POSTSCRIPT / July 11, 1999 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Rights abuse victims can’t bind all Filipinos

IF the 9,539 complainants in the human rights abuse cases consolidated in the US District Court in Hawaii now want to be paid off and in return promise never to file similar cases against the Marcoses, that’s their own business.

But that is all they can agree to. They cannot presume to speak for the rest of the world, especially involving other cases of other parties, nor can their settlement be expanded to misrepresent the rest of humanity.

It is highly irregular for the Estrada administration to give an extended interpretation of the basic settlement with the human rights claimants and, worse, use it to now grant the Marcoses total and absolute immunity from all civil, criminal and tax cases — past, present and future.

President Estrada is showing unusual concern for his old friends the Marcoses. Somebody should remind him that he is the president of all Filipinos, not just of the cronies.

* * *

THE impending omnibus settlement between the Marcoses and the Estrada administration takes off from the controversial settlement with human rights abuse victims submitted to Judge Manuel Real of the US District Court in Hawaii.

The Estrada beatification rites prepared for the Marcoses will start with the release of $150 million to the rights abuse victims from the $540 million (now grown to $590 million) kept in escrow with the Philippine National Bank.

Payment of the victims is the key that would open the $440-million balance for a division of the spoils of martial law between the Marcoses and their benefactor in Malacañang.

The same key would unlock the secret vaults holding the Marcos loot that includes $800 million in gold, a $13.46-billion secret account of Irene Marcos-Araneta, and the P500 billion in blue chips held by Marcos dummies. The Marcoses could then freely withdraw from these accounts.

* * *

THE same key would provide the legal basis for dropping and blocking all civil, criminal and tax cases against the Marcoses, including graft charges against Mrs. Imelda Marcos and a final judgment of the Supreme Court for the Marcoses to pay P23.5 billion in back taxes and penalties.

The rehabilitation of the Marcoses will be total and irreversible. It would be like the martial law nightmare and the EDSA Revolt that ended it never happened.

The irony is that the same money stolen from the people is the same money now being used to buy back respectability. The acquiescence of the poor masses is being bought without the Marcoses having to admit anything and apologize.

* * *

TWO points should be clear by now:

  1. If we don’t want plenary absolution for the Marcoses and a shameless rewriting of history, we should not allow the release of the $150 million payment to human rights abuse victims from the escrow account with the Philippine National Bank.

The Hawaii court should not source the payment from contested funds deposited with the Philippine National Bank but directly from the Marcoses or from Marcos assets within its jurisdiction in the United States.

  1. Any settlement with the Hawaii court should cover only the litigants and their charges and not encompass other charges by other parties, pending or impending, against the Marcoses.

Complications would be eliminated and payment expedited if only the rights abuse victims made clear in writing before the Hawaii court that their settlement referred only to their own cases.

* * *

BLOWING hot and cold, President Estrada once again told the Malacañang press corps that he would henceforth not allow ambush interviews. He could have stopped there. But he went on and told the press to just cover the President by listening to him on radio.

That was an insult, not to the press, but to the presidency.

Erap Estrada is being childish. While many people now realize that Mr. Estrada was not prepared for the presidency when he ran, it is amazing how he could exhibit such immaturity! His media advisers should scramble to dig him out of that hole.

Pitting the newspapers versus radio may seem like a low blow, but it is actually a high pointer in Mr. Estrada’s style as manager. His divide-and-rule technique of eliciting competitive loyalty is legendary.

* * *

THE latest manifestation of this divisive streak in Mr. Estrada is his plying the poor masa with more glowing promises to rally them around him in his quarrel with the carping upper middle class.

He must have figured that in a showdown, he would be safer on the side of the poor, who are in the majority and whose ranks keep swelling with the continued failure of the Estrada administration to improve the quality of people’s lives.

The same style has been evident from way back as his Cabinet members and agency heads, not to mention the small circle of assistants and advisers, quarrel among themselves for presidential attention.

On a higher level, his preference for meeting Cabinet officials individually instead of in a full-blown regular Cabinet meeting apparently springs from the same divide-and-rule principle.

* * *

BUT his advisers should tell him that while the divisive trick might work in a small town like San Juan, or with the movie press, it certainly would not work with the legitimate mainstream press.

For one, his hiding from print media will not stop the continuous flow of unflattering reports, which seem to be his main brief against newspapers.

The legitimate press will not take kindly to being reduced to monitoring radio interviews of the President, interpreting statements of his spokesman and rewriting press releases of his press secretary.

Such a partial blackout will just goad them into a frenzy of closer and more critical coverage of the presidency.

* * *

STATISTICS may suggest there might be propaganda value in the President’s paying more attention to radio than to newspapers.

An electronic medium, radio breaks through physical barriers of seas, mountains, forests, etc. and reaches the remotest village in whatever weather condition. No wires, trucks or expensive gadgets are needed to deliver the news.

In contrast, the combined circulation of newspapers is only a little over one million (in a nation of more than 70 million!). Only about 17 percent of adults get their news and entertainment from the print media.

Despite its reach, radio has not been able to approximate the power of the printed word, whose depth, breadth and permanence are its guarantee of comparative worth.

No leader of a democratic system in his right mind will taunt the free press, or treat the media like he were playing one mistress against another.

* * *

TALKING of the divide-and-rule style of handling people, a reader sent an angry email saying in so many words that he was the first to say that Mr. Estrada has been using a divide-and-rule approach.

He accused me of stealing his idea when I wrote some time back that Mr. Estrada may be deliberately fomenting turf wars among his boys and that the latest manifestation of that divisive tack is his embracing the poor as a foil in his quarrel with the upper middle class.

What can Postscript do except to inform our reader that we’ve heard of this divide-and–rule thing as far back as our grade school days. We didn’t know he held a copyright on it.

And if the reader says he had mentioned it in an earlier email to us, well, we’re sorry to say we did not notice that line in the flood of messages and poll responses tumbling down the Internet to our mailbox.

* * *

THIS incident prompts us to note that if one examines closely what columnists write, he’ll discover that there is not much in what they write that has not been said before elsewhere.

Take for instance the points discussed in Postscript about the omnibus settlement of the Marcos cases. Almost everything that we’ve been saying on the subject must have been said before.

The venerable columnist Doroy Valencia (“Over a Cup of Coffee”) used to tell us of his alleged formula for popular writing. He claimed he simply repeated in his column what people had been saying.

Ka Doroy remarked that when people read their own thoughts in a column, they exclaim “Tama ito!” and their esteem of the columnist rises.

Of course Ka Doroy was a bit exaggerating, because his column was usually spiced with major scoops. It was a source of first-time snippets of upcoming policy and trends in higher echelons of government.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 11, 1999)

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