POSTSCRIPT / November 24, 1998 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Free political advice from Erap to Gore

US Vice President Al Gore was obviously fascinated by the disarming transparency of President Estrada who was with him at the recent sixth Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit at Kuala Lumpur.

Done with his assignment to stick pins on his host Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Gore felt at ease enough to banter with Erap, finally getting around to asking him what made him tick.

Or to be more specific — for this is of urgent interest to Bill Clinton’s heir apparent — Gore inquired how Erap wrapped up the last May presidential polls.

The movie star who amassed 10 million votes on his way to Malacañang told Gore the simple fact that he met more people, shook more hands, etc. He could not give him the operating manual, because there was none.

Whatever it was, the two appeared to have clicked together. In the process, Erap earned more points toward being invited for the sought-after state visit to the United States to validate his ascendancy to the presidency.

All that’s left for Erap to do is have the controversial RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement ratified by the Senate.

* * *

THOSE Eraptions at the APEC summit that the press lapped up remind us of similar episodes on the political beat early in our work as a fledgling newspaperman.

At Manila’s city council, which was/is a good introduction to political reporting, we remember another simple man, councilor Paquito Gatmaitan from populous Tondo. He was, like Erap, a dropout.

Impressed by Vice Mayor Herminio Astorga’s copious reference to the Bible in his speeches, Paquito decided one morning before Holy Week to do an Astorga when he asked to deliver a privilege speech.

“Consummatum est!” he intoned as he launched the speech of his life, his trembling arms outstretched as of a Christ crucified. “Sa wikang Tagalog, ‘Ama ko, patawarin Mo sila… di nila alam ang kanilang ginagawa!’” (“In Tagalog, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”)

The intense Paquito did not notice the suppressed laughter and went on to deliver a stirring speech with biblical allusions.

* * *

ANOTHER councilor who was more familiar with the boxing ring than the nuances of floor debates was just as serious with his work in the council.

Councilor Pol Gener angrily sprang up when the floor leader Martin Isidro referred to a laudable project as the “brainchild of our esteemed colleague Pol Gener.”

“Anong brainchild, sinong isip-bata?” Gener demanded, reaching for the ashtray on his desk. (“What brainchild are you talking about, who has the IQ of a child?”)

Before the dumbfounded Isidro could give a retort, the usual cooler heads intervened. They explained to Gener what “brainchild” means.

Next session day, a smiling Gener alerted the press gallery that he would deliver a speech thanking Isidro for citing his (Gener’s) pet project. He said he would also praise Isidro’s many projects in Tondo.

“Ito pong mga proyektong ito ay mga child-brain ng ating kaibigang si Martin Isidro!” Gener thundered, obviously satisfied with his use of the latest addition to his limited English vocabulary. (“These projects are the child-brain of our friend Martn Isidro!”)

* * *

SECTION 15 of Article XI (Accountability of Public Officers) of the Constitution provides: “The right of the State to recover properties unlawfully acquired by public officials or employees, from them or from their nominees or transferees, shall not be barred by prescription, laches, or estoppel.”

This constitutional injunction did not stop Ombudsman Aniano Desierto from dismissing several illegal wealth cases of the Marcoses and their cronies on the ground that the cases had prescribed or lapsed.

Concerned groups should look for a way to impeach Desierto for his (1) culpable violation of the Constitution and (2) betrayal of public trust, some of the legal bases in Article XI for the impeachment of the Ombudsman and other high officials.

This military lawyer may be incompetent, but he cannot invoke ignorance of the fundamental law that he is sworn to uphold and obey.

* * *

DESIERTO is apparently running amuck, flaunting his awesome powers as Ombudsman and doing as he pleases with the Marcos cases pending with his office.

It is not for the Ombudsman, who is mainly an investigator/prosecutor, to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. That’s for the court to decide.

Yet, in a stunning display of arrogance and prejudice, Desierto has even announced his plan to dismiss other pending Marcos cases for having prescribed. Without at least deigning to listen to the PCGG and any intervenor? Or in complete disregard of the constitutional injunction against prescription?

Why the alacrity of Desierto to clear the Marcoses and their cronies while he is still the Ombudsman? Every attentive reader of newspapers knows the answer.

One problem with impeachment, however, is that the process must be initiated and formalized only in the House of Representatives. Everyone knows that many lawmakers with skeletons in their closets are scared stiff of Desierto. He holds enough of them by the, huh, bols.

* * *

SOME legal quarters argue that the countdown for prescription does not begin with the commission of the crime, but with its discovery. Desierto’s theory is that prescription is to be reckoned from the time of commission.

Still others say that the continued holding of the illegally-acquired wealth is a continuing crime, meaning that in a sense the crime is still being committed — and therefore not yet subject to prescription.

Whichever view is taken, however, the overriding provision of Article XI of the Constitution against prescription will wipe out all arguments of Desierto that the wealth cases of his Marcos pals and patrons had prescribed.

Even to a non-lawyer like me, the position of Desierto looks like it is riddled with fatal errors.

* * *

IT is not true, a Malacañang factotum told us, that like his predecessor Fidel Ramos, President Estrada has a special unit scouring the globe for places to visit during his six short years in office.

No, he continued, the travel bug has not bitten the President. (Not yet?) He also squelched speculation that the bags of the President are not being unpacked yet because he is about to hie off to some foreign destination.

Whatever, somebody who had lived in the Palace has warned that despite early avowals of not wanting to tour the world, once in office the Malacañang tenant is under extreme temptation to travel every chance he gets.

Even before he could master the presidential ropes, Erap has gone out twice already. Next month, he will fly to Vietnam for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, to be followed by a state visit to Thailand.

The state visit to the US, a must for a Philippine president seeking a White House validation of his election, is expected to be set after the VFA’s ratification by the Senate.

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