POSTSCRIPT / May 16, 1999 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Jinggoy right on PW being under local execs

PRESIDENT Estrada will become on Tuesday the witting ninong of the scions of two powerful families in the Chinese community – those of John Gokongwei and Jimmy Tang — who will be united in marriage.

The occasion takes us back to a suggestion we made some time ago as a small step toward repairing the damage wrought on our cultural fabric by the Filipino extended family system.

We earnestly believe that there ought to be a law prohibiting top elective and appointive officials, as well as their spouses, from becoming ninong/ninang or sponsors in weddings, baptisms, confirmations and similar equivalents of these religious rites.

The proposed ban should cover not only the President but also the Vice President, senators and congressmen, as well as justices of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, and judges of lower courts.

* * *

WE have asked a number of friends in government and, to our surprise, most of them welcomed the idea. Such a law would give them a perfect excuse to turn down requests for them to stand as sponsor of this and that.

Not everybody would admit it, but there is often an ulterior political or economic motive to one’s getting an official to stand as ninong or ninang. A possible exception could be when the parties have been friends long before the official joined the government.

Already bedeviled by grasping friends and relations, President Estrada is taking in two new big families that control business empires whose operations sometimes require the approval of somebody in government.

We’re not saying, however, that Gokongwei or Tang will use his being a pare of Erap to extract favors or clinch juicy deals from the Estrada administration.

* * *

BUT in this community whose wheels sometimes turn on the oil of the compadre system, suspicions cannot be helped. And it so happens that perception is as important as reality in maintaining public respect for officials.

As it is, President Estrada is already having a hard time reining in his countless relatives by his multiple extended families. (“Countless” is literal since he himself can no longer count his relatives swinging from the lush branches of his family trees.)

Government “commissioners” have had to explain to their old contacts and moneybags that new faces have been showing up and dropping names at their offices with business in mind.

Even the presidential guards are reportedly having a hard time baby-sitting all those young kids criss-crossing the metropolis on their way to and from entertainment oases.

We have not found our way out of the dark forest, yet we want to add to the trees?

* * *

IN the same spirit, there should be a code restraining justices and judges from standing as ninong or ninang in weddings, baptisms, confirmations and similar rites.

Pursuing the point, justices and judges should refrain, on their own, from such public functions as cutting ceremonial ribbons, blessing of restaurants and the like. Even seemingly harmless cocktails and similar socials should be shunned.

Friends and relatives of justices who limit their socializing would, or should, understand. Public appearances that could be mistaken for fraternizing with actual or potential protagonists in court should be restricted.

Members of their immediate family who are lawyers should not practice law, or be an active member of a law office, or be a consultant on cases or problems that could involve legal proceedings.

Especially with the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, it is important that justices not only be clean and impartial, but should also appear to be so. In fairness to the justices, without prodding from anyone most of them are careful not to taint their name and that of their institution.

If no law is forthcoming to impose this strict code, the Supreme Court, which has jurisdiction over lower courts, should lay down the internal rule of conduct.

* * *

PRESIDENT Estrada’s son Jinggoy, mayor of San Juan and president of the Municipal Mayors’ League, is on a collision course with congressmen with his lobbying with Malacañang for the transfer to local executives of the job of pursuing infrastructure projects.

So far, the mayor has succeeded in having P1.5 billion allocated to his fellow executives for public works. There is a parallel move to have provincial governments “with capabilities” to handle the construction of some roads, school buildings and flood control structures.

Over the years, members of Congress, who after all deliberated on and passed the national budget, have been given a hand in determining how roads, bridges and other public works should be built.

In recent years, lawmakers’ participation in what is clearly an Executive function has included their picking the sites of projects and, sometimes, even the contractors. This unusual interest in projects is related to the allocation of so-called pork barrel.

* * *

WE support Mayor Estrada is his moves. Good for him that his President-father is in a position to shift back the job of implementing the public works law to where it properly belongs – to the Executive.

There will be the usual criticism that Mayor Estrada is using his influence to take away funds and discretion from lawmakers. Since he is on the right track, Mayor Estrada should just keep on.

After all, the job of lawmakers is to make laws, while that of Executive officials is to execute the law. The clearer the delineation of functions, the better.

It would be interesting to see how Speaker Manuel Villar would rush to the aid of his embattled colleagues at the risk of tangling with the President’s son. Villar and the young Estrada are known to be eyeing Senate seats in the 2001 elections.

* * *

THE stage is set for President Estrada to demonstrate his respect for the legitimate press and mend fences with mainstream media.

With the May 6 resolution of the Sandiganbayan on the status of the Philippine Journalists Inc. – which publishes the Journal group of newspapers — the President can write finis to the questions of who owns the Journal and who should run it.

Despite the Sandiganbayan ruling, the government could still resort to dilatory tactics to continue holding the Journal publications and using them as propaganda outlets. But with facts as verified by the Sandiganbayan stacked up in favor of the private claimants, the prudent route appears to be for Malacañang to work out a settlement instead of pursuing a losing case.

The court has ruled that PJI (which had secured loans guaranteed by the Marcos administration) overpaid the Development Bank of the Philippines by some P13.8 million, thereby freeing PJI from its loan obligation and, in fact, compelling the government to now return the excess payment.

Despite this overpayment, the past PJI board made the unnecessary payment of an additional P200million and $451,000. This could bloat the overpayment to P233.8 million plus interest, which should be returned together with the management of PJI.

* * *

THE Supreme Court had earlier lifted sequestration of 80 percent of the PJI. With the government having lost another battle on the 13th year of its bid to legitimatize ownership and control over Journal publications, there appears no prospect of its being able to hold on.

President Estrada has to show concern over the gross mismanagement of Journal by government-appointed officials who had been shown to be milking the newspaper corporation of millions.

We heard that the private stockholders represented by Rosario Olivares (who holds 20-percent equity) and former editor Augusto Villanueva are open to a compromise so as not to prolong the court impasse and so both government and they can clean house and stop the dissipation of the PJI assets.

* * *

AT the Kapihan yesterday at the Sulo hotel in Quezon City, some victims of Marcos torture asked the government to reject what they called the “Marcoses’ mess of pottage with its can of worms,” referring to the $150-million proposed settlement of the torture charges against the late dictator.

Representing some of the 9,539 victims objecting to the Marcoses donating $150 million in exchange for a clearance of human rights violations, Eduardo Olaguer and Philip Suzara stressed that their opposition to martial rule was “never motivated by pecuniary loss or gain to ourselves.”

“Any settlement that includes a midnight insertion which enables the Marcoses to claim that they were never or will never be again be charged for past violations of human rights is simply preposterous and outrageous,” they said.

They agreed with former Solicitor General Frank Chavez that for the government to allow the Marcoses to pay off private claims for damages out of the $590 million held in escrow with the Philippine National Bank would be a virtual admission that the funds belong to the Marcoses.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 16, 1999)

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