Arroyos and Abads family reunion

First published in the Philippine Online Chronicles

Despite being allowed to gain a fresh congressional term, former presidential son Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo is facing new disqualification charges at the Supreme Court and the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET).

On Wednesday, militant party-list group Bayan Muna filed a petition before the high court asking the reversal of the Commission on Elections’s (Comelec) decision which allows Arroyo to sit as representative of Ang Galing Pinoy (AGP) party-list.

The Comelec’s decision lets Arroyo join three other Arroyos at the House of Representatives: his mother, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; his brother Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado “Dato” Arroyo; and his uncle, Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo, an abs-cbnnews.com report said.

Former Akbayan party-list Rep. Risa Hontiveros meanwhile challenged Arroyo’s legitimacy to represent security guards and tricycle drivers in Congress at the HRET, saying he had failed to submit the documents to prove that he belonged to the marginalized sector, an Inquirer.net report said.

A tricycle driver from Caloocan City also filed a disqualification case before the HRET against Arroyo and asked the tribunal to delete AGP as one of the party-list organizations.

Abads on the rise

Just as the Arroyos reunite at the House, a new political family is on the rise, with the Abads now occupying four positions in President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino’s administration.

Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad Jr.’s daughter Julia, who served as Aquino’s chief of staff in the Senate, is the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) head. Meanwhile, his son Luis is the chief of staff of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima.

Abad’s wife, Dina, is set to become the vice chair of the appropiations committee of the House of Representatives. She was re-elected last May elections as representative of the lone district of Batanes.

The Abads are from Batanes, the country’s northenmost province which has less than one percent of the country’s total number of registered voters, but they now wield significant influence over the spending of the country’s entire budget, a report said.

A lawmaker who asked he not be named explained in an Inquirer.net report that the House appropriation committee, which Rep. Abad eyes, sets the General Appropriations Act or the country’s annual budget, while the budget secretary disburses the funds, including pork barrel funds. He added that the PMS head has control over the spending of the President’s Social Fund (or the President’s pork barrel), and the COS has the “ear of the finance secretary.”

Julia’s husband, Englishman Andrew Parker, works as Senior Economist at the World Bank.

Sec. Abad disputed allegations that they hold much power in government. “That’s your perception. I don’t think that is the case. Effectively you’re talking to clerks. They’re assistants to principals. That decision rests with the principal,” he said.

In defense of the Abads

Despite mounting allegations of nepotism, President Aquino stood by the Abads, saying their appointments “did not violate any laws.”

The President also cried foul over the slew of criticism he received for having four members of the Abad family in the government, adding that he was not given a honeymoon period.

“Just because I’m a bachelor, they thought I hadn’t experienced a honeymoon so they did not give me any…So I’ll just say ‘thank you’ to them,” he said.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that the Abads “are very competent” and that they had worked in various capacities with President Aquino. “All these concerns about too many Abads, you know, it’s all speculative,” he said.

But some are uncomfortable with the situation. Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares said Aquino should widen his choices instead of allegedly relying on names recommended by the “group of Roxas.”

The Confederation for the Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage) alsoobjected to the appointment of the Abads, saying that it “runs smack of delicadeza” as “they are just too many in government holding key positions.”

The group also urged Aquino to look beyond patronage. “If only he and his search committee will look beyond patronage and politics and look down below the hierarchy in the bureaucracy, they will find selfless, hardworking and eligible career service officers.”

Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Conrado de Quiros, who supported Aquino’s presidential bid, criticized the Abad appointments and called it a bad idea.

It’s about credentials, not ‘delicadeza’

“What is delicadeza?” Rep. Dina Abad asked reporters on the criticism her family is receiving over the appointments of her husband, daughter, and son to key positions. She said the issue is being blown out of proportion.

“We have always advocated for good governance so they [critics] can look at how they perform. In the end their performance would also speak for themselves,” Rep. Abad said.

Sec. Abad served as agrarian reform secretary during the first Aquino administration, and was appointed education secretary in 2004 by former president Arroyo. He served as general campaign manager of Aquino’sLiberal Party during the recent elections.

Rep. Abad is serving her second term as Batanes representative. Julia worked for the Ayala Foundation and the Asia Pacific Philanthropy Consortium, among other organizations. Meanwhile, Luis served as president of Ateneo Sanggunian and the Union of Catholic Student Councils.

All four Abads studied at the Ateneo de Manila University, according to an Inquirer.net profile check.

Chiz reacts to Abads

The Daily Tribune ran an editorial criticizing the Abads and their defense.

“Since the Abads give no importance to delicadeza, anomalies, irregularities and even blatant malversation of public funds by party mates, relatives of the big chief, and even Cabinet members’ scamming the Filipinos would not be seen as wrong or shameful — as the Aquino government does not bother about delicadeza,” the editorial said.

It also hit Aquino for defending the Abads even as he criticized Gloria Arroyo for having so many relatives in the previous administration.

Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero defended the President’s prerogative, but cautioned the new political family on the way they are handling the criticism against them.

“I think the Abads should confront the issue themselves and not simply lash out at their critics. Wittingly or unwittingly they are eroding the support base of President Aquino because of their arrogance in power with the way they are handling the issue. And they haven’t even been in office for more than a month,” he said in a report.

Aquino mum on Mikey

While President Aquino defended the Abad appointments, he chose not to issue any statement on the Comelec’s decision allowing Mikey to hold a party-list seat amid criticism thrown at both the former presidential son and the poll body.

Various groups slammed the Comelec ruling, saying the decision could spell the collapse of the party-list system, which was originally crafted through Republic Act. No. 7941 to give a voice to marginalized, a GMANews.tv report said.

“With the Comelec decision, the destruction of the party-list system is at hand… This will legalize the entry of multi-millionaires in the party-list system as no genuine [party-list] group can compete with these powerful groups in elections,” Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said in the same report.

The Arroyos own the 157-hectare Hacienda Bacan in Negros Occidental, among other lands and plantations in other regions.

In 2008, Arroyo’s total net worth jumped to P89 million from P83 million the previous year. In September last year, he was accused of excluding his P63.7 million beachfront property in the San Francisco Bay Area in California.

Bayan Muna had earlier sought Arroyo’s disqualification as AGP nominee, but the poll body junked the disqualification petition for “lack of merit.”

“The Aquino administration should now exert its own effort to block the return of Mikey Arroyo to the House of Representatives,” multi-sectoral alliance Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said in a statement. “There can be no ‘daang matuwid’ if Mikey makes a mockery of election laws, the partylist system and the House of Representatives.”

Like the Arroyos, Aquino also belongs to an influential political family. His mother Corazon Aquino was a former president while his father Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino was a senator under late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ administration.

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