POSTSCRIPT / March 26, 1998 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Bill downgrades Eddie; Erap peaked too early?

HULING hirit. This will be the fifth and, most likely, last trip of Fidel V. Ramos to the US of A before he turns over the presidency and its perks to the next Malacañang tenant. Mark your calendars: the visit is scheduled April 6-10.

But while Malacañang was angling for a state visit, the White House obliged only with an “official” visit, a little lower in category. That makes sense, because instead of entertaining a lameduck, Bill Clinton presumably would rather deal with a new Philippine president with six years ahead of him.

With the downgrading, our Eddie will not merit arrival honors and a state banquet nor get to address a joint session of Congress (although the latter is out of the question since the legislature, we heard, would be on recess at that time).

As consolation, all expenses of Mr. Ramos will be shouldered by American taxpayers, which is the case in a state visit. The rest of the party will have to pay for their own or have the impoverished Manila government foot the bill, as usual.

Again, we are reminded of former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew who used to take Singapore Airlines regular flights when he traveled officially. He and his small staff would sit in the first class section and tote their briefcases like regular traveling businessmen.

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BUT that’s not the end of the travelogue. Also next month, President Ramos is likely to hie off to Gay Paree, to receive together with MNLF chairman Nur Misuari a peace award from UNESCO. The duo will love Paris in the springtime.

The award is for the supposed end to the secessionist rebellion of Misuari’s Moro National Liberation Front. Never mind if some of the Moro rebels merely dropped the MNLF tag and resurfaced as fighters of still another group called the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Since he was coopted and rescued from oblivion, Misuari has been visible as Exhibit A whenever Mr. Ramos wanted to talk to audiences abroad about his being a peacemaker. The President would point to Misuari who just happened to be around.

His cousin, the late President Marcos, had a similar routine. When visiting Mr. Marcos addressed the National Press Club in Washington, DC, he talked of his having won over some rebel leaders in his quest for peace. He would mention an ex-rebel, point to an area in the crowd and the fellow would rise to be recognized.

It went on smoothly, with rebel after rebel answering the roll call, until Mr. Marcos called on youth activist Nilo Tayag and pointed to a corner near the door. Nilo was not there! (The poor guy, as later reported by security aides, was allegedly out shopping.)

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SUDDENLY, it is clear why Malacañang handled with kid gloves the multi-billion-peso PEA-Amari land deal, which then Senate President Ernesto Maceda described as the “grandmother of all scams.”

Former PEA (Public Estates Authority) director Arturo Trinidad said in a press conference March 23 that the deal was “mandated” by President Ramos himself.

With the President’s direct instruction to give the contract to Amari Coastal Bay Resources Corp., the PEA official said they had no choice but to award the controversial contract to the Thai-Filipino company. (Please read news section for details.)

The PEA-Amari deal, all but forgotten by a public with a short span of attention, was brought out again for airing in a three-part series published by various Manila newspapers days ago. It was written by professional journalists for the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

The PCIJ report strongly indicated that bribes (at least P2 billion) were given to top administration officials and influence peddlers to clinch the deal. Hush money (almost P1 billion paid in US dollars at the rate of P26:$1) was allegedly delivered in boxes to the house of a senior senator in the Senate committees that inquired into the mess.

The Trinidad exposé fed the widespread suspicion that even Mr. Ramos may have been deeply involved. Nine out of every ten people I have talked to said that with the Trinidad revelation, they now believed that Mr. Ramos “received something.”

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MEANWHILE, Vice President Joseph “Erap” Estrada appears well on his way to taking over as the next president.

The last survey by the Social Weather Stations, generally more respected than the other polling groups in town, showed Estrada maintaining his lead of 28 percent, a score double that of his closest pursuer, Mayor Alfredo Lim at 14 percent.

The latest survey was conducted March 16-21, while Estrada was being buffeted by stink bombs hurled by demolition squads believed to be financed by the administration. The damage to Estrada appears minimal.

But while Estrada and Lim stood their ground at 28 and 14 percent respectively, the third placer Speaker Jose de Venecia has been consistently gaining ground. From 11 percent in January, he has risen to12, then to 14 percent in February and March.

While Estrada’s fans note that their hero has maintained his “commanding” lead, campaigners of De Venecia point to the steady rise of their candidate, adding that by the time May comes around, he would have overtaken Estrada. They said Estrada and Lim had peaked too early, had hit a plateau, and would either level off or even dip.

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