Saturday, April 26, 2008

Bill Clinton & Gloria Arroyo: Scandal Duo of the Class of '68

Published April 25, 2008

If it were not for other pressing matters, Bill Clinton and Gloria Arroyo would probably be looking forward to what could be a fun and important event: Their college reunion.

This year is the 40th anniversary of Georgetown University’s Class of 1968. The class homecoming at the oldest and most prestigious Catholic, and Jesuit, university in the United States kicks off late May. But the list of expected attendees does not mention either Clinton or Arroyo.

That’s too bad. They were stars of the class.

Clinton and Arroyo, who were classmates from 1964-66, share the distinction as two of only three Georgetown alums from the Class of ’68 to become a head of state. (The third is Alfredo Christiani, the former president of El Salvador.)

Then again, the two also have reasons for skipping the party. Not just because he’s campaigning for his wife’s presidential bid, and she’s busy trying to survive the latest scandal in her turbulent administration.

But they may decide not to show up because Bill and Gloria also have been at the center of some of the most jaw dropping political scandals in recent history. They were the Scandal Duo of the Class of ’68.

Clinton was the star of arguably the most bizarre sexual fiasco in the history of American politics. I’ll skip the sordid details. Just Google the following words: “White House intern,” “Monica Lewinsky,” “blue dress.”

Even more damaging in the eyes of many were his presidential pardons including the one he granted to Marc Rich, a fugitive who was accused of tax evasion, racketeering and trading with the enemy – whose wife reportedly made generous donations to Clinton’s presidential library and Hillary Clinton’s senate campaign.

And Gloria Arroyo? Why waste space here. Just Google “Hello Garci,” “Jocjoc Bolante,” “NBN,” “Mike Arroyo.”

You can just imagine the idle chit-chat at the Georgetown reunion parties about the two powerful, controversial, Class of ’68 alums.

“He did what with the cigar with the intern in the Oval Office?”

“Her voice got turned into a ring tone? And she was asking an election official about winning by how many votes?”

There might even be a class poll on who should have been voted “most likely to get mired in an embarrassing political scandal.” Or on who did a better job surviving a political scandal. Arroyo should have the edge on that one. He was acquitted during his impeachment trial; she’s actually outfoxed those who’d like to impeach her.

Arroyo spent only two years of college at Georgetown. She finished her undergraduate studies at Assumption College. But she’s clearly proud of having studied at Georgetown and has fond memories of her years at the Jesuit institution.

“In our time, [Georgetown] was one of the good schools, and it produced three presidents," she said at the university a few months after taking over as president. "Now it is one of the best schools, and you can imagine what is expected."

And she clearly has shared a special friendship with Bill Clinton. During his 1994 visit to the Philippines as US President, Arroyo, who was then senator, survived an accident after the helicopter she was in crash-landed in Manila. The incident didn’t prevent Arroyo from meeting her classmate.

"I'm glad you are all right," Clinton was quoted in news reports as telling Arroyo as they warmly shook hands during arrival honors for Clinton at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila. "We read about you in the papers."

Arroyo responded, "Of course I had to be well enough to get up and meet my former classmate."

It would be fascinating to drill down on the kind of political education they shared at Georgetown. For both Arroyo and Clinton built impressive political careers that, in the eyes of many, steadily fell apart once they attained power and eventually led to political disasters.

Bill Clinton was the kid from Hope, Arkansas who overcame a hard life and used what is undoubtedly a brilliant mind to become the first baby boomer president of the United States. There is even a famous photo of him as a young boy shaking hands with President John F. Kennedy during a tour of the White House. And he is known for putting an end to 12 years of conservative Republican rule, ushering in what was supposed to be a new era of progressive American politics.

Instead, Monica Lewinsky and the other scandals have ended up also defining his legacy. Even Hillary Clinton is paying the price for this. When Democratic US Senator Claire McCaskill, a one time Hillary supporter, announced that she was endorsing her rival, Barack Obama, she told a TV journalist that Bill Clinton may have been a great leader, “but I don’t want my daughter near him.”

Gloria Arroyo, daughter of a former president, was a respected academic and opposition fighter during the Marcos dictatorship. She was seen as the answer to the chaotic administration of actor-turned-politician Joseph Estrada. With her wooden image, few expected her to be a beacon of inspiration. But most Filipinos expected and hoped that with her academic training, political experience and pedigree, she would at least get the job done – and get it done with unquestionable integrity.

Instead, Arroyo will be remembered as the as the leader who presided over one of the most scandal-ridden administrations in the country’s history – and the only Philippine president to be caught on tape in what strongly appeared to be a blatant attempt at vote-rigging .

In any case, Clinton and Arroyo will likely not get a chance to swap political war stories at the Georgetown homecoming (unless they have quietly and secretly been making plans to attend). And their schedules over the coming months will probably be too hectic to permit any other kinds of reunion.

But that could also change.

If Hillary Clinton wins the American presidency and Arroyo survives this latest crisis in Manila, then maybe she and Mike Arroyo will get to attend the inauguration gala in January. Hell, with the Clintons back at the White House, she may have many more opportunities to hang out with her Georgetown buddy.

And as the two couples are enjoying their private moments together, Hillary might even ask Gloria Arroyo, “So what’s the most important thing to remember about being a woman president, Glo?”

“Oh, gee, Hillary, just keep on top of the issues, your cabinet and your allies,” Gloria would respond. “Oh, and make sure your husband behaves himself and not cause any trouble.”

Hillary would nod, but then quickly add, “Yeah, well, I learned that a long time ago, sister.”

If Hillary triumphs, Bill Clinton would also take on a new and unusual role as the United States of America’s very first “First Gentleman.” And so a get-together with Gloria and the Philippine FG would also be an opportunity for him to ask her husband for advice.

“So Mike, what’s it like to be First Gentleman?” Bill would ask. “Got any tips, buddy?”

“Oh, it’s lotsa fun, Bill,” Mike Arroyo would say. “Plenty of perks, not too many back-breaking responsibilities. Just remember to get out of the missus’s way, keep a low profile, stay out of trouble, be good and behave.”

Bill Clinton would give him a questioning look. Mike would shrug his shoulders. They would stare at each other for a second or two.

Then they would both burst out laughing.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Another Pinoy on Mount Everest

Published April 11, 2008

A Pinoy on Mount Everest is no longer big news nowadays. Not after the recent accomplishments of the young Filipino men and women who scaled the highest mountain in the world.

But my cousin, Eli Serina, did it by overcoming some pretty tough hurdles. For one thing, he has a heart condition for which he has to take aspirin regularly. A veteran medical doctor, he also was busy for about a month before the climb, helping poor people in Ilam, a small town about 400 miles east of Kathmandu in Nepal.

When he was done with his work and ready to scale Everest, he had to deal with another potential setback. A nationwide strike broke out in Nepal and he had to escape the village by maneuvering through roadblocks.

And then there was his age. Dr. Serina is 68 years old.

I haven’t seen much written about what he did. I myself found out about it through my niece, Elaine, who told me about this brave, if somewhat crazy, thing her dad was trying to do.

“It’s a great inspirational story about going beyond one's comfort zone to test the human limits for human love and compassion,” Elaine said in an e-mail shortly before Eli began his ascent on February 25. Like a typical daughter, she added, “I can't believe this is my father I'm talking about -- ack!!”

I didn’t hear from Elaine for weeks, and started to worry. Then I got another e-mail early this month: Eli made it and is back.

As expected, it was not exactly a walk in the park, especially not for an elderly man with a heart condition who didn’t have the logistical support and media attention that his younger Pinoy counterparts enjoyed when they took on Everest.

Eli is back in their home in Palos Verdes in southern California, resting. He is also trying to learn to walk again. That’s because he suffered a severe left leg contusion and sustained other injuries about a half hour before reaching the top of Kala Patthar, the highest point beyond the Everest Base Camp.

He was already at the 18,000-foot level where the temperature was 30 degrees below zero with wind chill, when the saddle of his horse came loose, causing Eli to fall. He would have continued sliding down the mountain had the rocks and bushes along the path not blocked his descent. He was also trapped under his horse and got out only when his guides lifted the horse,

He should have stopped there. But Eli pushed on, eventually reaching the summit. After having his picture taken with his guides and horse, he began his descent. Now, my cousin is not Superman and his injuries had already made him too weak to go all the way down. A helicopter was sent to pick him up after four hours of riding.

Eli is writing a book about his adventure so you can get learn more details when it comes out.

He’s family so I guess I’m biased. But I’ll bet you’ll agree with me when I say: Eli Serina is one tough, gutsy Pinoy.

Copyright 2008 by Benjamin Pimentel