POSTSCRIPT / September 12, 1999 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Sedition raps a cure for a ‘virtual nitwit’?

WITH due respect for the learned law professor Perfecto V. Fernandez, who has filed a complaint for inciting to sedition against President Estrada’s favorite newspaper, this observer thinks PVF is just inciting us to laughter.

The prosecutor to whom it was assigned for preliminary investigation should throw it into the nearest wastebasket before someone dies from laughing.

The main basis of Fernandez’s complaint was the train of stories of that newspaper over the past six months “assailing and attacking President Joseph Estrada not only in his public actuation but with distinct emphasis on his private life and affairs as well.”

“What was particularly disturbing,” he said, “was that increasingly articles utilized language showing virtual disparagement, disrespect and outright contempt for the President in a very personal way, by slanted stories making him out to be a person of vice and a virtual nitwit or a buffoon.”

* * *

IF the Fernandez complaint is dignified by a full hearing in court, it could mean that the press would no longer be allowed to report or comment on what the president does or says without being slapped down with inciting charges.

We submit that if news stories on the fumbles and foibles of the President tend to expose him to ridicule, the solution is not to slap down the press but to correct or at least explain away the President’s mistakes.

If a politician appears to be somewhat mentally deficient or, in the words of Fernandez, a virtual nitwit, the cure is not to cite the press for inciting to sedition, but to try correcting the official’s deficiency – if that is at all possible at this late date.

Election to the presidency does not elevate an actor or a politician to a sanctified state of infallibility. Elections were never meant to be rites of canonization. Even saints are not shielded from irreverent comments by Article 142 of the Revised Penal Code that Fernandez invokes.

* * *

IN this complex world, one would even wonder on whose side Fernandez is. That may be the reason why Malacañang could not immediately make up its mind whether to welcome or dismiss the reports of the filing of the inciting to sedition complaint.

Presidential spokesman Jerry Barican, a product of the Harvard (not Harvardian) law school, did not know whether to laugh or put on a serious mien when asked about the sedition case.

We are reminded of one of Barican’s distant predecessors who was asked toward the waning years of martial rule how President Marcos – then rumored to be in coma — was doing. The information minister placed his arm around the reporter and whispered, “Da president is under sedition, but is not true he’s in a comma.”

The Fernandez case is even a boon to practical journalism, especially to the racy tabloids. With his citing the stories on President Estrada’s womanizing and other lurid stories bordering on tsismis, Fernandez gave the press a legal excuse for retelling the same stories.

All that the press will have to do now is quote the Fernandez complaint. Having been entered into the records as official document, the Fernandez narration and its numerous references to unflattering Estrada stories can now be quoted with impunity by the unrepentant press.

* * *

BACK to dual citizenship: American law may not look with favor on a Filipino who had been naturalized as an American and who later went back to his homeland to reacquire his native citizenship by naturalization.

A Filipino American who runs back home to be naturalized will lose his acquired American citizenship.

Under certain circumstances, a US citizen may lose his citizenship by performing any of the following acts: (1) being naturalized in a foreign state: (2) taking an oath or making a declaration to a foreign state; (3) serving in the armed forces of a foreign state; (4) accepting employment with a foreign government; (5) formally renouncing US citizenship before a US consular officer overseas.

So even if we pass a law making it easy for former Filipinos who had turned American to be naturalized again as Filipinos, they will have to make a choice. Naturalization here will mean loss of their American citizenship.

* * *

OUR discussion here of dual citizenship may have given false hopes to many Filipinos who had been naturalized as citizens of other countries where they have been residing.

But while Congress can pass a law allowing our compatriots abroad to reacquire their Philippine citizenship, their host countries may disapprove of it. The problem is that while we have control over our own laws, we have no say in the making and enforcing of laws of other countries.

It appears at this point, before more liberal laws are passed, that the benefits of dual citizenship may be enjoyed more by those who, since birth, have been citizens of the Philippines and at least one more country.

This is because these Filipinos have been dual citizens since birth without having to do anything to perfect their citizenship or to commit acts amounting to renouncing one of their citizenships. As a general rule, simply renewing one’s passport is not considered a renunciation of one’s citizenship.

* * *

OUR occasional attempts to share useful information sometimes take an unfortunate twist, as in the case of reader Andrew de Guzman whose father must have been carried away by our comments on the possibility of a stray 9999 sequence causing a computer to stall or hang when its internal calendar reads Sept. 9, 1999, or 9999.

He said in his email: “My Dad and I had a brief shouting discussion about your article (Postscript, Sept. 7, 1999) simply because he believed everything that you said. He wanted me to change all the clock settings of our computers, numbering more than a hundred. This was not easy at all since it will require a lot from my schedule.

“I told him that we can simulate the problem by setting the clock 30 seconds away from Sept. 9, 1999, when the clock turned to that day nothing bad happened to the computer. In fact I even opened applications showing him that there is no ‘9/9/99 bug.’

“But I guess Dads will be Dads. They will not give in to what their 25-year-old son would tell them even if he were educated in the field. For them, their sons and daughters will always be 10-year-olds. He will still believe a wiser, credible writer like you, Mr. Pascual. You can actually tell them anything and still listen to your sound opinions.

“He was fuming mad and told me that this was clearly insubordination and that I was fired. You have the power of the pen, Mr. Pascual, and those of us who are here educated in some field like computers cannot win against it. I just hope and pray that you do not tell them to jump off a building because tomorrow everything will simply ‘hang’!”

* * *

WE’RE sorry we got this reader into a spat with his dad. But we remember that we simply mentioned the possibility, just a possibility, that some, not all, computers would hang – (1) if indeed they carried this troublesome 9999 sequence and (2) that code really worked that way.

It was just an alert, not an alarm, for PC users. It is likely that no problem would occur, we said, but still we sent out the alert. And as is our habit, whenever we point out a problem or make criticisms on the actuation of officials, we offered suggestions.

Regarding the 9999 problem, which was a minor curtain raiser for the bigger Y2K or Millennium Bug, we suggested that, to play safe, the user advance the internal calendar of his computer. We outlined how this was to be done.

Note that we were not even sure what the 9999 code might cause. Experts abroad were not so sure themselves what would happen, but they took precautionary measures.

* * *

“THERE will likely be a problem or two here or there,” said Matt Hotel, a vice president with the Gartner Group, an information technology research and advisory firm in Connecticut. He said this in an interview with CNN Interactive a day before Sept. 9.

“But so far, in the literally thousands of conversations I’ve had with folks, only one firm has told me so far they found anything at all on Sept. 9.”

Hotel, a former programmer, told CNN he never coded Sept. 9, 1999, without including zeroes, as in the string 090999. “Saved by the zero,” he calls it.

By the way, those who followed our advice to temporarily advance the computer’s internal calendar to escape any Sept. 9, 1999 (9999) problem, should now go back to the control panel to turn the clock back to the correct date.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 12, 1999)

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