POSTSCRIPT / January 5, 1999 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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SC reprieve for rapist a cheap PR gimmick?

WITH due respect to the Supreme Court, which has ordered a stay in the execution yesterday of child rapist Leo Echegaray, we think the tribunal was clumsily trying to project a humane side to its severely tarnished image.

The confused court has already affirmed the death sentence imposed by the lower court, so what’s the point in issuing a belated temporary restraining order? Are the honorable justices suddenly doubting their earlier, but final, decision?

The high tribunal’s attempt at a show of judicial benevolence is too late and too clumsy. From where we sit, it looks like a puerile public relations gimmick.

Delaying the rapist’s rendezvous with death, the court suggests the possibility that the legislature, a separate branch of government, might repeal or revise the law imposing the dealt penalty. And apply retroactively to Echegaray?

Kung sa bagay, with certified rapists among the members of Congress, a repeal is possible.

* * *

THE fate of Echegaray was not up to President Estrada as some papers said, quoting Jaime Cardinal Sin and others who gave up their bid to stay his execution before the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order.

The rapist’s trial and conviction — including his being doomed for execution by lethal injection— was a solo performance of the Judiciary, not Malacañang.

The Executive branch comes in only to carry out the execution order of the court. The justice department, an executive agency, has no choice but to obey the court order.

It is wrong, even unfair, to drop on the lap of the President the heavy responsibility of deciding whether Echegaray should die or not—although it was obvious that Mr. Estrada would not mind sending the convict to the pits of hell.

* * *

SOME papers devoted generous space to pointing out the negative influences of the neighborhood where Echegaray grew up. There was a subtle hint that his environment may have shaped his character and, consequently, his criminal bent.

Of course, we are all affected by our environment, but crimes are personal acts and each of us will have to face the consequences of our voluntary acts instead of passing the blame on the evil world around us.

In pleading for clemency for an unrepentant rapist, let’s not get distracted by desperate arguments. After raping our environment, we’re now blaming the same environment for Echegaray’s rape of his own daughter.

* * *

ANOTHER distracting point is: Will the execution of the condemned rapist serve as a deterrent to would-be rapists?

The answer to this question is secondary, if not irrelevant, to the basic and emotional question of whether or not Echegaray the convict should be executed at all.

It is immaterial if his death would discourage latent rapists. The main point is that he committed a heinous crime carrying the death penalty, and the court said he should pay.

That his execution would or would not strike fear into the hearts of would-be rapists has nothing to do with his having to pay for his sins.

* * *

IF Echegaray or his heirs would sell the rights to the filming of his life, their condition naturally would be that the man not be projected in unfavorable light.

But why should we allow a commercial film factory to cash in on the incestuous crime and evoke some sympathy for the rapist aside from materially rewarding his new wife for a crime that society wants him to pay for?

Selling the film rights is a commercial transaction that you and I may not have any business opposing. Still, we hope producers will have enough sense and decency not to immortalize in celluloid the Echegaray monstrosity of a story.

* * *

MEANWHILE, we cannot ignore the recent confiscation of the film of a TV crew that took footages of the gathering of well-wishers of the First Family at their new official residence near Malacañang.

The crew was interviewing one of the President’s sons in front of the Premier Guesthouse, the residence, then turned the camera on the guests who reportedly included some controversial figures.

One report said the President himself saw the crew and asked for the film, replacing it with a fresh roll.

Apologists justified this assault on press freedom by saying that the gathering was a private affair and that the President had all the right and reason to ban coverage or to stop press materials that had been gathered.

* * *

NO, Sir, that was not a private affair! The President of the Republic is not a private personality. This public official was moving into an official residence that is public property.

We dare add that the expenses pertaining to that residence, the upkeep of his household and the reception of guests were paid from public funds.

It is also of public interest, if not concern, who rub elbows with the President, get invited to the presidential guesthouse, and influence his official actuations.

It was unfortunate that the film of a legitimate TV news crew was seized. It was a case of prior restraint, of government censorship, a violation of press freedom.

* * *

STILL on public funds, we say that President Estrada had no business giving away funds from the Executive department to members of Congress.

If each honorable congressman needed P100,000 as calamity assistance, as Mr. Estrada explained, the money should have been taken from the coffers of the House of Representatives.

Never mind if Speaker Manuel Villar had already given similarly substantial money gifts to congressmen who had the cheek to go to him caroling.

The P100,000 given by the President to each of around 200 congressmen was pure and simple bribery. It was a public relations gesture, part of a continuing campaign to buy or win congressional cooperation for administration programs.

Also part of that campaign was the surreptitious restoration of pork barrel in the national budget — to the tune of P40 million per congressman — despite the President’s announcing the end of pork barrel under his administration.

If reports of the P100,000 bribery are not true, how come until this late date not a peep of a denial has been heard from the usually voluble congressmen?

Only Speaker Villar denied it, but obviously he was lying.

* * *

AN Estrada loyalist has told us that the executive officials whom we had described as in a great hurry to amass a pile are just a temporary pain in the neck.

He explained that some of those in the first batch of officials installed to key positions were appointed in payment of some political debts. Knowing their temporary tenure, some of them are reportedly making hay while the Erap sun shines on them.

The Estrada loyalist assured us that when these temporary appointees have had their fill or they commit a blunder, they would be replaced promptly with the President’s own trusted men.

What? The government is a feeding pond for hungry crocodiles?

* * *

WE’RE heartened by news that our 210-pound 5-foot-8½ President wants to lose from 30 to 40 pounds. And thus live longer.

If newspaper ads are to be believed, losing that much avoirdupois is no sweat. Maybe Mr. Estrada should scan the inside pages of the Philippine STAR and pick a likely reducing saloon.

We’re sure they would be flattered to render home service or grant him a hefty discount if Dr. Loi joins him in the program.

* * *

SERIOUSLY, it’s the President’s diet and eating habits that spell success or doom for his reducing plan for the new year. As the experts say, we’re what we eat.

Even among us non-presidents, our state of health would greatly improve if we followed a correct diet. For instance, after all that gorging on rich food during the holidays, the right thing to do is to go through a cleansing diet or even to fast.

Of course, we don’t say this to the countless people wallowing in poverty whose main problem is not to fast but to find food to eat.

Maybe that’s a good point for Mr. Estrada to remember: Whenever he sees food, he should think of the millions of his countrymen, the mahihirap, who have not tasted good food for a long, long time.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 5, 1999)

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