POSTSCRIPT / April 2, 1998 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Fish caught when they open their big mouths

“WHAT are we in power for?” then Senate President Jose Avelino was quoted in the newspapers as having said when a tight circle of party leaders and he were defending a controversial deal. (The term “scam” was not yet in use in the Manila press of the 50s). The quote was followed by the rapid downfall of this powerful politician.

“Millionaires don’t steal!” then Sen. Pacita Madrigal Warns was also reported to have said during the investigation of a multi-million-peso scandal at the Social Welfare department that she had headed during the Magsaysay administration. A fellow senator, Claro M. Recto, quipped that perhaps the lady should have inserted a comma after “Millionaires.” She never recovered from that.

Indeed, even the elusive big fish are caught when they open their big mouths. Sometimes.

* * *

FAST forward to Malacañang 1998.

President Ramos to Public Estates Administration chairman Wainwright Rivera: “Iyong Three Islands (contract) ibigay mo sa Amari.” (Give the contract to Amari Coastal Bay Resources Corp.)

A startled Rivera reminded the President there was a better offer (P1,600/sqm of Hyosan, a Korean firm, versus the P1,000/sqm of Amari).

Ramos: “Gawa’n mo ng paraan.” (Find a way.)

That dialogue as overheard by former PEA director Arturo Trinidad, who claimed to have been beside the president and the PEA chairman at the time, is of course being denied by Mr. Ramos.

Almost P3 billion (when the peso was still P26 to the US dollar) was reportedly doled out as bribes/commissions to Malacañang, Lakas leaders and some influence peddlers.

Now a defensive and irritable Mr. Ramos, who is not even a candidate, is being attacked by the opposition while his anointed one, Speaker Jose de Venecia, is quietly enjoying a roll in the popularity polls.

Did Mr. Ramos, who is conceded to have done well before the financial crunch bit the tip of his proud cigar, open his mouth rather carelessly in the Amari scam?

* * *

NOW comes Ma’am talking excitedly without a lawyer by her elbow to counsel caution. Raising what she said was the last will and testament of her late husband, former first lady Imelda R. Marcos, told a press conference:

“There is more Marcos wealth that this government is not yet aware of, but for the time being, I can admit that there is only $800 million in various international banks, but I cannot reveal them.”

She said the deceased president intended the Marcos wealth for the Filipino people, adding that she would give the hidden riches to poor Filipinos if they would elect her president.

Rather jolting. All the while Mrs. Marcos has been protesting she is now poor. She could not even pay on time the electric bill for the refrigeration the Marcos cadaver. Her official statement of assets and liabilities filed in 1997 as congressman showed her net worth to be negative P29.6 million – with assets placed at P70.4 million and liabilities running to P100 million.

Then my barber asks if offering $800 million to the people in exchange for their electing her president is bribery, a crime even during the Marcos regime.

* * *

THE demolition squads have started to rain their bombs on Mayor Alfredo Lim, who had placed second in the latest popularity surveys of the Social Weather Stations. With frontrunner Vice President Joseph Estrada marking time at 28 percent for the past three months, second place is shared by Lim and Speaker Jose de Venecia at 14 percent.

The latest explosive was a brownish, brittle birth certificate exhumed from the national archives tending to show that Lim is not a natural-born citizen as required of presidential candidates.

The document says Lim’s parents were Chinese mestizos. Under the jus sanguinis doctrine, babies born in the Philippines take the nationality of their parents.

Lim has to produce documentary proof that his parents were Filipinos, not Chinese. If his parents or he later had to go through a legal process to gain citizenship, that would make him a naturalized citizen and, therefore, disqualified from the presidency.

By the way, that a candidate be a natural-born citizen is not required when running for positions below president and vice president. It is enough that one is a citizen, even if naturalized.

* * *

AS of today (April 1), nobody has formally filed a petition to disqualify Lim, but he and the electorate have been forewarned in effect that even if elected Lim may just be disqualified.

If a president-elect is disqualified, who becomes president?

It depends on the timing. As a rule, if the winning presidential candidate is disqualified before he is proclaimed, the runnerup (with the second highest number of votes for president) rises to become the president-elect and may become president. But if the president-elect is removed after he is proclaimed, then the elected vice president will become president. 

(There are fine distinctions between a Vice President’s merely “acting” as president and “becoming” president, but I will not go into them here.)

It could be that his rivals are not formally questioning Lim’s citizenship yet so as not to make a martyr out of him and win him sympathy votes. It is safe to presume, though, that they are ready to sue him later, in case he looks like a winner.

* * *

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