POSTSCRIPT / January 26, 1999 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Baby E should escape from her mental prison

BEFORE we start, we say clearly that we are for the death penalty for certain heinous crimes.

But think of this:

It may seem farfetched, maybe incredible, but suppose months or even years after the execution of Leo Echegaray, his daughter Baby whom he allegedly raped, breaks down and confesses that while he may have done her some grievous wrongs, he never did rape her?

Only Echegaray and his daughter, and God who watches over all things, know if the rape did take place.

A Quezon City court has ruled that the rape did take place, and the Supreme Court agreed and affirmed the ruling as well as the capital punishment that came with it.

* * *

THE main basis for Echegaray’s conviction is his daughter’s insistent and consistent claim that her father raped her a number of times. We won’t say that she was lying, but like Bill Clinton saying he was not lying, Baby may have been saying something with some mental reservations.

It’s a wild thought, but it keeps coming back when I try dismissing it.

A man about to meet his Maker, someone as prepared as Echegaray, can be expected to make his departure easier by making a clean breast of it all. He can confess, be truly sorry, ask for forgiveness and accept whatever comes after his total capitulation to the Truth.

But to this very day, he has maintained his innocence of the accusation that he raped Baby. Yes, he has done other sordid things in life, but we’re talking here only of the rape.

Of course there is such a thing as “deny to death” among suspects hounded by possible harsh retribution. But in Echegaray’s case, there can be no more fear of a backlash harsher than being put to death if he admits his guilt and commends his soul to his Creator before execution.

* * *

NOW assuming there is this slim chance that there may have been a blurring of events in Baby’s recollection, of emotions confusing her thoughts, or some human frailty that may have warped her mind in a stressful moment… can she still correct or at least clarify her earlier testimonies?

Such a clarification, assuming it is in order, is becoming less and less possible with Baby’s handlers placing her in this and that situation, pushing her deeper into the rut.

With Baby being asked repeatedly—by prosecutors, interviewers, officials, alleged do-gooders, etc.—questions that prompt her to repeat her accusations and her condemnation of her father, her mind has been conditioned almost beyond repair to recite certain predictable lines when posed the same questions.

Then Baby was dragged to media events, to that high-profile march on Ayala Avenue in Makati, to radio interviews and TV appearances (with that ubiquitous cover on her face) to act and talk as the situation dictated.

She was even dragged to Malacañang, to other dens of politicians, to allow the suddenly bleeding hearts to grab their share of the publicity, throwing at her such rewards as scholarships, a house and lot and other gifts.

* * *

WITH that whirlwind roadshow, how can Baby now deviate from her lines—assuming there is that slim possibility that she might wake up one morning feeling different.

We strongly suggest that effective immediately, Baby should be rescued from her handlers and led to a quiet, more relaxed and meditative life—one completely beyond the glare of media and the public eye, beyond the promptings of anyone or anything except her conscience.

The girl, who must be under severe stress, should be allowed to escape and be herself, alone with her thoughts, alone with her true Father.

How can this be done right away? We don’t know. All we know is that it is urgent that it be done right away. Long before Echegaray’s February 5 rendezvous with death.

* * *

LEST we be misunderstood, we repeat: We are for capital punishment for certain heinous crimes.

But we ask: What constitutes a heinous crime?

For instance, not every rape can be considered heinous, especially considering how wide we have made the legal definition of rape. In our new definition, what Bill Clinton did to/with Monica Lewinsky would have been rape had it not been for the consent (nay, encouragement) of the White House intern.

Pressed for a definition, this commentator might say simply that a heinous crime is one that cries to heaven for the swift sword of vengeance—although even that is not clear enough for our lawyers to chew on. For one, it is very subjective.

Many lawmakers riding on the crest of public opinion have come out in favor of keeping the death penalty in the statutes. Wise political move.

But what they should do, we think, is to work out a clearer, narrower and more just definition of what a heinous crime is.

* * *

GEN. Panfilo Lacson, head of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force, had no direct hand in the shooting of members of the Iglesia ni Cristo by PAOCTF agents, but he has to do some explaining.

The fair-haired boy of President Estrada must rush back from abroad and take full control of the volatile situation. The incident has raised again in the minds of many people the specter of a Frankenstein’s monster going berserk.

The dismayed public is suddenly seeing a flashback of previous bloody incidents involving Lacson and his gunmen. These include the massacre of Kuratong-Baleleng robbery suspects and the alleged shooting of a lawyer and his clients at Magallanes Village in a drugs case.

Although President Estrada is expected to protect his boys, the influential Iglesia—which supported Mr. Estrada in the last presidential election—is also expected to press for action on the latest incident.

The people are watching Mr. Estrada, more than his protege.

* * *

THE Chinese mischief in the Spratlys and the heavy fighting with Moro secessionists in the South could be a useful distraction for the mahihirap who had taken seriously presidential promises that they would be delivered from grinding poverty.

This is the local version of the Iraq option that US President Clinton took at the height of the Republican campaign to humiliate and hound him out of office for the Lewinsky affair.

Faced with a foreign aggressor building military facilities on an islet that is clearly within the Philippine exclusive economic zone, we cannot help rallying around our President in pushing back the “creeping invasion.”

And if we run low on funds, we can always blame the gigantic expenses entailed by the rush upgrading of the fighting capability of our armed forces. The patriotic poor must wait.

* * *

THE unrelenting war of liberation being waged by Moro groups with the help of sympathetic foreign supporters demands full and undivided attention not only of government but also the loyal population.

War has always been a sure-fire formula for uniting a people, whatever their economic condition, against a perceived common enemy.

Who would be so traitorous as would not fall in line when the bugle call is sounded against the enemy?

People are hungry? Life is hard? Never mind that, we have a formidable enemy moving to swallow up the nation if it does not move together.

Political enemies are throwing bombshells and stink bombs at the Palace? Look, with this serious security problem that threatens the very existence of the state, they better hold their fire and help out. The people, who are themselves being rallied, cannot tolerate traitors.

* * *

THE campaign of the Bureau of Internal Revenue to collect the proper taxes from dance instructors, operators of mega-taxis (FX Tamaraw types), and other sectors blatantly evading the payment of taxes is long overdue.

The campaign may look discriminatory, but the massive tax evasion is of public knowledge. It is high time those who should pay paid.

The main problem, if we may repeat it for the nth time, is that after the first bursts of harassing operations and after some fast operators have collected enough, the campaign would just be forgotten in ningas-cogon fashion.

In fact, cynics have seen the announcement of the campaign as nothing but a signal for the affected sectors to come across.

There were earlier noises about letting the axe fall on movie stars, professionals (such as doctors who do not issue official receipts), but after the early flurry nothing came out of it except some taxmen going home with pockets bulging.

* * *

COINCIDENTAL with this tax campaign, we reiterate our suggestion that a law be passed giving the BIR a strict deadline to refund excess income withholding taxes, providing for the payment of interest after the deadline, and imposing penalties for violations.

With the payment of residence or community taxes (cedula) at the start of the year, we again raise the question of double taxation.

The cedula tax is based on the citizen’s income and real property holdings. The higher one’s income and real estate assets are, the higher is the residence tax.

Isn’t this double taxation? We have already paid taxes on that income and those real property. So why are we being taxed all over again for the same items?

More than a century ago, exasperated Filipinos led by Andres Bonifacio tore their cedulas issued by a foreign colonial government. Yet, this symbol of government greed is still with us.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 26, 1999)

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