POSTSCRIPT / July 15, 1999 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Marcoses are buying clearance for $150M

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.

* * *

THE Estrada administration is getting entangled in its own confusion and inconsistencies over the escrow (pronounced “screw”) account. Defending his plan to use it as collateral for another foreign loan, President Estrada stoutly declared days ago that the $590 million was government money and that the Marcoses had nothing to do with the loan.

But if the money is owned by the government, or the people, why is it being used to pay a private obligation ($150 million) of the Marcoses to the victims of human rights abuses? Has Mr. Estrada been appointed the guarantor of the Marcoses?

Examine the flipside of the ownership issue.

If on the other hand the screw account is owned by the Marcoses, why is the Estrada administration freely using it as collateral for more foreign loans? Are the Marcoses now the guarantor of the Estrada administration?

However you look at it, everything’s crooked with that $590-million screw account. Don’t be surprised if the owners themselves turn out to be crooked.

* * *

NOW come the rights abuse victims warning that nobody should touch the money because they own part of it. Ang gulo na talaga!

They are obviously referring to the $150 million from the screw account that Judge Real of Hawaii has ordered the Philippine government to transfer to an American bank of his choice.

Imagine a US district judge ordering the Philippine government around! But considering the “mental colony” of the Estrada administration, it seems minded to obeying the order of that American judge presiding over the Aloha pineapple plantations.

After delivering the Visiting Forces Agreement to Uncle Sam intact, subservience to an American court seems second nature to Mr. Estrada. He is huffing and puffing to slice off $150 million from what he says is government money and to dispatch it with lightning speed to Hawaii.

* * *

SOMEBODY should advice the President that the Sandiganbayan still has to decide who owns that $590 million. It is, therefore, premature and preposterous at this point for anybody, even the President of the Republic, to declare who rightfully owns the screw account.

Until the graft court has determined the ownership of the disputed account, it is contemptuous of Mr. Estrada to give a portion of it to a US court across the Pacific for distribution to third parties.

Neither is it right for him to declare it as government-owned and use it as collateral for another foreign loan that would sink us deeper into debt.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 15, 1999)

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