POSTSCRIPT / January 20, 2000 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Will Lim also spray-paint mansions of drug lords?

OMBUDSMAN Aniano Desierto opines that the spray-painting by Interior Secretary Alfredo Lim of the houses of alleged drug pushers in Manila is legal because a city ordinance allows it.

Lim’s spray-painting campaign in Manila is legal, but the same act done in another city without a similar ordinance is – what? Illegal?

Whatever a local ordinance says or does not say, if an act violates a basic human right guaranteed under the Constitution, it is reprehensible. It has to stop.

We know a desert is arid, but must it also be barren?

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SOME of the houses spray-painted are said to be the places where suspected drug pushers habitually live. The emphasis is on “suspected” as under our system of laws, a suspect is presumed innocent until convicted.

The objects of the spray-painting have not been convicted. Even granting Lim’s targets have been convicted, his spray-painting of the door of their houses with a derogatory notice is not part of the punishment meted out by the court.

Note also that the notice in bold red letters painted on the gate or door is a statement against all the occupants, including innocent persons who just happened to live in the same house. What about these other residents, and their rights?

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LIKE other concerned citizens, we’re alarmed by the unchecked illicit drugs menace. We agree that something drastic should be done before the problem engulfs us.

We sincerely wish Lim success in his campaign. We understand why he has to raise a mailed fist and resort to extraordinary measures, but at the same time as an officer of the law he must make sure he acts within the law.

As our ethics professor used to say, the end does not justify the means. We recall our elders warning us against committing another wrong to right a wrong.

This is not to say that spray-painting as Lim did it with attendant drama is illegal. That is left for the courts to decide.

But meantime, the cause of good government would be served if officers hewed to the law even when going after outlaws.

* * *

WE share misgivings that the shame campaign appears to be aimed only at the small fry, those who do not have the social standing and the resources to fight back to defend their rights.

We’re still waiting for the day when General Lim would march up a mansion and spray-paint the door of a well-placed businessman confirmed by the authorities to be a drug lord or a big-time dealer.

That Lim has not targeted the big fish can only mean that despite his awesome network he does not have the goods on any of them or that he is afraid to take on the big operators.

The former mayor used to crow in his election posters that in Manila, the law applies to all “or none at all.” It may be timely to raise the same billboards again as a reminder to hyperactive law enforcers.

* * *

IN the high councils of government, who speaks for the common tao ? Nobody!

When the Supreme Court last heard oral arguments on a petition of Bataan Rep. Enrique Garcia on oil industry deregulation, our own Solicitor General argued not in the interest of the masses but for the Big 3, the oil monopoly controlled by foreign interests.

When President Estrada consulted his Cabinet advisers on HB 8710 creating a national oil exchange seeking lower retail prices, Energy Secretary Mario Tiaoqui sided not with the President’s natural constituency, the masses, but with the Big 3 – Shell, Petron and Caltex.

Although he had previously assured Garcia that he would certify the OilEx bill, the President was misled into withdrawing support for the measure. Surrounded by runners of the oil giants, how will the President ever get to appreciate the urgency of creating the OilEx?

* * *

AS envisioned, the OilEx would bid out regularly the country’s total requirements of gasoline, diesel, kerosene, LPG, and other refined petroleum products – not crude oil — to all foreign and local refineries and graders to get the lowest possible prices.

To receive, store and distribute nationwide the refined oil products that it would acquire from lowest bidders, the OilEx would take over the operation of ocean-receiving oil terminals and storage depots in the country (now mostly owned by the Big 3) subject to the usual legal requirements.

If the Big 3 want to stay in business, they would have to participate in the international bidding. Obviously, they would be forced to look for ways to lower their price if they want to win and stay in contention.

The OilEx, then, is a real threat to the local oil monopoly, which explains why their runners everywhere, including key officials in their pockets, have been mobilized to prevent consideration and approval of Garcia’s OilEx bill.

* * *

AT Customs, meanwhile, we’re amazed that until now a band of soldiers is still operating apart from, sometimes above, regular customs personnel.

Called “Task Force Aduana” under Maj. Gen. Joe Calimlim, the military team is being denounced by importers and brokers for arbitrarily stopping and holding shipments already cleared with customs.

As a result, they complain, delivery is delayed and additional costs, such as for storage, are incurred. Most vocal about the militarization of customs are legitimate importers who pay the correct duties but are still subjected to harassment.

Since President Estrada has just appointed a new customs commissioner in the person of Maj. Gen. Ramon Farolan (ret.) — who knows customs inside out because he had held the same job with distinction some years back – there is absolutely no need for Calimlim’s boys to meddle.

* * *

WE presume the President trusts Farolan. So why still have Calimlim watching over him? We suppose Farolan has his orders clear and knows exactly how to accomplish his mission. So let him be.

The President has announced that he gave General Lim blanket authority in running his department, including his controversial spray-painting of selected houses. Why not the same carte blanche for General Farolan?

If Calimlim and his troops have to be kept busy, they can be deployed elsewhere, such as in coastal areas were landings are being made with impunity. But the major ports, such as Manila, must be respected by the military.

We have to nip a creeping tendency to look to the military for instant solutions to problems. That’s a dangerous drift.

* * *

OVER at the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, an underling of SBMA Chairman Felicito Payumo with links to former chairman Richard Gordon appears to have outlived his supporting role. The grapevine says he wants to replace the boss.

One ploy he reportedly tried was pushing Payumo as replacement of Public Works Secretary Gregorio Vigilar. In this bid, he used his connection to a Palace faction opposed to Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora.

The speculation is that he began to entertain grand ideas after successfully building a P50-million house in one of Manila’s posh villages.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 20, 2000)

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