18sep06-Ugly pattern of gov’t taking back its word

POSTSCRIPT / September 6, 2018 / Thursday

Ugly pattern of gov’t taking back its word

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

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HOW CAN the administration engender trust when it shows an ugly pattern of taking back official government actions or commitments on high-profile issues just on the say-so of President Duterte?

To illustrate, note the pattern in the President’s withdrawing the amnesty granted in 2011 to Sen. Antonio Trillanes for his involvement in mutiny, and in Duterte’s (“my”) police taking the lives of some drug users who had already surrendered for rehabilitation.

In both instances, the urong-sulong behavior smacks of arbitrariness. In the Trillanes case, one reason for Duterte’s issuing Proclamation 572 nullifying the amnesty granted is that the senator allegedly did not comply with the requirements of applying for it and admitting his guilt.

In the case of some drug users, it seems they unwittingly incriminated themselves when they listed up for rehabilitation and exposed themselves to possible extrajudicial police action such as being gunned down for allegedly fighting back (“nanlaban”).

Such inconstancy could put in doubt government’s commitments in “peace talks” with rebel and separatist groups, who stand the risk of later being told that the state panel never promised certain inducements to the dissidents.

While Duterte was in Israel, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced the issuance of presidential Proclamation No. 572 nullifying the amnesty and ordering Trillanes arrested, because, he said, there was no record that he applied for amnesty and admitted his wrongdoing.

It is interesting that news media and other parties have published the “missing” documents. If the records are not in government files, the custodian should do the explaining and Trillanes not made to suffer for such negligence – except if the idea all along is to harass him.

Trillanes, who led the 2003 Oakwood mutiny and the 2007 Manila Peninsula siege, complained that he was marked for reprisal because he has been criticizing Duterte and Solicitor General Jose Calida, the latter for his questioned business contracts with the government.

One unintended effect of harassing Trillanes is that the President might draw sympathy to the minority senator, in the same manner that his hounding of Sen. Leila de Lima is helping project her as a human rights icon before the world.

There is no opposition figure yet with gravitas who can rise above the critical crowd and lead the charge to recapture Malacañang. Duterte’s persecuting certain political foes boosts their image as opposition leaders.

Then President Noynoy Aquino issued Proclamation No. 50 in October 2010 granting amnesty to Trillanes and other mutineers. He also signed in November that year, for the same purpose, Proclamation 75 concurred in by both chambers of the Congress.

Aquino said Trillanes, who applied for amnesty in January 2011, was on the list of officers and soldiers granted amnesty after negotiations. He added that Trillanes, then a navy lieutenant junior grade, had complied with all requirements.

As a result of Aquino’s grant of amnesty, cases filed in court against Trillanes et al. were dismissed. If the proclamation was not validly issued, Aquino asked, why would the court drop the cases?

The concurrence by the Congress has given rise to arguments that Duterte, without the approval by the legislature, cannot unilaterally withdraw an amnesty proclamation validly issued by his predecessor.

• Not so trivial trivia on the trips

THE READER may be amused by, or misinterpret, media’s ferreting out details of presidential foreign trips. Nevertheless, let me share some of the items that I checked on Duterte’s official visits to Israel and Jordan.

Some Israeli news media, presumably picking up information coming out of Manila, have reported that the jetliner bearing President Duterte was bulging with 400 warm bodies. That simply cannot be true.

I checked early this week with Philippine Airlines President Jimmy Bautista. Without saying how many were in the manifest, he said that the chartered jet is the airline’s newest Airbus 350-900, with a seating capacity of 295, broken down into 30 business class, 24 premium economy, and 241 economy seats.

Now us talking: With only 295 seats, how can 400 passengers fit in – unless some of the lovely ladies sit on the laps of lucky male passengers during the 10-hour-plus flight. That blows away the false report (not fake news) that there were 400 or so hangers-on aboard.

Without giving the exact number, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said there were only 46 in the official delegation and “at least” 150 others in the businessmen’s contingent who travelled “on their own account.”

Whether there are 30 or 300 on the plane, the cost to the government (to taxpayers) is the same. It makes sense, to me, to fill all seats available without displacing the pilots and the cabin crew.

Bautista said he was not at liberty to disclose how much the charter cost, but added that it was close to operational costs as the airline, per policy, does not make a profit off the government. Other industry sources said, however, that an Airbus 350-900 costs about $20,000 per hour to operate, the bulk of which goes to fuel.

Secretary Martin Andanar has not responded to our text if the visits to Israel and Jordan were state visits or official visits, although press releases from his office refer to them as “official” visits. What’s the difference?

There’s a lot, but my main interest is that in a state visit (a notch higher than an official visit), the host country usually shoulders the local expenses (room and board, inland travel, etc.) of the official delegation only — not the whole caboodle.

A state visit is usually highlighted by a more pompous welcome, a state diner, sometimes a chance to deliver before the legislature not a rambling recitation, but a stately address as that one by then President Cory Aquino that elicited a standing ovation and prolonged applause in the US Congress.

 

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 6, 2018. Follow the author on Twitter as @FDPascual.

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