POSTSCRIPT / July 20, 1999 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Malacañang pal buying control of major paper?

POSTSCRIPT got this from a reliable source, but don’t believe it until it is officially announced: The controlling stock in a major daily that had been in trouble with Malacañang has been sold to some parties close to the Palace.

Some key staffers say they expect their publisher and their editor to be replaced with others who are more “manageable.” Under the new enlightened ownership, the paper is expected to be friendlier to the Boss.

The big question is whether the new beneficial owners would identify themselves to the public or merely prop up some “credible” personalities to front for them and carry out the agenda.

But, as we always tell young reporters, don’t believe it until it happens.

* * *

NOW we know why Transportation Undersecretary Willie Evangelista could not find time to return the call of STAR editor-in-chief Ramon J. Farolan who just wanted to inquire about the traffic situation in Metro Manila.

It turns out that Evangelista was busy piecing together in the dark a P30-billion plan to solve once and for all the traffic mess that has been sapping the metropolis of something like P160 billion a year in direct damage and opportunities lost.

Judging from the details relayed to us about his cosmetic plan to smooth out the traffic kinks, Evangelista is putting to good use his vast experience in the marketing of beauty products when he was still a struggling salesman.

The more notable feature of his plan is the fielding of handsome motorcycle cops on burly Harley-Davidson big bikes outfitted in tailored jackets emblazoned with the awesome seal of the President of the Republic.

* * *

A MARKETING coup is Evangelista’s idea of calling the local copies of CHIPS (California Highway Patrol) “The President’s Men” to give them both grit and glamour. The thinking must be that with every Tom, Dick (no relation) and Harry dropping the name of the President, why not these special traffic law enforcers?

Indeed, Evangelista calls his inspired program “ERAP” (an acronym for Efficient Road Action Program). But don’t ask how many crimes have been committed in Erap’s name.

There is actually nothing new in Evangelista’s ERAP that would make seasoned traffic managers sit up and take notice – except its price tag. The mostly recycled traffic program will cost something like – make the sign of the cross – P30 billion!

With the rising cost of graft, and considering that a study of the Japanese government had placed at P160 billion the losses attributed to the traffic mess in the metropolis, Evangelista’s P30 billion may look, and smell, like chicken feed.

* * *

BESIDES, he hastens to add in his breathless presentation, the burden will be light, because it will be spread around. The local governments lucky enough to have been included in Evangelista’s grandmother of all traffic programs will be told to chip in.

To ensure the local governments will fork over the moolah, Evangelista drags in President Estrada who, he says, will “spearhead the project and assume the primary role of Honorary Chairman, to imbibe upon the members of the citizenry the urgency and the criticality of the traffic congestion and need for immediate positive action.”

Hewing to the apparent Estrada policy of whipping the press into line, Evangelista says that his ERAP will be heavily media-oriented. (“Ano ba ‘to?” our friend’s manicurist whines, “Traffic management by press release?”)

Hope not. Evangelista explains his idea of ERAP being media-driven: “Media hype will be the backbone of the program to create and build up positive images of The President’s Men to play the roles of highly romanticized, bigger-than-life heroes.”

* * *

THE marketing genius in Evangelista emerges as he lays out information plans using posters, leaflets, t-shirts, comic books, bumper stickers, the usual media.

If Manoling Morato had his quickie movies romanticizing Lotto winners, Evangelista will have his own films depicting traffic drama sprinkled with highway chases and gun battles — with The President’s Men always emerging victorious in the hallowed tradition of “crime does not pay.”

Whatever… the niche of Evangelista in the President’s heart has been assured. He reportedly made sure his folder was given directly to Mr. Estrada. Going over the heads of his superiors in the department, Evangelista reportedly enlisted one of the President’s kids to handcarry the precious program to his dad.

What can this overwhelmed motorist say except “Wow!!… I just hope I can now drive from Balintawak to Makati faster than I can from Dau to the Balintawak toll gate.”

* * *

FOR whom are the 36 or so congressmen pleading as they press the Sandiganbayan to slice off $150 million for human rights abuses victims from the $590-million screw account with the Philippine National Bank?

They look to us as runners of the Marcoses, who want the $150 million released to their victims so they (the Marcoses) could lay their hands on the $440-million balance and the rest of their mind-boggling wealth hidden in secret accounts.

Why are these congressmen insistent on starting a chain of events that would pave the way for the Marcoses’ keeping the bulk of allegedly stolen wealth and getting a total and irreversible clearance from civil, criminal ands tax charges?

If these congressmen really want to help the human rights victims, they should contribute their pork barrel allocations as seed money for a fund that would be advanced to the poor Marcos victims while they await payment of damages due them.

* * *

THE stench from the moves of Malacañang and these lawmakers to rush the global clearance of the Marcoses and the unlocking of the vaults bulging with their hidden wealth is suffocating.

Instead of pretending to look after the interests of the human rights abuse victims, these well-placed allies of the Marcoses should be stripped of their masks and made to admit that they want their friends cleared and finally given access to their wealth stashed away all over the globe.

If they really care for the Marcos victims, we repeat, these congressmen should pool their pork barrel allotments to raise money to advance to the victims while waiting to be paid the damages due them.

Please, let’s not exploit the fact that many of the poor victims are under extreme economic pressure to agree to clear the Marcoses for a paltry $150 million settlement. Let’s not inflict further injury by forcing them to accept a deal that they know in their hearts to be unfair.

We reiterate our earlier appeal to President Estrada, who claims to care for the poor, to raise a fund from which interest-free advances could be made to the victims. If the President wants to do that, it would be easy for him to raise the money.

The only thing that could hold back Mr. Estrada is if he is committed to help the Marcoses get the global clearance that they have been demanding.

* * *

EXECUTIVE Judge Tito G. Gustilo of Iloilo City wrote to answer questions raised by reader Junel Hipolito of the same city on the use of a jeep by a government engineer sporting a 16F plate reserved for Regional Trial Court judges.

The judge said: “My engineer son only borrowed my lowered-type jeep temporarily while his own car is undergoing general body repair. The use of my jeep as service vehicle of my son is advantageous to the government because it is being used by him in the performance of his official duty as a project engineer at no cost to the government. It would be cumbersome to change the car plate of my vehicle each time it is being used or borrowed by the members of my family.

“In the same vein, all vehicles bearing low-numbered car plates are privately owned by the judges themselves and I find no logic why Mr. Hipolito is questioning the use of this privately owned vehicles when their household goes to the market, shopping malls and in taking their children to school as these are not owned by the government.

“Court judges have only one vehicle and to prohibit their households from using their private vehicle is an unwarranted interference in the free use of one’s property that must remain unfettered as an attribute of ownership protected by existing law.

Parenthetically the protocol car plates (not vanity plates) used by RTC judges are duly authorized by appropriate agencies of the government which Mr. Hipolito should not begrudge because rank has its own privileges.”

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 20, 1999)

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