POSTSCRIPT / February 9, 1999 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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We need presidential anger for faster action

MERCEDES Benz should jump into action with the public complaint of Malacañang that the No. 1 car conveying the President of the Republic keeps breaking down so that they had to replace it with a second-hand BMW!

The explanation from the Palace for the President’s sudden shift to that black bullet-proof BMW is very embarrassing for Mercedes.

One thing that the Mercedes Benz people could do is offer to take back the allegedly defective car and fix it for free, or, better still, replace it gratis et amore with a comparable brand-new model.

Or they can offer, for a token price of $1, to trade in the old Mercedes with the top-of-the-line Mercedes presidential limousine.

Perhaps Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora, who was kind enough to lend his BMW to the boss, won’t mind being invited by Mercedes to fly to Germany to shop for a presidential limousine so he could retrieve his overworked BMW.

* * *

ONE positive angle to the Echegaray episode is that it proved to the skeptics that the Estrada administration could be that tenacious, that stubborn, when it sets its mind to something—and could get results.

Now, if only the administration could marshal the same bullheadedness in unmasking, prosecuting and jailing government crooks and thus arrest the corruption spreading like epidemic on all levels of the bureaucracy.

President Estrada can start by reviewing Rep. Act. 1379 (Forfeiture Act) which says clearly that “whenever any public officer or employee has acquired during his incumbency an amount of property which is manifestly out of proportion to his salary as such public officer or employee and to his other lawful income from legitimately acquired property, such property shall be presumed prima facie to have been unlawfully acquired.”

* * *

THE President can then grab the Ombudsman by the collar and tell him to work. Yes, the Ombudsman belongs to an independent office, but the people will forgive an angry President’s scolding him for miserably falling on his all-important job.

The alternative to our ineffective Ombudsman is the creation of a special independent panel with members from the private sector. The panel’s mission is to comb the bureaucracy to prosecute officials who have amassed assets grossly out of proportion to their legitimate income.

For the panel to succeed, it must be composed of members who not only have impeccable credentials but are also zealous and independent crusaders. They may not really be avenging angels, but we would not mind if they were.

There are still such people around, if we look hard enough. What’s more, they could still catch some big fish if the President really meant it when he promised an applauding nation at his inaugural that he would jail the crooks in government.

* * *

AS the merciless execution of Echegaray was calculated to strike fear into the hearts of rapists, unwavering prosecution under RA 1379 in the same relentless manner shown by Mr. Estrada in the Echegaray case should scare enough crooks in government and create an opening for reforms.

Days ago, there was news of a public works regional director who was charged with illegally amassing valuable real estate (some of them in the United States) that were out of proportion to his legitimate income. But the story was buried in the inside pages and was hardly noticed.

For shock effect and media mileage, we suggest that audit and prosecution for corruption start from the top.

By that we mean from the President, down to his Cabinet, followed by those using low-number license plates on their cars indicating how high they are in the hierarchy.

The campaign will not work if the President is exempted from scrutiny. To set the example, he should order with fanfare that the audit should start with him.

Top officials of the previous administrations must also be included, but going after them without first filing big sample cases from among the present crop might give the wrong impression that Mr. Estrada just wants to look pogi at the expense of his predecessors.

* * *

ALONG the same line of reorienting the bureaucracy, there is also a crying need to return to values enshrined in the Constitution.

We will never tire of quoting Section 1 of Article XI (Accountability of Public Officers) which we hope the President will pick up as a guidepost in his desire to clean the government.

That section reads: “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and LEAD MODEST LIVES.” (capitalization ours for emphasis)

Just those three words (lead, modest, lives) are enough to effect a cleansing of the bureaucracy and the start of a rebirth of sorts—a miracle—for this nation.

The admonition to “Lead Modest Lives” is a universal appeal that applies even to people outside the government system. What those words can do to each of us and to all of us is obvious.

* * *

BY itself, the execution of Leo Echegaray is not enough deterrent to would-be rapists. When the animal instinct seizes a man, he does not pause to first ponder the ramifications of the Echegaray case. He just acts, and acts swiftly, as if moved by some inner demon.

Executing rapists is an action after the fact. It’s like endlessly arresting erring drivers without studying the reasons for the rampant violations and attacking the problems that give rise to violations.

There is wisdom in physically removing rapists from society, but for optimum results prosecution must be accompanied by parallel campaigns on factors that give rise to sex crimes.

Sen. Loren Legarda was right in pointing to the need for accompanying campaigns aimed at drugs, pornography and businesses offering sexual gratification.

She sounded the alarm that since 1970, the sex crime rate has gone up by 70 percent. Last year, there were 3,031 rapes reported to the police. Countless more offenses were presumed to have remained unreported because of the delicate nature of the crime.

Note that since the Feb. 5 execution of Echegaray, rape cases continue to be reported everyday. Obviously, a total approach to the problem must be given priority.

* * *

ANOTHER area where presidential resolve is urgently needed is out there in the streets of Metro Manila, which are in the deadly grip of the twin monsters of traffic and pollution.

Mr. President, thousands of commuters are slowly dying from the poisonous gas that hangs like a deadly shroud over our streets. Commuters sit helplessly inhaling the noxious air—and nobody’s doing anything about it.

Our officials who stay ensconced in air-conditioned offices and zip around town in air-conditioned and heavily tinted luxury vehicles (paid for by taxpayers) have cut themselves off the mainstream. They refuse to know what we ordinary Filipinos have to go through every day.

If only our officials would take public transport occasionally in going to work and their appointments, they would realize what hell commuters go through because of their ineptness and lack of concern.

* * *

A RUSH-hour ride on a public bus from Monumento to Makati via EDSA should be a valuable immersion for our officials who want to know what we’re talking about and capture the mood of suffering commuters.

President Estrada’s heart bleeds for the mahihirap. We ask him to try the EDSA route, with open windows as in a real jeepney, so he would know how bad the traffic and pollution problems have become on this busy artery.

If we need another reason for acting on the chaos on the road, it is that the bruising traffic transforms the basically patient Pinoy driver into a monster who must fight it out in raw beastly fashion out there in the streets.

Even if he survives the traffic madness, the highly toxic air pollution will get him and condemn him to a slow death by lethal inhalation.

Mr. President, please get angry and tell your boys to do something about the traffic and the pollution. And stay angry till you get results.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 9, 1999)

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