17jan15-Phl seas getting rather crowded

POSTSCRIPT / January 15, 2017 / Sunday
Phl seas getting rather crowded
By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

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WHEN Japan announced days ago it would join the next Philippines-United States military exercise, we took Malacañang’s silence not only as approval but also as a readiness to referee the jostling in the increasingly crowded territorial waters.

We assume that the Russian Navy also had accepted President Rodrigo Duterte’s invitation to come around whenever they felt like it. And with Duterte’s cozying up to Beijing, Chinese naval vessels could soon show up too, if they are not lurking around already.

Who from his pool of experts from Davao and San Beda would the President assign as a sort of naval traffic czar, whose task would be more challenging than the Mission Impossible given his EDSA traffic managers?

If China would only suspend in the spirit of neighborliness its activities in the militarized artificial islands it had built on nearby disputed maritime areas – and if the weather cooperated – Duterte’s naval traffic czar might be able to produce a year-round calendar of multilateral exercises with some R&R (Rest and Recreation) thrown in.

There could also be opportunities for PR (Public Relations) when typhoons slam some sections of the country. The foreign forces could then demonstrate how they care for Filipinos ravaged by nature’s fury and the callousness and corruption of their officials.

Properly managed, the “Heil, heil the gang’s all here!” get-together party could validate the wisdom of Duterte’s “independent” foreign policy, and may momentarily draw away attention from his bloody anti-narcotics trouble-shooting.

Tokyo’s participation in the next Phl-US “Balikatan” exercises was announced by the Japanese Foreign Press Secretary during the Davao visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It implied that the joint drills with US forces will continue despite Duterte’s announcement to the contrary.

Russian desire to join similar exercises with Philippine forces was declared by Rear Adm. Eduard Mikhailov, who led two Russian warships – the destroyer Admiral Tributs and the tanker Boris Butomato – in a recent five-day visit to Manila.

Hosting and managing large-scale military exercises of different powers, among them the US, China, Russia and Japan, will test the diplomatic and political skills of Duterte.

Joint military exercises need preparation, including the signing of bilateral agreements – a development that would impinge on existing Philippine security arrangements, including a 65-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty, with its long-time ally the US.

It is not in the text of the Phl-US agreements, but it must be in the minutes, that when the US negotiated and signed its basic defense agreements with the Philippines, it was with China in mind as the potential aggressor – according to senior Filipino diplomats who had sat in Phl-US talks.

Many issues hanging over the head of President Duterte may be resolved only after the Jan. 20 inauguration of Donald Trump as 45th US President. Largely a businessman, he still has to enunciate his foreign policy.

‘Presidential immunity a superstition’

IT IS high time the idea of presidential immunity from suit be revisited by the Supreme Court not only because it is unjust (placing one person above the law that he is sworn to honor and execute), but more so because it has no basis in the Constitution.

Its sole claim to legality is the 1973 Constitution of Ferdinand Marcos whose Section 15, Article VII (the “lucky number” of the Dictator), provides: “The President shall be immune from suit during his tenure. Thereafter, no suit whatsoever shall lie for official acts done by him or by others pursuant to his specific orders during his tenure. The immunities herein provided shall apply to the incumbent President referred to in Article XVII of this Constitution.”

Presidential immunity was not in the earlier 1935 Constitution. And the present 1987 Constitution purposely dropped, or excluded, it – with reason, because NO ONE, especially the President who is sworn to “preserve and defend its Constitution (and) execute its laws,” is above the law.

A few readers, mistaking our suggested review for a jab at President Duterte, insisted that immunity from suit is the only way a president can effectively enforce the law. Some others, however, had a more open mind. Sample:

Rene A.V. Saguisag told us in an email: “Immunity today from suit of the President is a local superstition. It might have been true when the Royal Marcos family was in power but not anymore.

“No one should be above the law in a democracy.

“Kennedy, Nixon and Clinton were sued. Their claim of immunity was shot down by the courts. JFK had to settle a suit filed by Mississippi State Senator Hugh Lee Bailey, for $17,500; Nixon paid Fitzgerald, $142,000, to buy peace; and Clinton settled Paula Flowers’ suit for $850,000.

“If Prez Digong were sued for rape, he could raise the defense of timely consent but not ‘I can’t be sued; I am Prez. I am busy.’ Sexual abuse is not in the job description of a President.

“If a busy US Prez, with national and international burdens, can find the time to attend to suit, why not a local Prez?

“Let’s all have a better year, Dik.”

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ERRATUM: In our Postscript last Thursday (01/12/2017), we said that Bangko Sentral Gov. Amando Tetangco Jr. is serving his third term. It is only his second term. The error was promptly corrected in our ManilaMail.com website where the revised paragraph now reads:

“Tetangco, 64, on his second term as BSP governor, was first appointed by President Gloria Arroyo in 2005 and reappointed in 2011 by President Noynoy Aquino. On Nov. 22, 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte was reported as considering him for an unprecedented third term.”

(First published in The Philippine STAR of January 15, 2017)

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