POSTSCRIPT / July 8, 1999 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Meldy buying absolution from cash-strapped Erap

HAVING co-opted the cash-strapped Estrada administration, Mrs. Imelda R. Marcos has gained the psychological upper hand in her campaign to redeem the family honor with a sweeping clearance from the government.

Despite denials of President Estrada and Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora, Mrs. Marcos goes around telling everybody, including the press, that indeed there is now substantive agreement for a settlement of the cases hounding the Marcoses since they fled in fear and disgrace in 1986.

We understand the Imeldific excitement over her family’s impending total and irreversible clearance considering the seriousness of the civil, criminal and tax charges hanging over their heads.

But as sure as night follows day, Mrs. Marcos will be advised to please keep quiet so as not to derail the express train about to deliver the settlement package restoring the Marcoses’s supposed innocence before the courts and the community.

* * *

THE big question is if the public will play along and allow President Estrada to sell an omnibus clearance to the Marcoses.

We deliberately used the term “sell,” because the omnipotent spirit moving behind the dark curtains is, you guessed it, money! It’s a huge pile of money.

To put it simply and clearly, the Marcoses are buying back respectability. And they are rushing things because after finding Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos not only inhospitable but also hostile, they now have their old friend Erap Estrada in the Palace in firm hold of the reins of power.

It’s now or never for the Marcoses.

But the negotiations have to be done in utmost secrecy so as to catch by surprise everybody outside the tight circle. By the time the facts and their full implications are known, it would be too late for anybody to stop the sellout.

* * *

A TALLY of Mr. Estrada’s major promises made during the presidential campaign, his inaugural speech, in the course of his first year in office, and in his first-anniversary report, shows him continuing to fuel the rising expectations of the people.

Despite his inheriting what he described as a bankrupt government, Mr. Estrada continues to add to his litany of extravagant promises. Even the casual observer is wont to ask where President Estrada will get the billions needed to make good all those unsolicited pledges.

The presidential promises to curb crime, graft, and influence peddling in government do not require considerable government resources.

But other Estrada commitments involving poverty alleviation, job generation, mass housing and public health require billions that the government cannot produce by any stretch of the imagination.

That, dear Watson, is where the Imeldific fairy godmother comes in with her magic golden wand.

* * *

PRESIDENT Estrada appears to have been caught in the web of his extravagant promises.

If he is to redeem his runaway promises, he should be able to coax the economy to produce the wealth needed. His finance gofers should then be able to collect the corresponding revenue on that wealth, and his managers to use the funds for the optimum redemption of the long list of presidential promises.

That’s a tall order in logistical terms.

But not to worry. If Mrs. Marcos can be convinced to make good her own promise (although obviously made in a mere defensive reflex action) to use the Marcos wealth for the welfare of the impoverished population, then a symbiotic deal is feasible.

The deal, simplified here so everybody would understand it, is: Erap would help Meldy with her problem, and Meldy would help Erap with his promises. The good thing, for them, is that they are both in a position to help each other.

(If in the process, some major players who made the deal possible earn several millions, that’s a bonus. Everybody’s entitled to his own hanapbuhay, di ba?)

* * *

SO, unless the killjoys derail the gravy train, Erap and Meldy will soon be able to deliver their respective ends of the deal. Meldy will get the settlement of her dreams and Erap will have the wherewithal for his projects.

And what can we do, except mount the pulpit and recite all over again our homily on the lesson offered by the Marcoses’ impending purchase of plenary absolution:

The lesson, dear children, is that money is the measure of all things. He who has the most money rules.

If your parents are in government, ask them to steal and alleviate your own poverty. And they should steal big if the opportunity presents itself, because your family will need the money to buy back respectability in the remote possibility that they get caught.

Don’t listen to conscience. That’s just a word for envy (as in “inggit lang kayo!”). Don’t heed your teachers (who are being reduced to waiting for a chance to make money on the side) or to your parish priest (many of whom are disposed to bless anybody, even crooks, who donate part of their loot).

Never mind the law. The law could be twisted in your favor anyway, if you had the money.

Now, if you cannot stomach this distressing state of affairs and you’re not in a position to mount a coup or a revolution, join the hundreds lining up daily in front of foreign embassies so you can leave this country to the dogs.

End of sermon. Amen.

* * *

SOME of us criticize President Estrada for supposed lack of leadership and management skill after seeing many of his Cabinet members and other ranking officials publicly quarrel over turf (sometimes translated to “pagkakakitaan”).

The more we look at this seeming disarray in key offices, the more we are convinced that the apparent cracks in the organization are deliberate. This could be Mr. Estrada’s management style, setting subordinates to spy and squeal on one another.

This divide-and-rule technique has been found effective in some situations where the Boss does not have the personal organization to monitor loyalty and performance. Is it not possible that Mr. Estrada is employing it, either by force of habit or out of necessity?

We find it rather unusual for Mr. Estrada not to have seen the negative consequences of his boys’ quarreling with one another. There must be an ulterior motive to it.

* * *

AND then, note how President Estrada has been cultivating the masa as a political bailiwick transcending geographical divisions. Every so often, we hear him reiterating with hypnotic regularity, that he is launching this and that project, adopting this or that policy “for the poor.”

Mr. Estrada seems resigned to being unable to win the favor of the educated rich and middle class and has started to dig in and surround himself with the poor.

With politics being a game of numbers and with the majority dictating the direction of a democracy like ours, aligning and identifying oneself with the teeming masses is an adroit political gimmick.

* * *

EVEN in the review of cases of convicts languishing on Death Row, Mr. Estrada gives excessive emphasis on his new line that poverty could be a mitigating, if not extenuating, circumstance.

Such declaration is obviously angled to catch the attention, if not the affection, of the poor. It may be a cheap trick, but it works.

In many other areas, we see the President assiduously cultivating the loyalty of the poor, presumably intending to use them as a foil against the hard-to-please middle and upper classes.

This divisive style is possibly an extension of the same management technique he uses to keep his boys fighting to demonstrate their loyalty to him.

* * *

POSTSCRIPT: A reader wrote to say that we had misspelled “baccarat,” the card game played solo by presidential adviser Mark Jimenez when he recently won P147 million with no less than Pagcor president Butch Tenorio looking after him at his favorite Pagcor casino. The reader ribbed us, saying that maybe we don’t play the game. Actually we had spotted the misspelling (it was initially “bacarrat”) and asked the office to please correct it. It was “corrected” all right, but with another incorrect spelling (“baccarrat”). Next time, we should just call it Lucky Nine, which it really is… We would like to advice readers sending us email not to include attachments. With our fear of being hit by viruses, we have stopped opening and reading attachments that come with email, especially files with .exe extensions. If you have notes or some materials, please paste them on the email message itself. Repeat: Please paste, instead of attaching, them.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 8, 1999)

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