for a head-of-state attending UN-related conferences or meetings.

“It is out of protocol (that) Mrs. Arroyo is allowed to come to the US , but not her husband. There is a report that Atty. Arroyo’s emergency landing in Japan happened when the presidential party learned (that) his request for (a) US visa wasn’t granted, and he really needed (one) for a stop-over in Los Angeles.

“Mike Arroyo might suffer what happened to Joc Joc Bolante and be detained….”

Is this rumor true? I don’t know. Mike’s cancellation of his Peru trip and his no-show at the Pacquiao fight seem to support it.

On one hand, I’m skeptical. Firstly, prior to this rumor, Manolo Quezon speculated another reason for Mike’s prompt return to Manila that time, which I believe is a bit more believable. He wrote:

The buzz of the town has been, as I mentioned in my column last September, that de Venecia had proposed a scheme by which he and FVR would scuttle the Lakas-Kampi Merger, and bring at least a rump of their old party to coalesce with the Nacionalista Party of Villar, with Cojuangco’s NPC rejoining the NP, from which it had split over a quarrel over the party leadership and franchise with the late Doy Laurel. Together, they could put together a formidable machine, keeping government safely and comfortably in the hands of the Old Guard: all the old pragmatists could do business the old-fashioned way. de Venecia and FVR could demonstrate, along the way, that they could exact their revenge for being double-crossed by the President, Cojuangco could bring to the table a new generation of leaders like Escudero, Villar could be a reasonably accomodating President, or the three could back one of Cojuangco’s proteges or even commit to bankrolling the Vice-President, and Villar could consider becoming Speaker again or something (de Venecia’s ambitions? Who knows. Senate President? Secretary of Foreign Affairs?)

Which is not to say the oldies but baddies trust each other, but they are old pros and can reasonably cooperate with each other; but FVR is said to have told JDV, to show tangible signs of not only meaning business, but having a tangible effect on the dynamics of the House. If JDV could rock the boat enough, then the other elders could move and provoke a party split, as a prelude to swinging the votes necessary for an impeachment -or even a cabinet coup, declaring the President incapacitated, which she would challenge and which would then have to be put to a vote in Congress.

Among the ex-Speaker’s supposed big bombs: testifying that he had personal knowledge of the Batasan being broken into, and election documents stolen, thus nullifying both Congress’ proclamation of the President and Vice-President in 2004, as well as the Supreme Court’s declaration of the authenticity of that proclamation, based on the official documents kept in the burgled ballot boxes in the Batasan (see SAF commandos confirm 2004 poll fraud coverup and Complicity in poll fraud coverup taints SAF record ). This is a bomb that might have delivered the presidency to Villar, making him Acting President and a powerful incumbent. Enrile’s election as Senate President means Villar is down, but not out, he can still be supported by the elders in 2010, but another elder with wide experience in bringing down governments, can be enticed with the glittering prospect of crowning his career, not just as Senate President, but as President of the Philippines. And the other presidential wannabees might just risk it, too.

A scenario that requires nerves, to be sure, and which furthermore brings to the same table four figures with their own bases of military support: Ramos, Enrile, Lacson (as part of the new Senate majority) and Cojuangco, whose nephew,after all, is Secretary of National Defense and has, together with his uncle, carefully cultivated generals all the way back to the Marcos years. And lots of money, and a little luck. But one that offers the comforting prospect of a predictable, fairly safe, elimination of the President and a chance for the ruling coalition to remain pretty much intact, meaning those enjoying the perks can continue enjoying those perks in a new government, and one which can claim it saved the Republic from both the President and the parts of the opposition they don’t like or can’t deal with.

Now there’s supposed to be a reason behind the President’s husband suddenly coming home, which is that the Palace has gotten a little nervous over all these plots and sub-plots (and it is always sniffing out plots, real or imagined), that it was beginning to wonder if the loyalty of the ruling coalition was fraying a the edges, and that it had better have someone minding the family store if JDV starts going berserk.

Secondly, I’m not really sure that the Bush administration is willing to embarrass the Arroyo regime. Unless, of course, President Bush is really serious with his ‘No Safe Haven’ policy against corrupt officials. But even if he is serious about it, I’m not sure it would be a wise political decision for him to allow the arrest of the Philippines’ First Gentleman. This, I think, would only complicate matters for Bush because it will expose him to widespread criticism for dealing with a corrupt regime. But then again, the transition to Obama, the financial crisis and the India-Pakistan situation would surely drown these kinds of criticisms, should they come. And everybody is criticizing Bush anyway, so who cares?

On the other hand, I think that if this rumor is true, then we should brace ourselves for a more vigorous maneuverings from Malacanang to extend Mrs. Arroyo’s stay on power. This is because she can no longer expect a safe haven in the United States from corruption charges that will surely haunt her the moment she loses power.

She is cornered. Expect her to fight more desperately.

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