POSTSCRIPT / January 21, 1999 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Proponents of Marcos settlement desperate?

OUR “Postscript” remarks last Tuesday urging the government to reject any bid to compromise the Marcos illegal wealth cases and grant global immunity to the heirs of the dictator must have hit a raw nerve.

Some people used to having their imperious ways have been threatening us for our vehement opposition to the settlement being pursued assiduously by President Estrada with his friends, the Marcoses.

Threats do not add to the arguments of those favoring settlement and immunity. On the contrary, bullying tactics only serve to incense media into proceeding with what they had set out to do — to serve the higher public interest.

On the flipside, we thank the many readers who had encouraging words and who expressed agreement with the arguments we presented against settlement and immunity for the Marcoses.

But really, if the estimated P500 billion that the Marcoses amassed under martial rule were honest income, kung di iyan nakaw, why are they rushing to compromise the cases and retain only a fourth of the loot?

* * *

THIS column salutes the two Supreme Court justices — Artemio V. Panganiban and Jose C. Vitug — who courageously stood their ground in the face of the lynch mob crying for the blood of child-rapist Leo Echegaray.

Voting against the death penalty, the two justices were simply being consistent in their stand that RA 7659, the death penalty law applied to the Echegaray case, falls short of the strict requirements of constitutionality.

Transcending man-made statutes, there is a higher Law compelling all of us, including magistrates who stand to judge their fellowmen, to always follow a certain conscience.

We assume that justices Panganiban and Vitug acted consonant with conscience — and we respect them for it. It would have detracted from their solemn oath as judges had they acted against the dictates of their conviction.

We assume as much in the case of the other justices, whichever way they voted or abstained. The tribunal led by Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. went through a crucible, from which we pray it would come out stronger.

The past few days were not conducive to a dispassionate discussion of the life and death issues. With the Supreme Court having spoken, however, we hope the passions stoked by the Echegaray case can now simmer down and allow us to think and act as we should.

* * *

ONE is seized with burning rage on piecing together the reports of STAR columnists Ramon Farolan (also editor in chief) and Art Borjal, about billions earned from the sale of Fort Bonifacio, the fat zero allotted for modernizing our defense capability, and the staggering billions sunk into the Filipino Expo at Clark Field.

The law governing the privatization of Fort Bonifacio and other military camps orders that 35 percent of the proceeds be set aside in a special fund for the modernization of our defense capability.

Farolan reports that the Ramos administration earned P26 billion from the sale of Fort Bonifacio. But it seems the government spent the money elsewhere — certainly not for national defense that the law named as the biggest beneficiary.

On the other hand, Borjal quotes documents showing that four government financial institutions—the Government Service and Insurance System, the Social Security System, the Land Bank of the Philippines, and the Development Bank of the Philippines — contributed P350 million each to Expo Filipino.

For the nationwide Centennial celebration, Borjal cites a total expenditure of P11.2 billion, part of which went to the Expo Filipino, a White Elephant that is now gasping for survival in Laharlandia.

The amount does not include the millions also spent by local governments and other agencies for their own Centennial pakulo. Even on the local government level, the Centennial was one big moneymaking occasion.

* * *

FORMER President Ramos should not be allowed to just slink away from the scene without giving an accounting of the P11 billion allegedly spent for the Centennial. He must also explain why he sold the army’s Fort Bonifacio without giving the armed forces its rightful share of the proceeds.

This columnist would also add the question: Did the Ramos administration inform all bidders to Fort Bonifacio that the 214-hectare real estate sits on top of an active segment of the Marikina Valley fault? Was there full disclosure?

Indeed, was the winning bidder First Pacific aware that it was buying valuable Ming that was actually cracked porcelain? (And in turn, is it telling buyers of space in Fort Bonifacio of the seismic nature of the land?)

* * *

WITH security now a top concern — what with the Chinese menace in the Spratlys and the eruption of violence in the South — the diversion of the proceeds from the Fort Bonifacio sale must not be allowed to be swept under the rug.

The Bases Conversion and Development Act of 1992 as amended (RA 7917) allots the biggest share of 35 percent from the sale of military camps to the self-reliance program and modernization of the armed forces.

Some P26 million from the sale of Fort Bonifacio has been remitted to the national treasury and turned over to Malacañang during the time of President Ramos through the Department of Budget and Management.

Fort Bonifacio was sold years ago, but where is the P9 billion (or 35 percent f P26 billion) required to be deposited in a trust fund for the armed forces? Nobody seems to know.

* * *

IT is incredible that General Ramos, a former defense secretary and chief of staff, may have neglected the remittance of the money to the armed forces. He should at least explain or make a detailed accounting.

While neglecting the armed forces, the Ramos administration diverted P11 billion into its extravagant Centennial bash. What distorted priorities!

Aside from government contributions, Borjal reports that there were also big sums from foreign donations, including P145 million from the Spanish government and some P72 million from several foreign firms.

Considering the loose spending of billions and with practically nothing to show for it after the flurry of extravagance, we get to think that we should all stop paying taxes until they can show us into whose pockets the billions have gone.

If Mr. Ramos cannot or does not want to explain, his successor President Estrada should order an audited financial report published in media.

This might be wishful thinking. We can almost see the Farolans, Borjals and the rest of us running out of saliva asking questions but no honest answers forthcoming from callous officials.

* * *

BACK to our recurrent appeal to President Estrada to please do something drastic to ease the twin problems of traffic and pollution slowly strangling Metro Manila and poisoning thousands of commuters who venture into the streets.

In the case of the Metro Rail Transit painfully taking shape on Epifanio delos Santos Ave., note that the stations being built at key intersections will result in portions of EDSA becoming like basement parking areas.

We’re sure the darkened road space under these stations will have lighting, but will somebody please check if there are provisions for adequate ventilation? Without strong air current being forced through these cellar-like sections, the trapped polluted air will poison commuters.

The MRT has spanned three administrations — Aquino, Ramos and Estrada — but is still far from finished.

Baka abutan pa iyan nang pagbabalik ni General Ramos!

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 21, 1999)

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