Two days after finishing my bike-tour I find myself back in Manila. I took the plane early this afternoon and I am staying here in Baclaran. Tomorrow I fly to Bangkok with two other Redemptorists to attend a meeting.
One of the most frequently asked question is whether the President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, responded to my letter which I delivered to Malacanang during my bike-tour last April 28. This evening, I had a dinner-meeting with Mr. Ricardo Saludo and Fr. Frank Pidgeon at a Japanese Restaurant in the Mall of Asia. Mr. Saludo is the Cabinet Secretary of the President. He had been asked by the president to respond to my letter. He asked Fr. Pidgeon - an Australian Redemptorist who happens to be his friend - to set the meeting with me.
While eating, I listened to Mr. Saludo explain the president's side which is based on a document he had prepared entitled: "Briefing Materials on National Issues."
He focused on two main issues:
1. The NBN-ZTE controversy in which the president and her husband are involved as alleged by Jun Lozada and Joey de Venecia.
2. The Hello Garci controversy in which she had been accused of cheating in the elections.
According to Mr. Saludo the charges of overpricing and bribery in the NBN-ZTE are unproven. Jun Lozada was not abducted but protected. He insisted that the rule of law and due process of should be observed in the investigation of the NBN-ZTE controversy.
Regarding the Hello Garci controversy, there is no evidence that the president ordered Garcillano. The only evidence are the tapes which are illegal and inadmissible in any court of law. No case has even been filed against Garcillano.
In brief, the accusation of corruption and cheating in the election are unproven. There is no hard evidence that would link the president to these scandals or controversies. Therefore, the perception that the president is corrupt and power-hungry is without any basis.
Since he did not discuss the appeals I made in my letter regarding the resumption of the peace negotiations, investigation of extra-judicial killings, and the protection of the environment (total log-ban and repealing the mining act), I asked him what the Arroyo administration is doing about this. He answered that the NDF has set some preconditions which give the impression that it is nor really interested in the peace process. He also said that most of those in the list of the so-called victims of extra-judicial killings are fictitious. Regarding the environment he said that the government would like to promote "responsible mining."
After over two hours, Mr. Saludo brought us back to Baclaran. I was grateful that a cabinet secretary of the president went out of his way to meet me and explain the president's side. Mr. Saludo is a decent man. Of course, it was expected that he would defend the president especially against the accusations against her. Yet, I was not fully satisfied with his explanations.
Although, it is true that there are no hard evidence that would link her to corruption and rigging the election, what cannot be denied is that under her administration, the culture of violence, death and corruption persist. Her government has pursued an all-out war policy against the NDF/NPA which it hopes to defeat in two years. The extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances continue. The destruction of the environment by logging and mining continue. Corruption continues to affect all levels of society.
Mr. Saludo is right when he says that it is not enough to just denounce the government for perceived evils. We must present hard evidence rather than just dwell on generalities. At the same time, we must learn to engage in dialogue to search for ways to address the problems and concerns that affect our nation. This is a role that the Church must seriously pursue.