POSTSCRIPT / January 19, 1999 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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No to any compromise, immunity for Marcoses

DON’T compromise with the Marcoses! If that wealth amassed under martial rule is really theirs, at hindi nakaw, why are Imelda Marcos and her brood willing to settle for just a fourth of the loot?

That’s a most unusual behavior for people professing innocence. If they were on the right, they should be fighting tooth and nail for their precious possessions, not to mention the family honor.

Note that until now, the imperious Marcoses — like child-rapist Leo Echegaray — have not deigned to admit any wrongdoing and apologize.

In contrast, two Korean presidents convicted for massive corruption similar to that of the Marcoses have apologized. Even US President Bill Clinton, impeached for less serious sex-related behavior, has apologized.

But not the Marcoses.

Why? Is it because they have found in the Estrada administration a most hospitable cover for their return to power and eminence? We see them rushing things while Mr. Estrada is in Malacañang.

* * *

PRESIDENT Estrada has shown his cards. He is willing to accommodate his old friends and allies, the Marcoses, and grant them immunity and the right to pocket a fourth of the loot of the Marcos dictatorship.

As things are shaping up, Mr. Estrada is emerging as the de facto lead counsel of the Marcoses in their illegal wealth case.

To push a settlement with the Marcoses, Mr. Estrada is baiting the Marcos human rights victims to accept $150 million in damages to be taken from the government’s share in the estate of the late dictator.

The 10,000 or so victims — like public school teachers who have to demonstrate before the Palace to get money that is already theirs — have been starved and made to wait to collect the $2-billion in damages awarded them by a US federal court in 1995.

Tortured further by this deprivation of what is legally theirs, the human rights claimants are now being manipulated to agree to accept part of the Marcos wealth.

* * *

THAT’S a trap. If the torture victims bite the $150-million bait, the more than $550-million Marcos account held in escrow at the Philippine National Bank could be flung open finally for the vultures to pick.

After the PNB loot is divided, it should be easy for them to work out a compromise and bring out and launder the rest of the hidden wealth, including the mind-boggling P500 billion in assets that Imelda says are being held by dummies.

The move for a compromise validates what we have been saying all these years: It does not pay for government personnel to be honest. They should steal, and steal big, if the opportunity presents itself. They have to steal big, because they need millions to buy back respectability in case they get caught.

A postal clerk pilfers a $100 bill from the mail and she lands in jail and in disgrace. A Cabinet official pockets $100 million from a crooked deal and everybody in the coffee shop is impressed. If indicted later, all he has to do is pay off everybody, including the judges.

Is this the new morality, the new code in government?

* * *

THE settlement that the Marcoses are secretly wrapping up with their friend in the Palace is not just about money. Despite a Supreme Court ruling that it is illegal, the formula being worked out includes global immunity from criminal and civil suits, as well as tax liabilities.

We have to give it to Imelda. Now an expert in power politics, she knows how to strike when the iron is hot. She wants total victory. Vindication, she calls it.

At this stage, she and her son Ferdinand Jr. are talking separately with the government — she with Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora and he with President Estrada.

That makes the mother-and-son team flexible since either of them can disown and correct any mistake that the other might make in the complicated negotiations.

It’s curious that the Estrada administration is saying that the government cases against the Marcoses are weak anyway. How do they know? Because they have seen to that?

The people, especially the mahihirap, must be told that since the Estrada administration is already echoing the Marcos line that the evidence is weak, the government appears disposed to lose the cases of the People vs. the Marcoses.

* * *

PRESIDENT Estrada rationalizes his desire to settle the cases by saying that the money can be used for his projects for the poor. He implies that while pursuing the cases, the government cannot touch the funds.

But that should not cause anguish in the Palace. The same wealth is also denied the Marcoses anyway. Besides, we have survived all these years without a cent from the Marcoses.

Considering the background of the ill-gotten wealth cases, the correct move is for the government to renew its resolve and press the charges.

Internal revenue records show that the combined income of the Marcos couple from 1949 to 1984 amounted to only P16.4 million. Based on their legitimate income, how could they have amassed assets worth at least P500 billion?

Under Rep. Act. 1379 (Forfeiture Act), “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.”

So what is the Estrada administration waiting for?

* * *

THAT provision of RA 1379 alone should send to prison more than half of our top officials, past and present, who are living in luxury manifestly beyond their legitimate means.

As the Supreme Court says when it wants to dispense with evidence, the thing speaks for itself. We see around us public officials flaunting their newly amassed wealth.

But there seems to be an unwritten code among officials that they should not poke their fingers into one another’s rackets. This is a bastardized edition of the Biblical line about him who is without sin casting the first stone.

So which office is going to initiate a complaint? And who will prosecute and pursue the charges to their logical conclusion? The Tanodbayan? Forget it!

Who is the quixotic taxpayer who will file charges and bring untold misery into his life?

* * *

THE giving by President Estrada of a P100,000 Christmas bonus to each congressman last December is a good example of blatant violations that nobody bothers to pursue.

In fact, there has been an ominous silence, as if of conspiracy, among lawmakers. They probably know that the issue would soon die down when media stop talking about it.

Even assuming that our bloated congressmen needed P100,000 each, the money should have come from the budget of the House of Representatives, not from a special fund of the Executive Department. (But Speaker Manuel Villar had given similar cash gifts to them already!)

From where we stand, the dole looked like bribery — Malacañang was buying the goodwill and cooperation of congressmen.

“What’s happening to our country?” asked lawyer Angel C. Cruz in a letter expressing sorrow and disbelief at this blatant misuse of public funds.

“There is something basically wrong, morally and legally, about this P100,000 gift,” he added. “I’m offering my humble professional services to clear the matter up.”

The cynics among us will cry “Wala ring mangyayari!”

* * *

WE reiterate our plea to President Estrada to muster anger and presidential resolve to ease the twin problems of traffic and pollution in the streets of Metro Manila.

If the President and the rest of officialdom would take public transport occasionally in going to work and their appointments, they would realize what hell commuters go through everyday.

A trip during rush hours on an ordinary crowded bus from Monumento to Makati via EDSA should be enough immersion for our officials who want to capture the mood of the masses.

President Estrada claims to be for the mahihirap. We ask him to try the EDSA route, so he would know how bad the traffic and pollution problems have become on this well-traveled road.

As we said earlier, the bruising traffic transforms the basically patient Pinoy driver into a monster fighting it out in raw beastly fashion in the asphalt jungle. If he survives the madness, the highly toxic air pollution will condemn him to a slow death by lethal inhalation.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 19, 1999)

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