POSTSCRIPT / December 29, 1998 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Bribe of the season: P100,000 from Erap

THE Philippines is reputed to have the longest Yule season in the world, officially starting on Dec. 16 with the nine-day novena of dawn Masses leading to Christmas and ending with the feast of the Three Kings on the first Sunday of January.

Those three weeks of frenzied shopping and gift-giving are the convenient backdrop for those who want to shower with something of value persons whom they want to influence one way or another.

In twisted logic, we imagine that anything given during the Yuletide is a gift pure and simple. Gifts that may be construed as bribes at other times are generally passed off as gifts when given during that all-encompassing Christmas season.

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SO when President Estrada gave P100,000 to each of the more than 200 congressmen a few days before last Christmas, the money was generally considered as a regalo (gift) or a Christmas bonus.

To this observer and other taxpayers, however, that doleout was brazen bribery.

The wholesale bribery was made more despicable by the President’s use of public funds — his so-called social fund — to buy the goodwill or the cooperation of legislators in pushing administration measures.

They knew it was wrong. That was why Speaker Manuel Villar lied, denied it and attempted a coverup. He must be naive to think that a deal involving more than 200 conspirators could be kept a secret. Villar thought there is honor among… them?

But while Villar was covering up for his House, there was President Estrada — obviously not in synch with him — confirming it.

At least the President was more candid. Running true to form, he merely asked in justification “What’s wrong with it?”

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TO those used to dipping sticky fingers into public coffers, there’s nothing wrong with it.

Therein lies the problem. We have been wading in a political estero (drainage canal) for so long that we no longer notice the stink.

The money—widely referred to in Congress as a bonus—was described by Malacañang as calamity assistance to the solons. The poor congressmen must have been in a state of calamity with their constituents lining up for their share of the congressional loot.

The money came from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), which regularly sends a whopping balato (share in the winnings) to the President from its gargantuan casino earnings.

The anomaly of this fund is that instead of going first to the national treasury to be spent according to an appropriation measure passed by Congress, it goes straight to the President to spend as he pleases.

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WE’RE being asked to believe that Mr. Estrada was so moved by the sight of suffering lawmakers that he gave P100,000 to each congressman on top of the P40-million share that each solon has in pork barrel.

What’s wrong with that? Remember that from Day One, Mr. Estrada has been claiming that the government is bankrupt. The Ramos administration, he whines, left him nothing but loose change.

The “Erap para sa mahirap” (Erap for the poor) administration has been in financial extremis that it cannot even attend to countless children slowly dying of malnutrition, or to indigent patients begging for medicine and professional care.

There is so much saliva for the mahihirap (poor masses), for the anak pawis (laborers), but always not enough money for confronting poverty and misery. But there’s jingle bells and sleighing through the snow for our lawmakers already bloated with pork.

With twisted government priorities, with thieves inhabiting the higher echelons of the bureaucracy, how can there be peace on earth and goodwill to men?

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THE P100,000 was a bonus? For what? For their puny performance in the legislature? For conspiring to smuggle the P580-billion national budget intact? For rallying behind every administration measure thrown to the floor of Congress?

If the congressmen really deserved a bonus, it should have come from the legislature itself, not from the Executive department. President Estrada has no business looking after the material needs of members of another co-equal branch of government.

The money could not have been a private gift from the President either. It did not come from his own pocket, but from a special public fund.

The P100,000 is clearly part of the continuing wholesale bribery of members of Congress by Malacañang.

* * *

FROM down South comes the bad news that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has served stern notice it will never abandon its secessionist aspirations, its war of national liberation?

Our view is that this is not a maximum position from which the MILF will later scale down in exchange for concessions. We see the demand for a separate Bangsamoro state as, indeed, a hardline position.

The Ramos administration succeeded in coopting Nur Misuari, the aging chairman of the erstwhile secessionist Moro National Liberation Front. But that did not end the war of liberation as younger elements split from the MNLF and boosted the MILF.

* * *

NOW the MILF is claiming more than 40 areas under its control. These are places where a separate Moro flag flies and where the armed forces are hesitant to march in to assert Philippine government presence.

To save face, the nervous government holds the MILF at bay with endless negotiations and alleged ceasefires, during which the MILF consolidates its position and continues to receive war materiel from its foreign supporters.

With its defined territory as well as the recognition by several Muslim countries aiding it, the MILF has established a virtual Bangsamoro state in the South. No wonder, the MILF panel talks with government negotiators as co-equals.

Moro secessionists have been pushing their consolidation while the Manila government fritters away resources and opportunities in endless politicking and moneymaking schemes.

* * *

SOME businessmen have asked me about the state of health of President Estrada. They want to know if he can survive his term. As if I knew.

They were asking because some key officials they have been dealing with seem to be in a hurry to amass a pile. These get-rich-quick artists give the impression that they may not stay long in office.

Only businessmen with gut of steel can deal with the crocodiles in government. You throw them some choice morsels and they keep coming back for more. One never knows when they would get satiated. (Answer: never.)

Contractors are left hanging in a perpetual state of guessing. Even those who had cornered projects but whose implementation had been overtaken by a new administration cannot sleep in peace.

Problems suddenly develop and contractors have to talk with the new bosses.

* * *

IT’S the old trick of new police precinct commanders. Upon taking over a new district, the new commander sends his flying squad raiding establishments in the area for all sorts of violations.

We call this stage “nagpapakilala” (introducing one’s self). The businessmen in the area have to know that a new boss has taken over, and that they better deal with him.

We were reminded of this routine when, upon the inauguration of a new presidency, somebody who looked like Erap Estrada announced he would kill the lotto, bury the PEA-Amari deal, abolish the PCGG, sue big-time tax evaders, et cetera in the golden tradition of “nagpapakilala.”

Of course, we all know that the lotto is now booming, the Amari deal is back, the PCGG has a new lease of life, big tax dodgers get a reprieve, et cetera ad nauseam.

Walang personalan, businessmen should be reminded, negosyo lang ito.

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