POSTSCRIPT / September 17, 1998 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Estrada to make 3 trips abroad before yearend

BEFORE the year ends, President Estrada would have traveled abroad three times, all in the neighboring ASEAN region. Shades of Ramos Globetrotting? Not really, since Mr. Estrada’s trips are official commitments expected of anybody who sits as president.

First destination is in neighboring Singapore, where the President will deliver the keynote address before the 7th East Asia Economic Summit on October 13. This will be a state visit to that island-nation, not a mere official trip to attend a summit.

Second base is Kuala Lumpur, where he will participate in the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit November 19-23 in Malaysia.

Third destination is Hanoi for the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit in December. War-ravaged Vietnam is a brand-new member of ASEAN.

Malacañang says that the President will bring along only about three Cabinet members on each trip. He will not have the usual 100 or so big businessmen tagging along as in the Ramos expeditions to all points of the compass on the pretext of selling the country as an investment site.

Believe me, our President can deliver speeches in English good enough for any summit, but don’t be surprised if he whips out a Pilipino text at the rostrum and lets the translators and interpreters do their job.

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IF the coming regional summits may test Mr. Estrada’s diplomatic and speech-making skills, a major test facing the President is the sudden spate of kidnappings in Mindanao.

Remember his ringing words “Huwag ninyo akong subukan!” (Don’t you try me!) in his boom-boom-bang inaugural address at the Luneta? Well, kidnap syndicates that have lain low the past months apparently decided it is time they resumed business.

After a series of kidnappings last week, ten victims, most of them foreigners, are being held for ransom. They are Italian priest Fr. Luciano Beneditti, an 80-year-old Taiwanese woman and four members of her household, three Hong Kong traders, and a Filipino businessman.

Mindanao may be far from your mind, but as expected the media in neighboring countries competing with Manila for foreign investments have been playing up the kidnapping upsurge.

Mr. Estrada has sent his favorite crime-buster Chief Supt. (General) Panfilo Lacson to stay in the area to oversee the rescue operations. He has also thrown the no-nonsense Marines into the joint military-police campaign.

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KIDNAPPING sprees may be bad for the country, but a more deadly scourge has taken some 240 lives already, mostly in Metro Manila, the past several weeks.

The killer is dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease that is supposed to infest swampy jungles but which has spread to population centers after the trees had been indiscriminately cut.

Dengue cases reported have passed the 13,000 mark, but the Department of Health, has not mustered enough courage to admit an epidemic. Everybody is screaming for concerted action against the mosquito carriers breeding and multiplying literally in our backyards.

As we’re also suffering from chronic inertia, not much is being done. Maybe they are waiting for the bloated mosquitoes to just drop dead from biting too much too often.

In some places, health workers have resorted to fumigation, but somebody warned that that might even be a preventive measure worse than the disease itself. It turned out that the chemical fog being used is harmful to humans, too!

By the way, Erap watchers may add to their thick files that when Mr. Estrada recently mentioned dengue in a radio interview, he referred to it as “malaria.” We’re sure it was not his doctor-wife who gave him that unlikely synonym.

* * *

FROM the Palace, meanwhile, our President is insulting us by roaring and making like he is about to exterminate the jueteng lords (again). Ordering with a flourish the arrest of gambling operators—if there is evidence, he adds — is pure hypocrisy.

Everybody knows that if the police really want to stop jueteng, they can do that anytime without any prodding from the President or anybody, without putting up a zarzuela of an investigation.

The trouble is neither the President nor the police, and the rest of officialdom in between, want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. It’s that simple.

There is no mayor and no town police chief in the country who will be unaware of it if jueteng goes on unabated in their area. That they tolerate it means only one thing: they have been slapped deaf and blind by hush money.

The unholy tie-up is so obvious that even a college dropout should not miss it.

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SO why is Mr. Estrada again ordering the usual investigation when the flourishing racket has been investigated to death already? Why doesn’t he now order the police to eradicate jueteng in, say, a week or even in a month, and dismiss any officer who fails to do his job?

The sad fact is that Mr. Estrada is part of the problem of jueteng resurging with a vengeance after he assumed the presidency. When he announced that he was for legalizing the poor man’s numbers game, he implicitly said let it be.

That policy statement of Mr. Estrada was taken by jueteng lords to mean that they may now go full blast in anticipation of its legalization. As for the jubilant police, that was their green light signaling the return of them merry days.

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