From pp. 175-184:
The Garci Tapes and Hyatt 10 Resignation
Indications of payback continued to mount, and the issues surrounding the presidency would only take a turn for the worse. In June 2005, tapes of the conversations between President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former COMELEC Commissioner Virgilio Garciliano surfaced, causing widespread public fury and outrage. It was the worst crisis ever faced by the Arroyo administration, which inevitably drove Juliano-Soliman and nine (9) other Cabinet members to the edge and eventually, out the door.
Initially, the revelation by Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye on June 6, 2005 of the two tapes that would implicate the president did not seriously bother Juliano-Soliman. “I was in the States on vacation when the tapes came out. I was really surprised when I learned about it. But I dismissed the issue because I knew such a thing was impossible and that it was just part of the dirty workings of the opposition.”
But her friends and colleagues from civil society were furious. “They were telling me ‘Dinky, your president manipulated the elections.’ I still did not believe them, until I heard the tapes and read the transcripts.”
Songco says that this perception of the president was brought up in a meeting with civil society leaders. “I had a meeting with civil society leaders after June 12, and in the that meeting we decided, this is the permanent line in the sand. It cannot be moved the way the line was moved for the Ople and VFA issues. Actually, I pushed that decision because I believed that Macapagal-Arroyo cheated in the elections.” In the same meeting, civil society leaders planned their next steps. “It was no longer a question of the reforms that we will ask for. It is already a question of whether we still believe in the president’s integrity and her legitimacy. Because if we would still push for reforms, although we believe that she is no longer legitimate, then that is just selfish. That is selling out.” Songco added that it was critical at the time to confront the fundamentals first. “I urged everyone to ask the question, ‘Do we still believe in her?’ Because if the answer is no, then that should dictate everything else. So our decision was based on that, which I volunteered to relay to Dinky.”
When Songco told Juliano-Soliman about the results of the meeting, she was in complete denial. This surprised Songco. “Dinky told me, ‘Hindi naman talaga kayo sigurado na siya yun eh (you are not really sure that it was her).’ That was still her position at the time. So I told her ‘Dinky, I want you to know that your allies in civil society are taking a different view, and that we no longer support your president.'” Songco thinks that in a way, this compelled Juliano-Soliman to re-evaluate her point of view on the issue, on which she was still dilly-dallying on within the the very short period of time leading to the Hyatt 10 resignation.
In fact, what Juliano-Soliman heard in the tapes made her suspicious. “I had the sinking feeling that it was the president’s voice. She calls me all the time so I should know. And I thought it was really her.” She expected a Cabinet meeting discussing the tapes right after the Independence Day celebration that year, but no such meeting took place. “When we went back to Malacañang, I found out that there had been no discussion with her, and that there was to be no discussion with her about the tapes. It was not discussed in the Cabinet, but was discussed with Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita. He was instructed to give the same explanation as Bunye gave. For me, not discussing the issue with the rest of the Cabinet was unacceptable.”
When Juliano-Soliman became convinced that it was the president in the tapes, she was immediately confronted with two questions that she needed President Arroyo to address. “First, I wanted to know what the tapes were about. Why did she do it? And second, I needed to know what we should do.” However, the president did not want to talk to the Cabinet members, including Juliano-Soliman, about the situation at the time.
Nevertheless, the Cabinet pursued their own discussions to resolve the issue. “Every week, the Cabinet would meet as a whole. There was also a crisis committee which met regularly composed of Ermita, (former Secretary of Defense) Avelino Cruz, (Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary) Angelo Reyes, (Presidential Political Adviser) Gabriel Claudio, (Vice President) Noli de Castro, (Communications Director) Silvestre Afable and myself. It was Ermita who was chairing the meetings, but it was actually Cruz who was facilitating the whole process. In these meetings, we were discussing two things.: that the president should explain the tape and that we should do credible action to regain public trust. But I was not part of all the meetings. There was a smaller group that met because there were also private sector people who wanted to help.”
To restore the positive image of the president, the entire Cabinet agreed that the first order of the day was Mike Arroyo’s exodus from Philippine politics. This was the first recommendation presented to the president by de Castro, Ermita, Claudio, (Department of Finance Secretary) Cesar Purisima, (Department of Trade and Industry Secretary) Juan Santos, (Presidential Adviser on New Government Centers) Rodolfo del Rosario and Juliano-Soliman. “The decision of the Cabinet to let Mike Arroyo go was unanimous. We felt that to gain back credibility, the first thing to do is to ask the First Gentleman to leave. And we told the president that everybody thinks that the malaise in the administration has to do with him. If he hibernates, that will lessen the public distrust.” The president said that she would discuss the matter with the First Gentleman, but already expressed her support to the recommendation.
The second recommendation of the group was to ensure that the people associated with the First Gentleman, who were appointed in revenue generating institutions in government, would also leave. Three prominent names emerged in the discussions: Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation Chairman Ephraim Genuino, Manila International Airport Authority General Manager Alfonso Cusi and Former Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante. Since the president had not been attending the Cabinet meetings since June 27, 2005, seven officials were assigned to deliver the message to President Arroyo. They were de Castro, Ermita, Claudio, Purisima, Santos, del Rosario and Juliano-Soliman.
When the president asked who these people were that they wanted leave, the group mentioned the name of Genuino. “The president responded by saying, ‘Ah you know, he’s the one who takes care of the media and bishops for me. You think he’s Mike’s person, but he’s been with me for a long time. I need these people. Of course you know you’re all important but these people have been with me and they get things done.’ I felt my jaw drop after she said that. It’s like she was telling us that Mike can go but these people cannot go because they help her in her survival.”
After the meeting, Juliano-Soliman approached Ermita and Cruz to tell them that the crisis was not going to go away, and that the president should do more to resolve it. “I told them that we need to convince her to explain to the people because nagmumukha na tayong tanga dito (we are already looking like idiots here) and that it was becoming more and more difficult to explain the situation to our constituencies. We were also losing the middle forces like the church, which had already articulated its disappointment.”
The Cabinet then started convening to strategize on how to convince the president that a public statement was necessary. Three (3) draft statements for the president’s speech explaining the tapes were prepared by the Cabinet. With legal advice from the four lawyers within the Cabinet, it was agreed that the speech would not indicate any admission that the voices in the tapes was the president’s. On the other hand, one Cabinet secretary suggested that the president should tell the truth and say she was willing to accept the consequences of her mistake. “If she admits her fault, then there is sincerity and genuine remorse for what she has done. Eventually, people will understand and forgive her. That was our premise, that’s why we prepared several drafts.”
Juliano-Soliman, who, according to her fellow Cabinet members had a ‘calming’ effect on the president, was elected decoy in the meeting where President Arroyo would be asked to make a statement. Right after Juliano-Soliman made their case, the president blew her top. “She was shouting at us. She said, ‘Dinky, hindi mo ba alam na magkakaroon tayo ng destabilization? Kaya tayo nagkakaganito. Wag kayong papayag na magsalita ako, kasi may destabilization. (Didn’t you know that there will be a destabilization? That’s why we are in this situation. Do not allow anything that will force me to make a statement because there will be a destabilization.)’ Then she added ‘(National Capital Region Police Director Vidal) Quirol, (Philippine National Police Chief, General Arturo) Lomibao, they were supposed to come out with that, why didn’t you notice?’ Then somebody in the group said, ‘Ma’am we did not know that there will be a destabilization.’ So the President said ‘No, no, no I thought you knew this, don’t you know that all of these are supposed to be planned?’ Then someone said, ‘But ma’am that’s part of the problem, we don’t know these things. What we are getting are the sentiments of the people.’ Then the president said, ‘There is someone who’s doing this. The ground commander for this is (Department of the Interior and Local Governments Secretary) Ronnie Puno.’ So when she said that, nobody spoke for almost two seconds. Then it occurred to me that there was a ground commander who was doing all of these actions to mitigate the crisis; that there was really no point for us to discuss any longer because someone else was in charge.”
Then Juliano-Soliman got wind of the news that Archbishop Rosales’s position was that the president should resign, while Bishop Soc Villegas had expressed the need for her to explain to the people. “So I told the president that she should really make an explanation because we were losing even the bishops’ support.”
Juliano-Soliman shared this information with Ermita and Cruz. Their take on it was that the president was just anxious because those tapes could be spliced, but for Juliano-Soliman, whatever it was that was causing her anxiety, the president should still explain the truth. When she re-convened with the rest of the Cabinet, it became clear to Juliano-Soliman that they were now the ones who were visibly agitated. “Most of us were asking why Puno was intervening. We thought that his dealings were not part of our operation. Second, there was no conscious effort from the president to explain the tapes. We expressed this to Nonong (Cruz), that it would be very difficult for us to stay if this situation would go on.”
Another meeting was held at the president’s residence in Forbes, and this time everyone, not just Juliano-Soliman, was talking. “The basic message was that there had to be an explanation to all these and that the people should know. We said that it was very hard to convince people that there is nothing wrong and that we need to do credible action for reforms as suggested by the coconut levy and all the other actions that were already communicated to the public before the crisis erupted.” the coconut levy issue is an example of a credible action on the reforms because there was already a court decision that the coconut levy is a public fund. “By citing this issue, we will be able to persuade the people that the Arroyo administration can implement a positive resolution and make them see that we mean reforms. So Mike Arroyo’s departure, his people’s departure and actions of reform such as the coconut levy would be packaged to communicate to the public and demonstrate that whatever the explanation was for the tapes, we would continue to govern.”
The effort to convince the president to speak up continued. “Our third meeting at Cambridge (Circle in Forbes Park, referring to the President’s residence) was specifically organized by Cruz because he knew the majority of those in that meeting, if not all of us, were not willing to stay if that tape was not explained. So in that meeting, we were directly telling the president what our constituencies were telling us, and what we thought she should do. We told her that the people will not buy the alibi that she did not know she was being taped, because she is the president of the land. We also told her that even if she did not know that she was being taped, people would ask why she is not doing anything to find out who did it to her. But in the end, she still insisted on not talking because according to her, that was the advice of her legal advisers.” After that meeting, the Cabinet members proceeded to Cruz’s residence to go over the issue many more times. The agreement, which they only reached after the meeting ended at 3:00 a.m., was that Cruz would help ensure that their recommendations will be implemented.
One of the president’s closest aides advised Juliano-Soliman that the president requested a meeting with then Archbishop (now Cardinal) Rosales. Cardinal Rosales invited former President Cory Aquino to accompany him qhile President Arroyo invited Drilon. The meeting took place on Sunday, June 26, 2005. “In the meeting, Cardinal Rosales told the president that the truth should come out and that she should confess. President Aquino urged her to do the same. I think that meeting was the meeting that pushed her to speak because in the morning of the following day, we were advised by the Cabinet secretary that there will be a cabinet meeting in the evening and that the president will be making an announcement.”
Everyone was hoping that the announcement was the public apology they were waiting for. It was, according to Cruz and Ermita. When Juliano-Soliman and other arrived in Malacañang, they asked what the message was, which they believed was in the speech drafted by Cruz and Santos. It turns out that the speech that would be read by the president was prepared by a public relations and a legal group.
Juliano-Soliman felt that making that public statement took a lot from the president, and that they should affirm her for agreeing to do it. But when she heard the speech, she was surprised that it left out certain commitments that they had agreed on in the meetings. “The speech lacked an important point to assure the public that she was willing to face the consequences and an explanation of what the tapes were really about. But at that moment, I already had a bouquet of roses for her. At first, I thought that we should sing, but the other Cabinet members did not want to do it. So we dropped the idea even though we had already prepared a song, which was ‘If We Hold On Together’. When the president entered the guest house after the speech, (Vice President) Noli (de Castro) handed her the flowers and congratulated her. She stayed for a while then we ushered her to the corridor. That’s when (Government Media Secretary) Cerge Remonde told everyone to sing. I was making ‘no’ signals at him, but he insisted we would sing it. So we started singing, and that sincere gesture, unfortunately, is now marked in history as my infamous ‘IF We Hold On Together’ act.”
It was also in that corridor where Juliano-Soliman overheard Claudio telling the President that (Atty. Oliver) Lozano had already filed an impeachment complaint. “I heard the President instructing Gabby Claudio to talk to Congressman Marcoleta to endorse the impeachment complaint.”
In the days that followed, Juliano-Soliman was waiting for the President to respond to the issues being raised by their constituents, civil society groups and some members of the church. “We assured these people that the president will speak about her commitment to the reforms that we agreed upon. We followed up with Cruz and Ermita, and they also assured us that the president will address these matters.” But after the president made the statement on June 29, 2005 that Mike Arroyo will be leaving the country, she made no other public statements that pertained to the reforms.
On July 5, 2005, there was a Cabinet meeting, the first part of which was not attended by the president. “Ermita presided over the meeting. The first item in the agenda was a communications plan that was presented by Mai Jimenez. The objective of this communication plan was to bring back the trustworthiness of the president through the Cabinet members, who will be asked to say something everyday on television, radio and in the newspapers on why the president is trustworthy. And she was delivering her presentation to the three people who were supposed to be in charge of communications: Bunye, Remonde, and Afable. And Cerge (Remonde) was giving me an ‘I-do-not-know-what-she-is-talking-about’ look. So our first reaction was, why is the president dealing with Jimenez? And why are we focusing on communication?”
Juliano-Soliman adds, “When Jimenez finished her presentation, the President came in and it was obvious there was resistance in the group. She felt the resistance so she pulled Jimenez aside and told her that perhaps the communications plan can be better executed if she worked with me and Ging first and not involve the entire cabinet.”
Then the President delivered her presentation. “She started by saying ‘From now on, the framework for governance is national security. We should bring out the fear factor. Let’s invite (Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward) Hagedorn and (Davao City Mayor Rodrigo) Duterte to come in and show that we can take care of the situation.’ Then Rene Villa said, ‘Ma’am, Duterte called for secession because according to him, there’s chaos in Manila. That’s unconstitutional so perhaps we may not want to be associated with him.’ Then the president said ‘No no no, I just want him and his fear factor, his muscle factor. I don’t think he was really serious about the cessation.'”
“She also said, ‘We will increase the budget of DSWD so the poor will be with us.’ Then (TESDA Secretary) Syjuco said ‘Yes, because if they are buying the PhilHealth cards at Php 200.00, we will get their loyalty.’ And there I said, ‘But delivering these services is the responsibility of government and it is the right of the people to avail of these services,’ but I was rebuffed by one of the Cabinet members who said ‘Not anymore. What we need to focus on now is survival.'”
That was the tipping point for Juliano-Soliman. “That’s the point when I told myself that I can no longer stay. There was already a plan to use DSWD, and I will be given money to buy the loyalty of the poor. And I already did that during the elections. I did not want to do it again, especially because at that point, I already had a feeling that the Garci tapes were true and that there was a manipulation of the elections which we were not aware of.”
Other Cabinet members held similar views. So on July 8, 2005, (Department of Education Secretary) Florencio Abad, (Department of Trade and Industry Secretary) Juan Santos, (Department of Finance Secretary) Cesar Purisima, (Department of Budget and Management Secretary) Emilia Boncodin, (National Anti-Poverty Commission Secretary General) Imelda Nicolas, (Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) Ging Quintos-Deles, (Department of Agrarian Reform Secretary) Rene Villa, (Bureau of Customs Commissioner) Alberto Lina, (Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner) Guillermo Parayno and Juliano-Soliman, all members of the Arroyo Cabinet, resigned from office.