POSTSCRIPT / August 17, 2000 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Rating-conscious Erap might escalate the war!

JUST as many feared, the latest survey of Pulse Asia showed that the popularity rating of President Estrada has gone up again because of his War of Distraction in Mindanao.

The problem is that the support for the warlike stance of President Estrada may just be a collective knee-jerk reaction to the well-publicized atrocities and treachery of Muslim secessionists and terrorists lumped together in the public mind.

We seriously doubt if there was well-informed analysis underlying the support expressed by plain folk for Erap’s war despite its evident negative effect on the economy and the national psyche.

Pulse Asia may have simply validated other surveys showing that a growing number of Filipinos are angry — and want somebody, anybody, to wipe out the bad guys in that war film running in some far-away theater in Mindanao.

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WE the mass media — who are generally not known for our depth and discernment — may have to plead guilty to contributing to our people’s lack of information as basis for intelligent thought.

We may even be party to the criminal misuse of war to shore up the sagging popularity of a bungling president.

(In this regard, we’re not alone. In contemporary times, how often have we seen US presidents go to war to distract Americans from their domestic problems and rally them against a foreign enemy pictured by collaborating media as the devil incarnate?)

We in media may have oversimplified the war in Mindanao, presenting it as the desired denouement showing the bida giving the kontrabidaa sound thrashing — to the delight of the cheering fans who are mostly away from the area of conflict.

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GROPING for whatever socially redeeming values Erap’s war movie may have, we concede that the action film could have a desirable purgative effect as it releases pent-up frustrations among our people. But that’s escapism.

The script also offers some targets, this time Muslim rebels and bandits, in our search for scapegoats for our monumental failures. But that’s a cowardly refusal to take responsibility for our own mistakes and take corrective action.

War usually works to stimulate an economic machine, but since our war materiel (and those of the enemy) are imported, we are just feeding the industries of foreign suppliers, while devastating vast areas in the country’s supposed Food Basket.

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WE have to understand that Erap the movie star is so sensitive about ratings. The danger here is that, for want of any positive alternative for improving his poll standing, he may just decide to escalate the war to gain more points.

The present level of violence would soon lose its booster effect, and the President’s handlers would feel the need for escalation. Like a drug addict, a popularity-hungry type would want heavier and more frequent shots.

If we don’t watch out, we could sink deeper into a protracted Eraption sapping our limited resources and dividing our people, as the actor sitting in Malacañang, for lack of anything more intelligent to do, furiously beats the war drums.

* * *

THE survey results might just give the President the wrong message that he should go deeper into war to keep his ratings high. This could throw the nation into a vicious circle of going to war to boost the President’s popularity and his rising popularity triggering more demands for waging war.

How do we break the cycle? The question should be reworded: Who will talk sense into a president misled into using war to boost his box office rating?

If we have to go to war, it should at least be a rational war, one that we can afford, and one that is well-thought out – not one that goes by a script scrawled on toilet paper just before the cameras start rolling.

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AT the piers, it’s “Right wins over Might” this time, as the board of the Philippine Ports Authority moved to correct what many observers saw as another attempt of cronyism to decide who should get the contract for the second phase of the Batangas Port development.

Meeting behind closed doors last Monday at a hotel, the PPA board decided to award the nearly P3-billion civil works contract to the F.F. Cruz-Shimizu tandem, who submitted the lowest bid of P2.885 billion.

Of course it should go to the lowest bidder, you might say. Sometimes it does, but this time, there is/was a plot to award the contract to the second lowest bidder, Hanjin-Konoike, whose bid was for P2.975 billion, or P90 million higher.

The paperwork for awarding the contract to the second lowest bidder was already in an advanced stage when F. F. Cruz wrote to complain directly to President Estrada, who ordered an investigation and told the PPA to get F.F. Cruz’s side.

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THE board members pushing the second-best Hanjin-Konoike bid, reportedly on the say-so of a crony, had searched for clerical errors in the lowest bidder’s papers to eliminate it and open the door for the favored next bidder.

But, as PPA board member Trade Secretary Manuel Roxas II said after the board meeting, “The inconsistencies in documentation (of lowest bidder F.F. Cruz-Shimizu) were inconsequential and not significant enough to affect its final bid.”

Acting on President Estrada’s instruction for PPA to keep the bidding clean and transparent, the board repudiated the earlier recommendation of the pre-qualification, bids and awards committee favoring the second lowest bidder.

F.F. Cruz the veteran needs no reminder that until the deal is done and delivered, PPA General Manager Juan Peña, who sources said has consistently voted for the second lowest bidder, may persist in looking for more loopholes to carry out their original plan.

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THE shooting down of 16 knife-wielding members of a cult in Bukidnon who charged into a group of police and militiamen may seem like an “overkill” if we just watch the TV footage without looking at the unfortunate incident in context.

When we refer to “context,” we’re not blindly adopting the line of government apologists.

The case of a lawman emptying his gun into a wounded cultist already helpless on the ground may be an obvious overkill, but others who had to fire on the onrushing cultists to stop them are of a different situation. Anyway, let them explain.

Judging from the safety and comfort of one’s home the human conduct of the lawmen as shown on TV is very different from being on the spot. We have to understand the psychological state of someone in the path of a bolo-wielding would-be killer.

* * *

WE have to look at the antecedents of the shooting, the psychological trap both cultists and lawmen found themselves in, and the individual and group reaction of those caught in that death alley where neither side could no longer back out.

We expect that some of the lawmen would be found, after investigation, to have overreacted and therefore liable, while others may be able to satisfactorily explain their state of mind when they pulled the trigger.

Let’s wait for the investigation to tell us what happened.

* * *

THIS business of pulling the trigger is tricky business. Some kibitzers ask why the lawmen did not just shoot the cultists in the legs to stop them. Those who have handled guns long enough would tell you that this is often easier said than done.

Not all those pressed into the service are experts who could hit a running man between the eyes at 15 yards. When you shoot a moving target, you could be aiming for the legs but actually hit him in the head, if at all.

Just to find out, take a pistol and from 15 yards try emptying five rounds into an old refrigerator (go to an estero and you’ll find one or two discarded refs floating with the garbage) and see where your bullets land.

* * *

ON the military’s distributing posters with the names and pictures of leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) plus mention of a reward for their capture, we just want to know if charges had been fled in court against them.

They are Hashim Salamat, MILF chairman, P5 million; Al-Haj Murad, vice chairman, P3 million; and spokesman Eid Kabalu, P1 million. What are the charges already filed against each one, if any?

If there are no charges yet, the postering smacks of the spray-painting job on the doors of suspected houses of suspected drug pushers in Metro Manila. Posting “Wanted” signs may be routine in the Wild Wild West, but in this jurisdiction it could run afoul due process.

We hope the Abu Sayyafs, who have more than enough money they could count (some of it in crisp US dollars), do not get ideas and also offer bigger cash rewards for their pet peeves in the high echelons of government and the military.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 17, 2000)

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