POSTSCRIPT / November 30, 1999 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Foreigners need not own land to make it productive

CAN newspapermen be legally restrained from publishing their opinion on pending court cases by threats of their being cited for contempt if they express their views in print?

We were discussing this point days ago with the kapihan crowd at Annabel’s in Quezon City. My opinion is that this looks like another case of prior restraint, and is therefore a limitation of the freedom of the press as guaranteed by the Constitution.

The contempt threat is usually occasioned by some party, through its lawyer, invoking the sub judice rule that supposedly bans discussion outside the court of the legal points pertaining to a pending case.

One rationale for the sub judice rule is that the discussion, in media particularly, may influence the judge. There is the general rule that the parties must not argue their case before other forums outside the court.

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PARDON me, but this writer does not believe in the sub judice rule. It is a ridiculous principle open to abuse.

Any judge who can be influenced by what he reads in the papers on a case pending before him is not worth the trust reposed on him that he is competent, independent and principled enough to sit in judgment.

If a judge will admit that he can be swayed by a column item in arriving at a decision, he should quit the bench before he makes that damning admission.

But if the judge cannot be swayed by any extraneous discussion, including opinion expressed in a newspaper column, what’s the sub judice rule for? Why then should the media be prohibited from discussing pending cases?

Either way, we see no cogent reason for banning press discussion of pending court cases.

* * *

THERE is the other point of some cry-baby lawyers complaining that some columnists harbor biased opinion about cases they (the lawyers) are handling.

Of course columns are opinionated! By definition, a column is an opinion piece and no amount of wringing of a lawyer’s hands will change that.

Some denizens of the Press Club bar even advance the view that there is no such thing as a “wrong” opinion. To the person expressing an opinion, he is always right and those holding contrary opinion are all wrong.

What is not healthy, we think, is when lawyers overplay their hand and try to impress their clients by parrying with flourish anything that does not jibe with their own brief.

Lawyers who cry sub judice at the drop of a pen should relax a bit and give more credit to judges who, in fairness to them, manage to maintain their composure in the face of conflicting, sometimes bizarre, media comments on cases being heard.

* * *

HAVE you ever wondered why some good concrete roads in Metro Manila are suddenly being torn up and repaired for no apparent reason? The frenzy of new street diggings has worsened the traffic problem building up with the pre-Christmas shopping madness.

You might have wondered also why a road that’s still solid is given priority over many rutted side streets that are fit for torture tests for motor vehicles.

We consulted a contractor and got this mundane explanation:

This phenomenon occurs toward the end of the year when officials and their favorite contractors start looking for ways to spend everything in their budget. Money left unspent revert to the national treasury, wasted, and next year’s budget is slashed to reflect the reverted funds.

Kung baga sa clearance sale, “everything must go”!

* * *

SO, a contractor picks a likely street and digs it up while his official friend works out the contract.

The best jobs are those that will not require complicated and costly preparations. Good roads, including main avenues like EDSA, are among the favorites, because the contractor does not spend much for preparing the foundation.

It sounds incredible, but our friend told us that even before a contract is signed, they tear up the street so the official has no more choice but to go ahead with the job.

This might explain why workers disappear (but not their heavy equipment scattered on the site) after they tear up the road. Their boss, the contractor, is still working out his papers and the release of his advance “mobilization” funds.

These are reportedly special jobs that must be rushed, because the contractor wants to lay his hands on instant cash and the official on his usual commission before the holidays.

* * *

AFTER we wrote favorably of free trade and globalization, some friends started asking me if I am now for Concord, that Estrada gambit to keep us busy talking while he tries getting his bearings right.

My position on constitutional amendments has not changed. I am against it at this time for the reason that President Estrada is giving.

Many advocates of freer trade and globalization also support Mr. Estrada’s plan to allow foreigners to buy and own land here and to own and operate public utilities and media.

We make a distinction. While we see the many advantages of globalization, one of which is to force us to grow up to be world class, we are against selling our limited land to aliens.

But isn’t land a factor of production and are we not agreed that we need increased production to supply local and export demands? If we want wider involvement of foreign investors, should we not sell them the land they need?

* * *

LAND is a factor of production. But the producer need not own the land as long as he is able to use it.

In fact, some foreign investors are not interested in owning land and channeling part of their capital to purchasing it. When it’s time for them to go, especially if they have to go in a hurry, they may not want to be weighed down by landholdings.

There are many creative ways of gaining access to land short of buying it. A suitable area for a factory, warehouse or an office building could be leased. In another arrangement, its title could be kept in the name of a Filipino partner part of whose contribution is the land.

There are many foreign firms whose businesses have been extremely profitable without their having to own land. Some examples are the oil companies.

* * *

ON this issue of land ownership, we disagree with US-based economist Normal Madrid whose views on the desirability of free trade and globalization we published last week.

In later comments, Madrid appears in favor of selling to foreign investors the land area they need to do business in the Philippines. He said in a later email (part of which we presume to reproduce her without his consent):

“The New York city government budget for a population of 7.4 million is $39 billion as against only $16 billion in the Philippines with 75 million Filipinos! New York has only 1,100 square miles of land area against 300,000 square miles in the Philippines, which tells us that land is an important factor in production.

“Let’s not be afraid to let foreigners buy land, as in the Concord initiative. Few foreigners will buy land. And when they do, they will increase our land size.

“A foreign company buying 10 hectares of land on which to build 30-story apartment towers will increase that land area 30-fold. A foreign industrial partner buying five hectares of land from where to export wigs, toys, radios, or laser printers to a world economy 200 times as large as ours will increase our land area by 200-fold, not decrease it.”

* * *

THESE are arguments we have not heard from the local exponents of Concord. That’s why we’re reprinting them.

We feel that in the same way that free trade would do us more good than harm — if we play it right and not sulk in defeatism – a free and intelligent discussion will enable us to see our way through the disinformation surrounding Concord.

We can disagree all we want, but we debate without rancor and without descending to name-calling.

We should not be afraid to see a better idea swallowing our own idea and, possibly, changing our outlook. Such is the essence of free debate. Hopefully, at the end of the day, we will emerge enlightened and in a better position to make that crucial decision.

* * *

UNTIL now, we keep getting mail on the water-powered car invented by engineer Daniel D. Dingel. Many of them are asking for updates, while a few ask for Dingel’s phone and address.

We’re sorry to tell them, and others who might also ask, that we do not want to give away the man’s private phone number or his address, because we are not so sure how he would react to total strangers calling him or popping up at his house.

As for updates, we’re also sorry to say that we sort of drifted away from the subject after Dingel rejected our proposal for him to take his hydrocar, a red 1600cc Toyota Corolla, on a multi-lap 1,000-km proving run, possibly on the South Luzon Expressway.

As for his claim that Taiwanese investors were buying his invention for $50 million, we have no information if that has materialized. But, as Postscript readers may remember, we had predicted that the deal won’t pushed through – like earlier reported deals just fizzled out.

* * *

WE want to repeat our notice to readers who send us email that we do not open attachments and files with .exe extensions. For fear of viruses, we delete such files without bothering to open and read them.

Those sending us text materials are advised not to attach them, but to quote or paste them instead to their message proper.

Also, having changed our hard disk, it seems that we have irretrievably lost mail files and our address book. We may not be able to respond to some of the email that we had postponed answering. For that, we apologize.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 30, 1999)

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