POSTSCRIPT / January 9 2000 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Espiritu, Lichauco exit a case of perfect timing

CABINET members Edgardo Espiritu and Josefina Lichauco did a master stroke in resigning as finance secretary and communication undersecretary, respectively, before President Estrada announced a revamp in his official family.

It is immaterial if Espiritu and Lichauco were marked to be shuffled around or not. The important thing, from the point of view of their personal and professional life, is that they left the Estrada team intact before the roof caves in on the Cabinet.

They got off in time, mouthing the proper official excuses while the unofficial reasons managed to leak out.

* * *

IT is obvious that the Estrada administration is careening toward the cliff of public disapproval. But with their irrevocable resignations made amid a backdrop of alleged disenchantment, Espiritu and Lichauco are spared being stuck with the Jeep ni Erap as it approaches the cliff.

What does one get from a Cabinet post? As the President himself has disclosed, many of those who declined his job offers were hesitant to give up their rewarding and relaxed life for a turbulent and thankless public life. Cabinet members have to live with low pay and high risks.

Elsewhere and at some other era, membership in the Cabinet was/is supposed to be a personal sacrifice in the name of public service. These days, a respectable, stable personality has to be a closet masochist to join the government.

* * *

AMONG the new appointees, one who is perceived to have the toughness of character to be able to take on the demanding job is former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, who has been recruited to take over the post vacated by Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno.

Carrying a Dirty Harry image, Lim will be an interesting overseer of PNP Chief Panfilo Lacson. If they can eschew intrigues getting in the way of their working together, the two tough cops at the helm of a civilian organization will be able to perform miracles.

The Lim-Lacson pair will continue to be haunted by their human rights records, but since they are aware of it, they would know how to steer around it.

It takes a Lacson –now joined by Lim – to whip a recalcitrant police into line. In fact, we dare say that not only the police but the country itself needs at this stage a firm hand of the Lim-Lacson kind.

* * *

WE will start on Tuesday our report on our public opinion survey on why the net public approval rating of President Estrada has plunged to just five percent in December. We had intended to report today on the poll results, but the unexpected great number of respondents made processing time-consuming.

The men continued to dominate the field. Seventy-three percent, or almost three out of every four respondents, were male. Fifteen percent sent their responses from abroad, mostly from the United States and the Middle East.

The biggest number of respondents (20 percent) were in the 21-25-years age bracket. But taken together, the bulk (40 percent) were bunched together in the 31-40 and 46-55-years age bracket.

The youngest at 21 were Jewelynn Dizon (mentioned last time) and Carlos Rivas of Murphy, Quezon City, while the oldest was Simplicio Rivera, 86, from Kapitolyo, Pasig.

* * *

THE early responses pointed to a growing disenchantment with President Estrada as the key reason for his waning popularity.

This falling out is traced by many readers to the perceived money-making activities of barkada (cronies) and kamag-anak (close relatives) and the President’s failure to keep his promises to the mahihirap .

Among the professionals, there is also the recurring reference to Mr. Estrada’s allegedly being unprepared for the presidency. Blame was also heaped by a number of respondents to non-performing Cabinet members and a critical press.

We will give on Tuesday the numbers corresponding to the responses.

* * *

WE have noticed a sudden rushing in of bunched email putting the blame on media and the past presidents – the same line of defense of President Estrada when he was explaining his dwindling pubic support.

But this is not to summarily dismiss or discredit the opinion of respondents who pointed to the press as partly to blame for the precipitous drop in Mr. Estrada’s poll standing.

One reader, Vincent Romano, wrote: “I am a civil engineer by profession. I am not an admirer of President Estrada… but I certainly do not agree with your Jan. 6 column saying categorically that the media has nothing to do with the falling popularity of the President.”

He added: “It was at first a funny sight for me to see pictures of the President sleeping, or looking so bored, or inattentive splashed over a major newspaper (not the Philippine STAR). Day in and day out, faux pas of the President was front page worthy of newspapers. I am not a psychologist, but I must confess that I have an inkling that those pictures and negative articles have somehow shaped public opinion against the President.”

* * *

WITHOUT taking back what we said last time, we say here that we agree with our correspondent when he put partly on the press the blame/credit for Mr. Estrada’s eroded popularity.

The reading public is influenced by what comes out in the papers. The printed word is that potent in shaping men’s thoughts.

We should have presented in that last Postscript a more rounded picture of how the media work, probably also harking back to past columns on how newspapers influence, for better or for worse, public opinion.

We were focusing last time on this point: President Estrada should not whine about not getting enough favorable press treatment since he has at his disposal a formidable media infrastructure and logistics. He and his boys should optimize use of this valuable media resource.

* * *

THERE was also this point that I did not touch on, but which I have discussed in previous columns: As the press is simply the messenger; it should not be blamed for the bad news that it carries.

The press does not create the negative developments that it reports. In fact, some of the problems bedeviling the administration were created/caused by President Estrada himself.

When I said in Postscript that the press had nothing to do with the drop in Mr. Estrada’s standing, I actually meant that we were not responsible for his fumblings and that of his Cabinet.

* * *

ONE area that President Estrada can explore is the creation of an oil exchange (OilEx) that will centralize and rationalize the procurement of cheap oil products from all sources, including refineries abroad.

Rep. Enrique Garcia is pushing a bill creating such an agency that will course the procurement of finished oil products to the OilEx, receiving bids from all interested suppliers worldwide.

Under the setup proposed by the Bataan congressman, local refineries will just participate in the bidding. If they cannot sell at lower prices, the OilEx will buy from outside sources that can underprice them.

* * *

PRESIDENT Estrada has cited the successive price increases of local oil products as one of the destabilizing elements in the economy and which, in turn, had contributed to the drop in his approval rating.

We’re sure Mr. Estrada has not forgotten his promises of a better life for deprived sectors. In pursuing the amelioration of the poor, the creation of the OilEx and the depressing of the prices of oil products should be of top priority as he seeks solutions to economic problems.

One critical nature of oil products is that their prices affect the downstream prices of practically all goods and services. Oil is one item that impacts on every aspect of our economic life. It can drag down an administration.

The President should not lag in his search for ways to put a lid on runaway prices. The creation of an oil exchange is a dramatic move in that direction.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 9, 2000)

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