"The President cheated"

Mon, 08/08/2005 - 00:00
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Garchitorena recalls, "actually I was hoping it wasn't at all true. I kept waiting for her to say, 'no I never talked to him', but when she came out with her statement, it was too clearly and cleverly crafted by lawyers to avoid saying anything.

"So it reinforced my belief it was true. If it wasn't, she would be outraged and say 'that's not me'. She would come out more forcefully in denying the tape.

Garchitorena says she told the President how she felt about the tapes but got no reaction. "She never contacted me."

January 2001: President Arroyo presents her Cabinet. Garchitorena is at the extreme right
photo by Raissa Espinosa Robles

It was an abrupt end to a working relationship that began four years ago, just days after Joseph Estrada was chased out of office. Responding to President Arroyo's plea that "I cannot go to Malacañang by myself," Garchitorena accepted a Cabinet post in the newly-installed government. As head of the powerful Presidential Management Staff, the body that runs the Executive department, she played a key role in vetting government appointees.

After one year at the job, she asked to be made a Cabinet level consultant without pay, although she received an honorarium for being a board member of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

"She (President Arroyo) gave me the title, 'Senior consultant for Poverty Alleviation and Good Governance' and some projects to handle. I was still going there maybe twice a week for the search committee, the land administration and management program. I also still attended cabinet meetings."

Garchitorena says that she advised Mrs. Arroyo against getting Noli de Castro as a running mate for last year's election. "I felt he did not have the necessary experience: we felt it had to be someone with experience in leadership and in management. He did not have any of those. He did not manage any company or even any organization."

Garchitorena admits that although many people might not agree, she found working for Mrs. Arroyo "inspiring", explaining that "she's very intelligent, she can see the big picture; one of the things I really appreciated when I was there was when she was faced with a difficult decision, she would tell me to put that on the agenda."

However, she didn't find the President a sympathetic character rich in people skills. "Her real problem is she has no EQ (emotional quotient) - relationships are always purely professional. She doesn't know how to stroke but she's very demanding. I remember Cabinet members complaining she didn't talk to them, and she said, 'if I don't call you that means you are doing well.'"

To Garchitorena though, the point is "anything that would undermine the integrity of the electoral process is a very damanging thing to our country - and so the tapes really shook my faith in her, especially because she's the President, sworn to uphold the law."

She adds: "I think we have to be a little more demanding. I was very happy about the campaign against tax evaders. We really have to educate our people that they must demand accountability from their officials."

Asked how an Arroyo resignation would help the country fight the scourge of poverty, Garchitorena replies that if President Arroyo really wants to fight poverty, she should step down.

"If government leaders are only after their own interests, the poor will become poorer it is important we have credible leaders.

"If you break the law, you have to be held accountable, even if your whole life you were a saint."

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