The Philippine Government has been spinning faster than a whirling dervish the last few days in its efforts to paint a happy face on former Abu Sayyaf hostage Gracia Burnham’s testimony. What’s more disturbing are the flat out lies. To say it is a sordid tale would be a vast understatement.
But that has been normal in President Arroyo’s first three years, no reason to believe it would change now that she has a new six year “mandate.” A mandate that was called into question before voting started on May 10th. And continues after with charges she used government money to buy influence and effect the outcome. And it’s one of many that have been filed. Defeated presidential opponent Fernando Poe Jr. has also filed an official protest to the Supreme Court charging election fraud and demanding recounts of ballots.
Friday all was peaches & cream after former hostage Gracia Burnham testified Thursday in a closed door hearing, and identified 6 of the 8 Abu Sayyaf members on trial. The president went out of her way to thank Gracia for her service.
“Her testimony upholds the integrity and uncommon valor of our Armed Forces and I thank her for her concern for our people’s peace and security,” the President said.
“I admire Gracia Burnham’s courage and faith and her determination to bring terrorists to justice,” Mrs. Arroyo said.
Burnham, who arrived under heavy security, (including US FBI agents) Monday, was invited to testify under a mutual legal-assistance treaty between Washington and Manila. She was escorted to the US Embassy in Manila where she stayed during her appearance before the Court. Members of the media were barred from getting close to Burnham and covering the trial, which was held at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City. In fact during her entire stay in the Philippines she has made no public statements to the press. And there is considerable controversy over what she was allowed to testify to.
Lt. Gen. Romeo Dominguez, commander of the Northern Luzon Command who was rumored to have harbored ties with the Abu Sayyaf, welcomed Ms. Burnham’s testimony absolving the Armed Forces of collusion with the Abu Sayyaf. There were allegations that officers took a cut of the ransom money supposedly paid to the Abu Sayyaf for the release of at least two hostages. Dominguez was the commander of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division which led rescue operations for the Dos Palmas hostages.
“What Mrs. Burnham testified was in her book … Just the same, my thanks to Mrs. Burnham,” said Dominguez, referring to “In the Presence of My Enemy” which detailed Ms. Burnham’s more than a year in captivity.
State Prosecutor Nestor Lazaro, however, said Burnham denied the alleged collusion between the military and the Abu Sayyaf during her testimony and Presidential deputy spokesman Ricardo Saludo said he would rather not comment on the matter since it is still pending in court.
So, in summation, we have one Lt. General who was earlier accused of, and “cleared” of collaboration with Abu Sayyaf by selling arms to the group and skimming the ransom paid. And one State Prosecutor, both saying the Burnham testimony has cleared the government, and one Presidential Spokesman who declined comment. No defense attorneys, and no one in the media has made the same claim. Odd isn’t it. No… it’s called normal in the Philippines.
By Saturday the governments story started to unravel.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel on Saturday accused Malaca�ang of deceiving the public for claiming that former American hostage Gracia Burnham had cleared the military from allegations of colluding with the Abu Sayyaf.
Pimentel said Burnham, who testified in the Pasig Regional Trial Court for three hours Thursday, never had the chance to clarify the alleged collusion between certain military officials and the bandit group.
He said this was because government prosecutors objected to attempts by defense counsels to bring up the matter during her cross-examination.
Sunday’s Philippine Daily Inquirer (print edition) contains a view into the courtroom that the Palace tried very hard to keep undercover. The Inquirer reported a video tape of Burnhams testimony surfaced on Friday. The footage showed Burnham on the witness stand. In the background, a defense lawyer could be heard asking her if there had been collusion between military and the Abu Sayyaf group.
Immediately, the government prosecutors objected, saying the issue was irrelevant to the case. Judge Pahimna was heard instructing her staff not to record Burnham’s answer.
The defense continued to press the judge, but were over-ruled by Pahimma who said the defense lawyers could ask Burnham later. All the while, Burnham was seen on the video seated and not uttering a word.
No definition of “later” was given and it would be safe to assume “later” means never, Burnham returned to the States on Friday evening. In Monday’s edition of the Sun-Star the government is still sticking to their story. Arroyo aide Ignacio Bunye said it would be up to the court to decide if there is still a need to make public the testimonies of Burnham
“We go by the declaration of Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors that she did not make any statements about the alleged collusion. I’m not sure what purpose it (making public the testimonies) will serve but maybe Ms. Burnham did not intentionally mention it because she already wants to move forward,” he said.
Yet the video of the portion of the court proceedings aired on ABS CBN’s TV Patrol Friday [and Sunday that I personally viewed] showed Burnham sitting in silence as defense and prosecution lawyers argued over whether to let her testify on the allegations of collusion.
Lt. Gen. Romeo Dominguez is quoted in Mondays Philippine Star laying the blame on the mass media and that some politicians “blurred the line between fact and fiction” when they insisted that military officials colluded with Islamists in extorting money from hostages. “The monster was a creation of mediamen who failed to validate their source of information,” he said.
I tend to agree with the General, there are “monsters” about but it’s becoming plain were they reside and they are not in the homes of the media. Here is the timeline of events surrounding the Jolo hostage drama. Pay particular attention to the dates June 9th, August 5th, and August 7th were the government “confirms” over $5 million in ransom was paid. On September 9th the Philippine armed forces commander at the time Angelo Reyes [himself possessing a “colorful” past] also confirmed the ransom payments.
Question; who would be the least likely person to dispute the governments current position? A reasonable person would think a lawyer for the Abu Sayyaf would be a fair choice. But that is far from the reality:
GRACIA Burnham, in her court testimony, never cleared the Armed Forces of the Philippines of allegations that some of its officers had connived with the Abu Sayyaf, according to a defense lawyer.
“I was there when Gracia Burnham testified. She did not say anything about clearing the military of collusion with the Abu Sayyaf,” Oliver Lozano, a lawyer for the Abu Sayyaf, said in an interview on ANC television yesterday.
“She did not say that there was no collusion between the military and the Abu Sayyaf,” Lozano added.
Talking to the Inquirer, Lozano said that Burnham uttered not a single word in court when the issue came up.
“All throughout, she was silent when the issue of collusion was discussed,” he said.
It has been quite some time since I doffed my Soothsayers Hat, way back in March in fact. I think it’s time.
Arroyo has been riding a very rough wave the last year or so. The recent elections cycle hasn’t helped settle that wave. And the Angelo dela Cruz fiasco only added to her problems and created a diplomatic firestorm. She heads a government that freely allows tax payments to be paid to communist rebels (NPA) for the right of candidates to campaign in there “controlled”areas and has opened a terrorist EBay by dealing with Iraqi terrorists. Journalists and broadcasters are a frequent targets for assassination, three this year alone. The country is short of qualified doctors and nurses, yet just today Saudi Arabia announced its need for 2,000 nurses and other medical personnel from the Philippines for employment. The same is true for the teaching profession, the US and Canada raid the Philippines of its best teachers every year.
The government is near financial collapse due to extensive debt and one of her proposals is to hike petroleum excise taxes, (how insane is that), a move opposed by most due to the already high prices world-wide. Arroyos complete capitulation to the Catholic Church over birth control issues has led to the highest population growth rate in Asia and makes her target of 10 million jobs being created during her second term a hullucination.
So the Soothsayer says “Ate Glo” will be gone, and reasonably shortly, within two years. Either thru a successful coup attempt, assassination, or successful legal means, she will never finish her six year term.
Remember you heard it here first. The Soothesayer speaks!
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