POSTSCRIPT / February 4, 1999 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Erap is a spokesman of US and Marcoses?

IF the Marcoses know what’s good for them, they better keep quiet and stay low-key, while their friend President Estrada works out a compromise for their illegal wealth cases.

Imee Marcos, for one, is unnecessarily stoking resentment with her indelicate retort to demands that they apologize. “Why should we?” She asked, claiming they had not done anything wrong!

It’s amazing how facile it now is for the Marcoses to sweep under their mental rug the mass arrests, torture, murders, the plunder and other high crimes committed with devilish arrogance at the height of the Marcos dictatorship.

* * *

LOOKING at the old pictures of the Marcos family when they first went to reside in Malacañang in 1966 upon Ferdinand Marcos’ first election, one spots Imee, Bongbong and Irene as then simple, unspoiled and looking so innocent and vulnerable.

Those pictures could prompt one who had not been a victim of the dictatorship to say that the sins of the father should not be visited on the children. Alas, the children have grown and seemed to have taken on the arrogance that comes with power and pelf.

Most especially now that their friend and ally Erap Estrada sits as President.

* * *

MAYBE there’s no cure to induced amnesia, but just one gruesome murder committed under martial rule should jog the memory of Imee. This was the case of a student who asked pointed questions in a forum where Imee, then chairman of the Kabataang Barangay, was the speaker.

The outspoken student was picked up by Imee’s security men and was found days later slain after being tortured. His murder was one of some 10,000 cases cited in a US court and for which Imee was found guilty.

Some of the evidence presented and made permanent record of the atrocities of the Marcos regime were pictures of the victim whose eyes were plucked and his guts spilled out.

This could be one of the reasons why Imee, the only one among the Marcos children, could not go to Honolulu even when her father was dying. Until now, she has not dared to set foot on American soil where arrest warrants await her.

* * *

INSTEAD of resenting the legal research of former Senate President Jovito R. Salonga on the economic plunder of the Marcoses, President Estrada should welcome it and even use it to good advantage.

Salonga, one of those best informed on the illegal wealth cases, pointed out some loopholes in the compromise agreement with the Marcoses and the escrow documents between the Presidential Commission on Good Government and the Philippine National Bank where some $570 million of the Marcos loot was to be deposited.

Instead of appreciating and using the information to strengthen the government’s hand in handling the Marcos cases, Mr. Estrada exploded and called Salonga senile. That remark is not only unpresidential. It is suspicious.

The President’s reaction betrays where his loyalty lies. He is not for the Republic, but for his long-time friends the Marcoses. It is obvious that he wants to protect them. And he claims “walang kaibigan….” (let no friends….)

If his heart is really for the mahihirap, the masses wallowing in poverty, and if he wants justice for the victims of martial law, Mr. Estrada should take Salonga as an adviser on the Marcos cases and heed his sage advice.

* * *

IT seems President Estrada is not only the spokesman of the Marcoses but also of the United States on defense matters.

The President said in effect last week that the US would become the country’s superpower partner in stopping Chinese intrusion in the Spratlys if the Senate approves the pending Visiting Forces Agreement with the US.

It is naive for Mr. Estrada to assume that. Why does he not wait for the US itself to say it, or preferably to formally write down the assurance that ratification of the VFA would prompt it to act on the Chinese “creeping invasion” of Philippines-claimed islets in the Spratlys.

Unfortunately for him and all of us, the US is not ready or willing to say that.

* * *

WASHINGTON refuses to acknowledge the VFA as a treaty requiring US Senate ratification.

This American position is the root of the new difficulties that Malacañang has encountered in its campaign to have the Philippine Senate concur with the VFA.

Before this new debate on whether the VFA is a treaty or an executive agreement, the Palace already had the numbers—at least two-thirds or 16 votes in the 24-member Senate—for concurrence.

The VFA was submitted to the Senate on the belief that it is a treaty. But when the US balked at submitting it to its own Senate for concurrence, Malacañang had to make a fast downscaling.

Toeing the American line, Malacañang is now saying the VFA is just an executive agreement (which does not require ratification), but is submitting it for Senate approval nonetheless for, huh, transparency’s sake.

As a result, some senators who were ready to accommodate the Palace have become self-conscious on the matter of approving the VFA.

* * *

WE still have a Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the US, but the US continues to be evasive about responding militarily and promptly in the event of aggression or an attack on any part of the Philippines.

That pact is a treaty formally ratified by the US Senate. It is not a “mere” executive agreement like the VFA, yet the US still reserves the right to determine in what manner it would act under the MDT if the Philippines were invaded.

How can President Estrada now confidently announce that the US will become a partner in pushing the creeping invasion in the Mischief area if the VFA—regarded by the US as a mere agreement or a notch lower than a treaty—is ratified?

* * *

A READING of the VFA text confirms assessments that it is not enough to bind the US to defend us if attacked or if any part of our sovereign territory is violated by, for instance, China.

No amount of optimistic exhortation from President Estrada will move the US to defend us solely on the basis of the VFA. More so if it would mean tangling with China.

The VFA is nothing but a definition of the status of US forces when they enter the country for such things as joint military exercises. It does not re-commit the US to some mutual defense arrangement.

Mutual defense is not embodied in the VFA but in the MDT signed in 1951. That treaty is supposed to be still in force despite the expiration in 1991 and non-renewal of the RP-US military bases agreement.

However, with the removal of its bases—which were logical targets in a war—the US no longer seems to consider itself compelled to forthwith defend the country in case of an invasion. It reserves the option to decide how to respond consonant with its congressional processes.

* * *

THE Philippine bargaining position in the VFA talks was weakened when our officials went around town jumping up and down and screaming about a “creeping invasion” by China.

Without our telling them, the US knows exactly the status of our defense capability. It knows very well that it is zero, that we have no choice but to lean on it if we want any semblance of national defense.

In discussing mutual arrangements such as the VFA, the US knows that we cannot impose conditions that look ridiculous to them. And by ridiculous is meant anything that is not to its interest.

The text of the VFA as submitted to the Senate is the final version. To the US, it is either we take it or leave it. The Americans won’t change a word on it.

Beggars, it is said, cannot be choosers. Poor Philippines can’t.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 4, 1999)

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