POSTSCRIPT / August 3, 2000 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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If we deny voting rights to squatters, tax-evaders?

JAKARTA NOT AT FAULT: It’s not fair for Sen. Miriam Santiago or anybody to take to task the Indonesian government for the bombing of the Philippine embassy in Jakarta resulting in the serious injury of our Ambassador Leonides Caday and several others.

While it is true that the host country is bound by international conventions to secure the premises and persons of diplomats assigned to it, there is nothing that Jakarta could do to stop a determined bomber or assassin.

The malefactors simply got through the security net in the uppity neighborhood where the Philippine embassy stands. All we can do is admit we lost that one, and resolve to do better next time.

That’s how it is in this cruel world. Let’s not go around recklessly blaming others for our woes.

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MILF UNLIKELY CULPRIT: President Abdurrahman Wahid was unnerved by accusations that his government failed the security test in the embassy bombing. Almost by reflex, he pointed an accusing finger at the most convenient scapegoat — the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Up to this writing, there is nothing yet except mere speculation that a desperate MILF had something to do with the fatal blast. (The MILF denied involvement.) If Wahid has something solid to back his theory, he should come out with it now.

While the MILF is capable of mayhem, as it has proved in Mindanao, on its own it does not look capable of exporting its campaign of terror against the Manila government.

The more likely scenario is that Indonesian elements sympathetic to the Bangsamoro aspirations may have wanted to even up the battle score after MILF fighters lost heavily to Philippine troops.

It seems to us that the Islamic network is stirring into action. How do we respond to it, aside from putting our missions abroad on full alert?

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NO VOTING RIGHTS FOR SQUATTERS: There’s an interesting proposal going around to ban squatters from voting. This is apparently a reaction to the observation that politicians coddle squatters and use their bunched votes to win elections and stay in power.

The proponents of the ban have a legal theory. One of the qualifications of voters is that they must be residents for at least six months of the place where they intend to vote. Proponents contend that squatters are not legal residents of the place where they are illegally squatting, and must therefore be disqualified.

A corollary point is that a taxpayer can ask for the disqualification of a voter by showing that the voter who is a squatter is not a legal resident at the address he had indicated on his registration papers.

This theory may be socially abominable or regressive, but it is, to say the least, interesting. Some parties may want to pick it up, but we won’t be surprised if politicians shy away from any debate.

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POLL BAN FOR TAX EVADERS: There’s a related proposal. A disgruntled sector wants to limit voting rights only to those who file income tax returns. The simplistic idea is that those who do not pay taxes, or at least file ITRs, have no business dictating who should lead this country.

It has been noticed by this sector that the greater mass of tax evaders and illegal residents of crowded communities usually dictate the outcome of popular elections.

The idea of using taxpaying as a requisite for exercising the right to vote can be construed as a property test for suffrage. In this light, it is legally flawed. But precisely, the proponents want to rewrite the rules.

History tells us of “taxation without representation” sparking revolutions. Now this “representation without taxation” is being raised in counter-revolution. Or something like that.

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MASA’S POWER OF NUMBERS: The raising of these points hinting at anti-poor sentiments may be indications that some sectors are getting weary of being led around by bungling officials who have risen to power on the shoulders of the so-called “masa.”

This is similar, on a higher level, to the situation in the United Nations General Assembly where it is one nation-one vote. In that political wasteland, numbers rules. The great powers are held in check by the sheer number of emerging nations from dark continents trooping to New York and dominating the assembly.

On another level, a local lower level, we see countless barangays being run not by the more responsible residents but by the “tambays” who have all the time to do “ronda” and strut around like minor officials puffed with illusions of grandeur.

On a still another level, some elitist elements cannot accept the reality that lording it over them is a dropout who fumbles and mumbles, who – according to them – cannot claim moral and intellectual ascendancy over them.

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NUISANCE PER SE: The courts have declared squatting as a nuisance per se. There is no debate that squatting is illegal. The logical move is to blot out this blight of urban communities. But how?

In moving against squatting, there is the overriding consideration of respect for private property, for order and the rule of law. There is concern for blighted areas being breeding grounds of lawless elements and being threats to public health.

The logical direction is towards eliminating squatting. There are two areas of action: (1) Preventing the growing of the number of squatters; and (2) Relocating and rehabilitating existing squatters.

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DENY THEM UTILITIES: On the first point, prevention, one measure proposed is to prohibit utility companies from giving connections or extending regular service to squatters or those who cannot prove that they are legal occupants of their place of residence.

If the companies providing electricity, water and telephone connections deny them connections, urban life as a squatter would become so unbearable that intending squatters will have to think very hard before they grab just any spot to put up a shack.

This goes against the avowed mission of government to look after everybody. But another way of looking at it is as a deterrent, with the utility firms being called in to help curb the squatting menace and restore the rule of law.

We emphasize that these ideas are being raised here merely to stir a discussion. In the clash of ideas, hopefully a gem of a human policy would emerge.

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THREE WISHES TO I.T. GENIE: Telegraphing the intentions of President Estrada in his courtesy call on Microsoft god Bill Gates is fraught with risks.

Mr. Estrada told the press that he would ask Gates to make Manila the venue for next year’s conference of chiefs of leading InfoTech companies, to put up a Computer University here, and to donate computers to 4,000 public high schools in the country.

The danger here is if Mr. Estrada is unable to make the IT genie grant his three wishes. That would be a slap on a third world president going to Seattle with a begging bowl.

But then, since the President announced his agenda even before he could talk to Gates, that could be the signal that everything has been worked out fine and dandy by Trade Secretary Mar Roxas and that Mr. Estrada would just go to Seattle to take delivery.

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HARDWARE FROM GATES?: That part about Gates donating thousands of computers to Philippine public schools sounds unusual. Microsoft makes only software, not hardware, since US anti-trust laws forbid any one entity manufacturing both hardware and software.

Gates does not make computers, so he cannot be expected to send us loads of computers from his assembly line. Of course, being the richest man in the world, he can always write a check and play Santa to Erap.

That other part about a Computer University — conceivably an adjunct to the University of the Philippines, De la Salle University or the Ateneo University – is also intriguing since AMA Computer College has been shouting from the rooftops that it already has an educational partnership with Microsoft.

Is Erap going to pull the rug from under his friend Amable Aguiluz (please supply the number) of Millennium Bug fame (or notoriety) and top honcho of the AMA schools?

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POSTSCRIPT: We have explained this before and we do not want to sound pedantic or to talk down to our readers, but for those who still do not know what computer hardware and software are, here’s a fast review:

Hardware is everything in a computer setup that you can see and touch. That includes the monitor (the TV-like screen), the central processing unit (the metal box containing the motherboard, processor, memory chips, drives and other parts), the keyboard and the mouse, as well as such accessories as a printer, modem, speakers and other devices.

Software is the set of commands or programs that we input into the processor to make the computer work and do what we want it to do. Software includes the operating system, such as Windows98, that starts the computer and prepares it to receive more commands to do various tasks. There are software for word processing, simple computation, accounting, pagemaking, photo-editing, office chores, games, email, data-banking, etc. We cannot touch or see software or programs although the monitor shows us what is going on.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 3, 2000)

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