POSTSCRIPT / August 20, 1998 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Door opened for Ver; trial, pardon to follow?

HOW sweet it is to do nothing and to rest afterwards.

This is a Spanish old proverb that could well be the new motto of Congress. The legislature will recess soon for a 24-day vacation (Sept. 4-27) after doing practically nothing for 39 days (July 27-Sept. 3).

The congressmen must have gotten tired watching Makati Rep. Joker Arroyo deliver exposé after exposé on the alleged abuse of Speaker Manuel Villar of his position in the House to promote his now foundering banking and real estate business.

All told, Congress will legislate for only 211 days and spend the remaining 154 days of the year on paid vacation or official travel. In contrast, plain government employees earn only 15 days of paid leave after slaving for a year.

Congressmen and senators get a basic monthly salary of P35,000 (about $900!). Now, why would somebody running for Congress spend P10-P50 million to get a low-paying job?

Silly question! Even my barber knows the multi-million reasons why.

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IF you ask me, I’d say let’s go back to the old setup where Congress meets only for a 100-day non-stop session. Let them finish their work in 100 (or even 200) days – and pay them the salaries and allowances of top executives of top corporations.

But they have to finish the job, and do it well, in the time allotted. The rest of the year, they will not work – and will not get paid for work not done.

Also, they will focus and do only the task for which they were elected, which is to enact laws. They must not poke their sticky fingers into purely executive functions such awarding contracts, enforcing the law, building roads, etc.

Imagine the savings to this bankrupt government (according to a hyperbolic President Estrada). We can easily slash by 30 percent the P2.8-billion mostly-services budget of Congress if we adopt this innovation.

After all, we already have too many laws and regulations – which are mostly neither enforced nor obeyed anyway. What we urgently need is not more laws but more no-nonsense enforcement.

The legislative calendar is choked with local bills (renaming of streets, paving of barangay roads, selecting the site of a cereal warehouse, etc.). We can pass down this chore to the local governments, which have been empowered beyond their wildest dreams by a new code.

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FIFTEEN years ago, on Aug. 21, they murdered Ninoy Aquino upon his return to his homeland on a mission of peace for his oppressed people. Everybody – except our justice system — knows who “they” are.

“Mamaga sana ang mukha ng nagpapatay kay Ninoy” (May the face of the mastermind swell.) prayed a placard of a protester then at the Malacañang gate who must have known like the rest of the world who ordered the public execution at the tarmac.

Well, the face that launched more than a thousand deaths later popped in ugly lupus lumps, but the owner of that face fled before the selective arm of the law would touch him.

Now his kin and cronies are back strutting around apparently with official blessings and the acquiescence of a people whose span of attention has been shrinking.

Rubbing it in, President Estrada announced on the eve of Ninoy’s death anniversary that Gen. Fabian Ver – the top dog of the Marcos military – could come back now. As a Filipino he has that right, the President explained.

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TO smoothen the crude move, Mr. Estrada and his barkers pretended to warn Ver that he could face charges upon his return.

Of course Ver could face charges. In fact, he is already indicted together with his death squad for their execution of Ninoy, except that he has chosen to be a fugitive.

Prosecution is no problem for Ver and his family. In this country, court cases are a minor distraction to people with money with which to buy back respectability.

Even assuming the remote possibility of Ver being found guilty in the Ninoy case, he could always be pardoned for alleged health and humanitarian reasons.

That was exactly what President Estrada did a few days ago for former congressman Nicanor de Guzman, who was serving a life term for smuggling in 1989 several balikbayan boxes of assorted high-powered firearms. (He had the gall to presume he could sneak in a veritable arsenal!)

Mr. Estrada’s excuse for the pardon? De Guzman is old and sickly daw. Kawawa naman!

Well, Ver is not only suffering from falling (fallen) hair. Like the congressman with fascination with guns, Ver is old and claims to be sickly.

After trial and conviction – assuming the improbable – Ver would even be older and sicklier and therefore qualified for an Estrada pardon.

I can almost see Ver leading the party in belting out “Hail, hail the gang’s all here!” in the reunions of Marcos loyalists.

That’s supposed to be gulong ng palad (wheel of fortune) – sometimes you’re up, sometimes down. But have you noticed some people always seem to be on top?

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POSTSCRIPT: It is not true that Bill Clinton called up Erap Estrada for expert advice on how to handle Monica Lewinsky… Some members of the Estrada Cabinet are proving to be either mediocre or incompetent. A revamp before yearend is not farfetched… The peso’s position vis-à-vis the US dollar has improved a bit from P43 to P42 to the dollar. But the disturbing thing is that the Thai baht fared better than the peso in this last attack on regional currencies. While the peso used to be worth more, now the baht is P41 to the peso’s P42… The president of the Philippine Stock Exchange who blamed the supposed fumbling of the Estrada administration for the market’s worrisome decline has taken back his word.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 20, 1998)

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