POSTSCRIPT / March 2, 2000 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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How not to read (some) headlines of RP papers

THE main head on the front page of a major daily (not the STAR, thank goodness) declares: “Use of P1-B college trust fund questioned.”

The message of that head is two-part: (1) Funds of CAP (the college pre-need plan) have been used for the MRT, a new Metro light rail project on EDSA, and (2) such use will be investigated by a congressional committee.

With the MRT obviously headed for huge losses, if not outright insolvency, the thousands of readers with hard-earned money in CAP panicked. They want to know why their money was invested in or loaned to a high-risk project, and if it could still be recovered.

Remember that most CAP members are wage-earners who allot a small part of their earnings to building a fund for the future schooling of their children. What if, when their kids are grown, the money they had expected to use for their college education is not there?

* * *

SUCH are the sad, serious implications of that jolting headline which has turned out to be wrong, untrue, false, incorrect, misleading – because CAP funds have not been diverted to the MRT.

The second part of the head, which is that such alleged unwise fund placement will be investigated by Congress, becomes impertinent with the first part (the alleged diversion of CAP funds) having been shown to be false.

A news head must be a correct recap of what is in the body of a news story. Many of us are just headline readers who do not have the time or patience to plow through the tortured text of many news stories.

Requiring casual readers to pore through the body text and understand its editorial nuances is like requiring plane passengers lining up for boarding to first read and comprehend fully the fine prints scattered on several annex pages of their airline tickets.

* * *

OCCASIONALLY using incorrect and damaging reports is one of the hazards of putting out a market-driven daily newspaper. It happens to the best of them, since working on the reportorial beat and at the editorial desk are mere frail human beings.

But while every human person makes mistakes, not everybody seems to have the humanity and the humility to apologize and make amends when in error. Sometimes this human quality, or lack of it, is the only line dividing responsible and irresponsible journalism.

In worst cases, high pride, institutionalized arrogance and hidden malice prevent the purveyor of a false news report to own the mistake, correct it, and apologize.

* * *

ON the flip side, that is also one of the hazards of being written about in or by newspapers. Or being interviewed for publication.

That’s why the counterpart Miranda doctrine in media is or should be: You have the right to remain silent when interviewed, because what you say may just be distorted.

Rep. Jacinto Paras of Negros Oriental, kindly take note!

* * *

IN Mindanao, meanwhile, where President and commander-in-chief Erap Estrada is making the presence of government felt, he affirms the general impression that there is not much to show for the P16 billion in development funds poured by the government to that neglected island of promise.

Do not be deceived by pictures in the media showing the President hugging Gov. Nur Misuari of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. (As a rule, keep in mind that pictures lie).

If you listen carefully to President Estrada, you will sense a lingering impatience for results, and an irritation for some Mindanao leaders who had received the billions for their poor constituents.

No wonder, in response to a question, the President said it was all right for the Senate to look into how the P16 billion for Mindanao was spent.

* * *

HOW can the government widen 9.5-meter-wide McKinley Road cutting through Forbes Park if some embassies and residences of foreign ambassadors along the route do not yield part of their lots needed for widening?

Asked about this, the proponents of rezoning Forbes/McKinley could not give an answer. Some of them just grinned when we suggested, albeit in a light vein, that maybe the additional lanes could be made to wind around the houses of the stubborn envoys.

Or maybe the new lane could be made to go over the embassies (as in overpass or flyover), one rezoning advocate said in jest, making an arching movement with her hand.

Urban developer Felino A. Palafox Jr. who prepared studies on McKinley’s widening and mixed-use development, admitted that all they could do at the moment is talk to the diplomatic missions affected.

* * *

PRECISELY this problem was brought up by lawyer Sabino Padilla Jr. in a position paper submitted to the Makati City Council looking into the proposed reclassification of Forbes Park from residential to commercial (C-1).

As legal counsel of the Santuario de San Antonio parish church along McKinley, Padilla also asked how part of the churchyard, which is already devoted to public use, could be expropriated all over again for public use.

We also asked about the Santuario in last week’s presscon of rezoning proponents, but did not get a satisfactory reply. We asked if widening could result in passing cars’ grazing the walls of the church helplessly standing close to the edge of the new service lane.

* * *

IN the same presscon, we learned that the “widening” of McKinley will not result in actual widening. The Palafox plans merely called for building service lanes (not regular roads) behind the acacia trees for vehicles maneuvering to get on or off McKinley.

We think this virtual “widening” will not substantially increase the capacity of McKinley and greatly ease traffic between the Makati Central Business District and the new sub-city rising in Fort Bonifacio some 1.6 kilometers away.

Palafox also said that present plans do not call for expropriation or the purchase of parts of roadside property. He said they have in mind convincing owners to allow the use (donation?) of a slice of their lots for an extra lane in exchange for an upbeat development of a mixed residential-commercial strip that would greatly enhance values.

It was also disclosed that aside from the embassies or envoys’ residences of the United States, Thailand, Korea and Brunei, there are also around four other owners of roadside property who are still cold to the rezoning move.

* * *

WE freely condense and paraphrase here what lawyer Padilla said in his position paper. He said in effect:

Under the Vienna Convention and settled principles of international law, the Makati City government cannot expropriate lands of embassies along McKinley since the premises are territory of the country represented by that embassy. Worse still, the Makati government cannot sue in our local courts the American, Thai, Korean and Brunei governments.

The rezoning or reclassifying of McKinley to C-1 and its widening rests on the forlorn hope that the foreign governments will voluntarily cede portions of their embassy grounds to accommodate some lot owners who want to change the use of lots in the area from residential to commercial.

If the embassies cannot be subjected to expropriation and are not willing to give up portions of their embassy grounds for road widening, the entire expropriation would have to be directed towards the southwestern side of the road, and that would affect the Santuario de San Antonio (Padilla’s client).

* * *

OF the Santuario, Padilla says: “Santuario de San Antonio has been there since 1948, first as a public oratory, which means, in canon law, a place where people come to pray. Now it is a full-fledged parish church, which means, again in canon law, a consecrated place where masses are celebrated on Sundays and Holy Days, and where baptisms, weddings and funerals are held.

“The public oratory, and even more so a parish church, is property already devoted to public use. It is not property for private use such as a commercial building or a residential house.

“When the City of Makati expropriates, it can expropriate private property only, and only for public use. If property is already devoted to public use, no city government has the right or authority to expropriate it.

“This legal principle or doctrine was laid down by our Supreme Court 80 years ago in the case of the Chinese community of Manila versus the City of Manila.

* * *

“WHEN Rizal Ave. was being extended, it was supposed to traverse the Chinese cemetery in La Loma. The Chinese community protested and said that when property is already being used for public purposes, such as a church or a cemetery, the city has no right to expropriate it, because that right to expropriate covers private property only, not property already devoted to public use. The Supreme Court agreed.

“It is in this celebrated case where Justice George Malcolm laid down the famous dictum: The wheels of commerce must stop at the grave.

“Similarly, in this proposed rezoning of McKinley Road, the forces of unrestricted greed must stop at the doorsteps of our churches.”

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 2, 2000)

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