POSTSCRIPT / December 7, 1999 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Envoy erred in believing what the Palace told him

THE unfortunate faux pas involving the postponement of the state visit next week of Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman can be traced to many factors, but the main culprit appears to be the overeager Czech ambassador in Manila.

The Czech premier was expecting to arrive Dec. 12. His advance party was already in town to prepare for the visit but was informed that President Estrada did not have the time during this busy month of December.

As the Czech premier is reportedly set to arrive in the course of a tour in the region, the postponement is reportedly threatening relations — with Prague supposedly even considering the downgrading of its mission in Manila.

* * *

IT turned out that Czech Ambassador Stanislav Slavicky had been led to believe in his conversations with Malacañang officials that the green light was on for the Dec. 12-14 visit. He therefore had informed his home office.

Slavicky was reportedly talking to Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora and Malacañang chief of protocol Daniel Victoria. It seems that the Department of Foreign Affairs that normally handles details of such preparations was not promptly or adequately brought into the picture.

So when the details were finally being juggled, it turned out that President Estrada – whose assent was not first secured before the threshing out of the schedule – was not available on the dates earlier proposed.

The Czech envoy was told that next year would be a better time, but the drift of the message appears to have given him the impression that Mr. Estrada was too busy to receive his prime minister.

* * *

IT is true that the President is very busy this time of year and the Czechs were just being told the truth, but with his side in an advanced stage of preparation, the Czech ambassador was caught off balance.

He was reportedly shocked and so embarrassed, including to his bosses in the home office, that he sent in his resignation as ambassador to Manila.

Our mistake, I think, is that Malacañang officials prematurely gave the Czech envoy a clear signal that President Estrada was all set to receive his opposite number next week. But the bigger blunder was on the part of the Czech envoy who believed the Palace functionaries and immediately told his home office that all was in readiness.

* * *

THE ambassador should have learned by this time that even the President’s own public declarations are sometimes withdrawn, corrected or reversed. Even just for his own sanity, he should know better than to believe every line emanating from Malacañang.

If he were a news reporter, the Czech ambassador appears to be a greenhorn, an excitable fellow who rushes to the nearest phone to relay a “scoop” without first double checking and verifying.

Worse, he has not familiarized himself with his beat and thereby lent himself susceptible to “kuryente” (Pinoy journalese for the American “bum steer”).

* * *

IT is common practice for heads of government to invite one another for visits. The wise leader is one who knows how to discern which is pro-forma and which is an earnest desire to see him visit soonest.

And even when there is already a seeming meeting of the minds for a visit, such a complicated event is not announced until there is mutual and final agreement.

Even when details have been ironed out, the veteran knows that there is still the possibility of the visit being postponed or dropped altogether.

The pilgrimages of Philippine presidents to Washington, D.C., are classical examples of how visits that have been confirmed and reconfirmed are suddenly put under advisement or review for some reason.

It’s the same thing with the trip of the Czech premier. That it was postponed – for any reason – was not the end of the world. The Czech ambassador should not have thrown a public tantrum or blamed the host government.

* * *

THERE is suddenly a thinning out of the usual traffic officers cluttering intersections. Why?

The widespread interpretation is that they are sulking over PNP Chief Panfilo Lacson’s going after them for extortion activities. Another is that they are busy elsewhere “caroling” or going around to raise funds for the coming holidays.

Whichever or whatever is the reason, we take it as a cue to reiterate our suggestion that the police as an organization start an open, honest, organized effort to raise a Christmas kitty for the boys.

We’re sure there are many individuals and institutions that are ready to contribute some goodies and money to a police fund, which would be distributed equitably to the members of the police.

This can help minimize the practice of policemen going around soliciting. They look pathetic doing that. We don’t want our police officers demeaning their person and uniform as they beg for, sometimes extort, Christmas gifts.

We have to accept the fact that our police are not properly compensated for the difficult job we’ve assigned to them. Such a yearly fund-raising for them will help them through the costly holidays with dignity.

* * *

BUT the reported condoning by General Lacson of the wrong-doing committed by police officers who had appropriated for their personal use recovered stolen vehicles leaves a bad taste.

The PNP chief does not have the authority to condone criminal acts, especially if these were committed by officers sworn to uphold the law. He should let the axe fall where it may. Coddling scalawags detracts from his earlier vow to clean the force.

It is possible that Lacson is already feeling the backlash in the rank and file of his cleanup. His pronouncements and action upon his assumption of the top post appear to have tainted all policemen as suspects until they can clear themselves.

In his attempt to mollify his brother officers and raise the morale of his men, he should not appear to sacrifice the letter and the spirit of the law. If policemen who grabbed carnapped vehicles committed a wrongdoing, and they did, they should pay for it.

* * *

MORE than a month ago, Sen. Rene Cayetano said that the collection of parking fees in malls and similar establishments was a violation of the Building Code.

Being a senator and an officer of the law, Cayetano can earn more points in his extended inquiry into unconscionable parking fees by filing the appropriate charges now.

The senator said the law has been violated. Why is he not filing any case? He is still looking for some remedial legislation? But in the meantime, he can file charges — if his theory is right that the law has been violated.

But Cayetano deserves support in his campaign to stop the malls from charging parking fees from legitimate customers. It does not make sense, except if we assume that mall operators are insatiable leeches, for the public to be required to pay for parking while shopping.

Mall operators have offered to waive parking fees during the holidays, but that gesture is a mere consuelo de bobo. If it is a sincere expression of goodwill, it should be year round.

* * *

WRITER Danny Crisologo dropped us a line in reaction to our recalling in Postscript a recent pleasant visit to Ilocandia. He said:

“And I thought I was the only one who began to lighten up as soon as I reached La Union!

“I must tell you how I savored the few words you wrote on the Ilocos—and how homesick I got. I remember the columns you wrote on California’s Bay Area. You’d make a great travel writer if you ever set your mind to it.

“You managed to capture—with such great economy of words—the real essence of Ilocandia. I should know; I grew up in Laoag and for a couple of months every year, in April and May, I vacation there with my son and his three kids.

“One thing that may have escaped your notice but which nevertheless added to your light mood while there: the absence of homeless people, scavengers, beggars and street children. (Aside from the traffic and the pollution, it’s the sight of squatters everywhere, of homeless people sleeping in the streets, of having to harden your heart against the sight of skinny kids approaching your car for alms that is so heartbreaking in Manila.)

“Oh, yes. One other thing. Laoag has cable TV, computers, Internet service, excellent landline phones, aside from cell phones, of course. In short, it’s part of the Global Village, so I’m not cut off from the world. People around the planet can easily reach me and I can send my weekly golf columns to The STAR by fax and e-mail just as easily.

“It’s the thought of those two months in Laoag that makes the other ten months in Manila somewhat bearable.

“Thank you for your loving words on the only place my heart calls home.” 

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 7, 1999)

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