Things are getting curiouser and curiouser.
First it was the battle of the press statements. Then it was the war of news conferences. Then they launched the battle of the rallies. Today, it was the war of the wiretapped conversations, the latest engagement in the battle of pirated CDs.
Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson, a diehard supporter of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, yesterday released to the media what he said was a wiretapped conversation in which former President Joseph Estrada appears to have approved a plan to assassinate Mrs. Arroyo and do away with former President Fidel Ramos.
Singson said two persons he did not know had given him copies of the CDs containing a wiretapped phone call supposedly made by Estrada in May 2004 to former armed forces chief Joselin Nazareno. He told reporters that this was part of the unreleased segments of the "mother of all tapes" in the possession of former National Bureau of Investigation deputy director Samuel Ong, the same tape from which the "Hello, Garci" conversations came.
Reporters lapped up the handful of CDs Singson brought along for distribution to the press. The CDs were stamped with labels: they were entitled "The X-Tapes" and even had a caricature of President Joseph Estrada, as well as a playlist of the six cuts in the CD, the last of which was the wiretapped Estrada conversation.
The first five cuts of the CD included a call in which Estrada inquired from Nazareno, who seemed to be the one being tapped, about the results of the 2004 count. Another call had an Estrada aide talking to a politician or political operative in Mindanao. Senator Panfilo Lacson said in an interview with DZMM that these calls appeared to have been recorded by the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines with the cooperation of Smart, the mobile-phone company. (The Smart spokesman subsequently denied they had cooperated with ISAFP.)
The last cut, where Estrada supposedly plots the president's assassination, sounds suspect, as the sound quality is noticeably clearer than those of the other cuts. Lacson insisted this was a manufactured conversation and so did Senator Jinggoy Estrada.
Over GMA Channel 7, the younger Estrada called Chavit's revelations a "diversionary tactic meant to shift public attention to Erap." Jinggoy said that in his father's long years of public service, had not heard of Erap plotting the murder of anyone. The same could not be said of the man who released the tape, Jinggoy said, referring to Singson.
In the alleged conversation, a voice, supposedly Nazareno's, told his caller, supposedly Estrada, that Lacson had approved a plan to remove "pandak" (midget) and replace her with a "tanda" (crone) through a transition government.
The first voice then said "tanda" would get sick, leading the way for Estrada's return to power. Tanda was apparently a reference to Ramos.
Beside Singson at the press conference was Ramon "RJ" Jacinto, former Lakas congressional candidate and owner of radio station DZRJ. In 2001,at the height of EDSA 2, Jacinto was also responsible for coming out with anti-Estrada CDs containing songs lampooning the former action star. He is also a staunch Arroyo supporter.
Early yesterday morning, text messages sent to journalists already announced that DZRJ would be playing wiretapped CDs implicating Estrada.
This latest release appears to be an attempt by the President's supporters to muddy the trail and confuse the public mind. It was apparently released in an attempt to draw public attention away from the "Hello, Garci" tapes and a recent revelation that the president had talked to Garcilliano about padded votes or dagdag.
Meanwhile, in Malacanang earlier today, a feisty Mrs. Arroyo lashed back at her critics and accused them of having no plan of action, merely a "blueprint for obfuscation."
"Even if people don't like me right now, neither will they follow a road to nowhere," she said in an uncharacteristically animated and forceful manner. In a meeting with some 500 Filipino-Americans gathered at Malacanang's Rizal Hall, the president also announced her endorsement of constitutional change and a restructuring of the Cabinet to allow her, she said, to focus on the business of reforms. She named erstwhile NEDA chief Romulo Neri head of the budget department and banker Peter Favila secretary of trade and industry. She did not, however, announce a timetable for charter change and made no commitment to calling elections earlier than the end of her term in 2010.
She sidestepped these issues, instead promising more doleouts, in an apparent bid to win more public support. These included cheap rice to be sold in National Food Authority rolling stores, subsidies to local governments that would allow them to extend Philhealth cards for another year, and a road construction program to give jobs to the unemployed.
The measures did not include the demands the Cabinet members who resigned last week had made of the president, among them, a revamp of government to rid it of those associated with First Gentleman Mike Arroyo. The president's speech was more like something she usually gave out while on the campaign stump. It was apparently intended to show she was in control and it was business as usual.