POSTSCRIPT / November 28, 1999 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Erap can purge Cabinet without giving deadline

THE scriptwriters of President Estrada should cut that silly drama of the Chief Executive giving his trembling Cabinet members a Nov. 30 deadline to resign.

The President can remove any day he wants for any reason any member of his official family. There is absolutely no need for him to give them a deadline to resign. Cut the cinematic overacting, please.

The line was so convincing, however, that even media generally got carried away and lapped up the story of an impending Cabinet shakeup before the next millenium.

* * *

EVERYBODY knows that some Cabinet officials heading line departments are a disastrous failure – as expected. (In the first place, they did not have much to commend them to the demanding job except their closeness to the appointing power.)

But still, in their impending exit, they can be used to deodorize the stink of broken promises and incompetence. By having their supposed resignations accepted – “with regrets” kuno – they will be sacrificing their reputation just to divert fire from the Boss.

By ridding himself of these officials, the President will be saying in effect that they were mainly responsible for the alarming drop in his popularity and approval rating. That is supposed to cover up the fact that many of the President’s wounds were self-inflicted.

The President’s acting skill will be put to a test as he balances between impliedly blaming outgoing officials for his failures and giving credit due them for serving under trying conditions.

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THE people should also be told that the Supreme Court no less has struck down as unconstitutional the ID system proposed by the Ramos regime that is now being resurrected by military types in the Estrada administration.

Analyzing its technical details, the tribunal declared that that ID system presents a clear and present danger of abetting violations of civil rights. The system would violate the right to privacy and force the gathering of self-incriminating information about the ID cardholder.

Lawyer Leonard de Vera, former spokesman of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (which challenged before the high court the Ramos ID system), has stressed that this is not a simple setup where everybody would carry a card showing only his face, signature, name, address and other basic taxpayers’ circumstances.

Indeed, who would quarrel with the use of a reliable ID that would expedite legal transactions and the delivery of essential services to taxpayers?

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BUT De Vera disclosed that as the citizen fills out forms and transacts business with various agencies and his ID card is swiped or tapped by the computerized system, more information is written into the records without his consent. If ever, his assent will be under duress.

The information thus forcibly built up in the computerized network becomes a virtual arsenal of weapons that state agents can use against the unsuspecting citizen. That spells the end of privacy and the valued protection against self-incrimination.

Only those who have anything to hide would fear the ID system, its proponents say. Exactly, that’s why it is expected that criminals, especially the organized ones, will not bother to get that ID and open themselves to government snooping.

* * *

IT’S just like in the case of firearms, De Vera said, where criminals do not bother to secure licenses and carrying permits for the guns they use – leaving only the law-abiding gunholders to go through the licensing process.

But even law-abiding citizens are open to the potential abuses of the high-tech ID system.

Seemingly harmless information they initially give about themselves upon application are later padded by more data gathered about them as they deal with various agencies. This soon builds up into a frightening Pandora’s box of very personal information that could be used against them by anyone with malicious intent.

By that time, it would be too late to hold the lid on that bulging box.

* * *

THESE secondary information include one’s health history, psychological makeup, treatments undergone, bank transactions, loans contracted and payments made, scholastic records, criminal records, cases filed by and against the individual, intelligence dossiers on the individual… the records build up and possibilities multiply as the individual continues dealing with agencies. Some data in the computers’ brains may even be erroneous, but it’s there anyway ready for (mis)use.

We want this to happen to us?

Granting that only those who have “something to hide” object… are law-abiding citizens who have no criminal record, no bad debt, no embarrassing ailment, no family secret not also entitled to some privacy?

The ID system as proposed rips away the last strips of privacy that we all hold dear. It will leave us naked.

* * *

OKAY, so the problem is that the proposed ID system is too intrusive, pervasive and violative of our rights.

Why not cleanse it then of its despicable features? And instead of carrying it out through an executive order, why not make its implementation an act of Congress?

Why not make it a simple ID system, something that relies only on basic information essential to identifying an individual with certainty – which after all is supposed to be the reason behind the ID requirement.

The trouble with simplifying or downscaling the grand project is that the multi-billion-peso contract price for the entire system will correspondingly go down – and that’s not good business. How will the cronies, and their right connect, make their usual millions?

* * *

IT’S bad taste, and rather suspicious, for Malacañang to tell Securities and Exchange Commissioner Perfecto Yasay to hold back in his statements on the unusual movements in the share prices of BW Resources Corp., especially because it’s controlled by a crony of President Estrada.

Preliminary findings have it that the trading of businessman Dante Tan in his own company’s shares may have been the main factor for the dizzying rise – and eventual sudden collapse — of BW prices in the stock market.

The rise from a P1 share price to as high as P107 and then a sudden collapse recently left many players holding on to virtually worthless pieces of paper while a few smart ones made millions. The general impression is that the lucky ones were those with insider information on when to buy and sell.

* * *

INVESTIGATION showed Tan’s building up his holdings since February when BW prices were in the P2.18-P4.50 range. He was reportedly buying until May at which time he was estimated to have amassed 17 percent of the outstanding shares of BW Resources.

Then from June to October, Tan systematically unloaded shares, according to preliminary findings. That was when many heavy losers and a few big winners emerged.

Traders are entitled to know the official findings on such unusual movements in the market and their implications. To order Yasay not to talk on these public issues without prior Malacañang clearance is suspicious. Kaya tuloy, talk is rife of a coverup in progress.

This is the kind of management that turns away foreign investors.

* * *

IF we were to heed critics hitting the Social Security System for selling its shares in the Far East Bank & Trust Co., we might as well ban the pension fund from investing up to 30 percent of its investment fund reserve in any bank, company or any other undertaking.

The SSS actually acted with the express approval of its board when it sold its 5.5-percent share in FEBTC, which eventually merged with the Bank of the Philippine Islands. The deal meant a windfall P1-billion profit for the pension fund.

It was the sale of the SSS shares that pushed up the FEBTC share prices, and not the other way around. The pension fund could not have predicted price movements with scientific certainty, and consequently could not have lost P372.6 million as alleged by a greenhorn senator.

The solon has the advantage of hindsight. But at the time the SSS saw a good price for its shares, it would have been strange for it not to have grabbed the chance.

* * *

WILL Chairman Jojo Binay or somebody from the Metro Manila Development Authority please instruct the crew putting up those multicolored Christmas parols to make sure that these lanterns do not confuse drivers especially at intersections?

The lanterns should not compete with the traffic lights. When approaching intersections in the evening, some drivers have a hard time spotting the regular traffic lights lost in the constellation of green, red and yellow lights of the lanterns.

The lanterns add to the festive Yule spirit, but if they pose a traffic hazard, they should not be hung carelessly at intersections.

In Manila, we noticed that the lights of some lanterns are turned on even during the day. Is City Hall now a stockholder of Meralco?

This might sound petty, but Mayor Lito Atienza should not have allowed his lantern maker to spell MAYNILA with LA (the mayor’s initial) in a different color to make it stand out. The mayor, who seems to be doing all right, does not need this pasip-sip kind of personal advertising.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 28, 1999)

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