POSTSCRIPT / June 1, 1999 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Estrada a court higher than SC?

THERE is a dangerous drift in the thinking of President Estrada manifested in his ongoing review of the death sentence on rapist-killer Pablito Andan, whose execution by lethal injection last May 28 had been put off.

Hinting that he might commute the death sentence on Andan, Mr. Estrada said last week in his radio program, “There is evidence that the accusations against Andan were trumped up.”

He is saying in effect that the Supreme Court, which had reviewed the death sentence and rejected a last-ditch appeal by Andan’s lawyer, failed to do its job well… and that it is now up to the President to correct the error or failure of the high tribunal.

Are we seeing the emergence of another court higher than the Supreme Court? Are we getting it right that under the Estrada dispensation, the appeals chain no longer ends with the Supreme Court but goes higher on to Mr. Estrada and his coterie?

Pardon our asking, but what makes Erap Estrada more qualified than the venerable justices of the Supreme Court to review court decisions and mete out substantive justice?

* * *

RESPONDING to press questions on the fate of Andan, President Estrada said that he still had to consult Bro. Mike Velarde of El Shaddai, a religious sect.

If the President thinks his own review is superior to that of the high court because he has the El Shaddai pastor flapping his angel’s wings and whispering inspired advice to him, what he should do is lend the preacher to the tribunal.

We have nothing against Mike Velarde. But for him to be brought into the sensitive review process as a major participant may be investing the good preacher too much power or influence over the presidency.

* * *

THIS Velarde phenomenon may yet open an extra-legal corridor in the judiciary’s appeals process. It could make final disposition of court cases hang more on political than legal considerations.

What families of death convicts should now do is fire their lawyers and seek out Velarde to plead with President Estrada for their condemned kin. For better effect, they could also try being more generous in their tithing.

A related lesson seems to be that Supreme Court decisions imposing prison terms and capital punishment can still be reversed by President Estrada on the say-so of a close religious adviser.

We know that the separation of powers set in the charter is not absolute. Still, we are amazed at the evolving of a constitutional anomaly of a religious preacher being able to nullify a Supreme Court decision through the presidency.

* * *

WE have been taught in school that the President – with the usual exceptions – can grant reprieves, commutations and pardons to some convicts whose cases had been disposed of by final judgment.

This clemency power is vested on the President under Section 19 of Article VII (Executive Department) of the Constitution, except in the cases of impeached officials or as otherwise provided in the charter.

The President need not go into an elaborate explanation or apology whenever he grants a reprieve to, commutes the sentence of, or pardons, a criminal. He could just say he did it for humanitarian reasons – and that’s it!

Never should the President hint, or say it outright as Mr. Estrada does, that he is reviewing a case with the intention of correcting an error of judgment of the Supreme Court. Or worse, that his decision hangs on what Velarde tells him.

When he invokes Section 19, the President should be careful never to give the impression – as he is now giving it – that he or Velarde is a tribunal higher than or superior to the Supreme Court. And when he grants clemency, he should say that it is his own decision and not on recommendation of So-and so.

* * *

NOW hear this. Petron Corp. refuses to give details of the supply contract between it and Saudi Aramco, because the agreement has a supposed confidentiality clause that does not allow disclosure of the content of the contract.

What nerve Petron has to shove us this bull shit. This is a matter of public concern and we taxpayers cannot even ask for details?

Petron said in a letter to the office of Rep. Enrique Garcia Jr. of Bataan that it is “not only committed to preserve the sanctity of its contracts, but it is also working for the best interest of the Filipino people.”

What “sanctity” is it talking about when the originally Filipino oil firm crossed the line to join Shell and Caltex to gang rape captive users of their oil products? Petron may be sanctimonious, but there is nothing close to being saintly in the Aramco-Petron contract.

* * *

PETRON is lying when it claims to be “working for the best interests of the Filipino people.” If it were, Petron would be out there doing what it was originally mandated to do, which is to serve as a foil to the foreign oil leeches.

Before some treasonous officials in the Ramos administration sold Petron, the Filipino oil firm was the biggest player in the market. It was big enough to serve as the countervailing force against the combined forces of Shell and Caltex.

Petron was our only key weapon in the market against the foreign oil firms. What did the traitors in the Ramos administration do? They sold Petron in the guise of privatization and gave effective control to Aramco, its major oil supplier.

Imagine that – they sold Petron to the Saudi firm that was supplying the bulk of its oil. It was a shameless sellout of a strategic economic weapon. That is treason, and some people should pay for it.

* * *

MY barber says that Mr. Ramos would have been “tanga”  to let this multibillion-peso deal pass without him making money on it. If you ask me, I doubt very much that he was that stupid to let that golden opportunity pass.

I’m sorry to say it, but Mr. Ramos has a lot to explain for this Petron sellout.

During the excited days when the shares were being sold, there were many members of the Filipino middle class who were begging to be allowed to buy more shares, but no, the door was slammed on them –because Aramco had been promised the bulk (40 percent) of the shares.

Now they want to hide from us the content of that contract?

* * *

CONGRESSMAN Garcia tells us that that 40-percent block of shares was sold to Aramco with some strange provisions imposed by the Saudi operators:

* Aramco was granted the exclusive right to supply Petron all its oil requirements for five years. The supply contract is open to extension for another five years.

* Although it officially bought only 40 percent of Petron, Aramco was allowed effective control of the company. The Saudi oil firm was called a “strategic partner.” Maybe they meant that Aramco was/is a good strategist. You bet, it is – for its own interests.

Since Petron must buy only from Aramco, it is forced to pay a highest price. This is because the Saudis, expert strategists that they are, control the world’s biggest oil cartel and take the lead in raising prices for their own advantage.

* * *

NOW we watch helplessly as Petron – which used to be on our side – and the other oil firms periodically raise the retail price of petroleum products well beyond levels that increased world prices would justify.

What we mean is that when a price increase in crude calls for a 30-centavo increase per liter of fuel, the oil firms raise pump prices by more than 50-centavos.

But when the world price drops to mean, say, a drop of one peso per liter in pump prices, the oil companies – Petron among them – grudgingly and belatedly slash their price by only some 40 centavos.

Coming and going, like lagaring hapon according to congressman Garcia, the oil behemoths keep sucking the life out of Filipino consumers.

Are we that hopeless? Are our officials that heartless?

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 1, 1999)

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