POSTSCRIPT / March 5, 2000 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Why is Estrada acting as Marcoses’ guardian angel?

THE proposed road users tax to be tacked on to the registration fees of motor vehicles is most unfair. It is unjust. Its should be shot down on sight.

No, we’re not going to ask “Why impose a road users tax when there are hardly any decent roads to use?” Instead, we quote a POSTSCRIPT reader, MikeTabo of Antipolo, who said:

“We pay a high price for using these roads, as well as the salaries of government officials and gasoline for government vehicles. Yet, these people block us off the street when they pass by.”

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TAMA si Mike. Indeed, while we cough up an additional road users tax, officials whose vehicles (not to mention their gasoline and other requirements) are paid by us taxpayers will be exempted from paying the same tax from their own pocket.

This explains why lawmakers have no qualms about imposing this road users’ tax. They do not have to pay for it themselves for their official cars. We taxpayers will have to pay it for them.

To rub salt on the wound, they then zip around with flashers and sirens blaring and motorcycle escorts who push us off the road to let them pass. They who do not pay a road users’ tax would drive us taxpayers off the road?

Why would we allow such injustice?

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LIKE one time, I was driving on Ayala Zobel when a Land Cruiser and a backup car came barreling down the road with two motorcycle escorts. I normally do not give way to demented drivers bullying me off the road with flashers and sirens, but their sudden appearance jolted me and I stopped.

When I saw that the Land Cruiser’s plate number was a plain WAX 580, and not the No. 1 plate of the President of the Republic, I proceeded. One of the escorts pointed at me, shouted and held his sidearm like he was going to draw.

Where is justice in this world? Why would a passenger with delusions of grandeur hiding behind heavily tinted windows have priority road use over me? If he/she is, by law, entitled to such a privilege, I should at least know who he/she is.

Why would his/her driver be more privileged than I am when we carry the same license (assuming he has a valid license)?

* * *

WHAT ever happened to the rule that government vehicles must be conspicuously marked FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY, that their every outing must be covered by a trip ticket, and that they should be returned to the office garage at the end of the day?

President Estrada made a big show of announcing that one of his priority programs is the curbing of graft and corruption. What is he doing about the rampant misuse of government vehicles?

This is a good time to ask also what ever happened to President Estrada’s order for sirens and flashers to be removed from vehicles that are not being used by the top five officials of the land and a few other specified vehicles such as police cars, fire trucks and ambulances?

Are mistresses of high officials and their children going to school in the morning and to the disco in the evening entitled to the same flasher-siren privilege and the assignment of security escorts?

* * *

LOOKING back, maybe the public may have been more understanding when Cabinet members were given seized smuggled luxury vehicles if only these were marked FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY and made to operate strictly according to the rules.

Taxpayers feel violated when they see the flaunting of undeserved and unlawful privilege, when they see valuable government property being appropriated for personal use. When we see injustice, we rebel.

We’re a poor country. More than half of us are languishing below the poverty line despite the glowing window dressing. We cannot afford to fritter away scarce government resources.

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THE $2-billion judgment of the Hawaii District Court against the Marcoses (compromised to $150 million) in favor of torture victims of martial rule is clear and simple enough. At least to us.

The amount representing damages is a private obligation of the Marcoses arising from the atrocities of the dictator and his henchmen. Compensating the victims is not an obligation of the Philippine government. The government is not a party to the case.

So why should Judge Manuel Real of the Hawaii court order the Philippine government to work out ways to pay the Marcos victims, and even giving the government an April 24 deadline to do it?

* * *

WHY is President Estrada allowing a judge from the pineapple plantations of Hawaii to order him around? Mr. Estrada must love the Marcoses so much that he would endure such insulting orders.

Judge Real had the gall to order that the $150 million be taken from the contested $600 million held in escrow with the Philippine National Bank. Real has no jurisdiction over the money (only our Sandiganbayan has), so he has no business telling us what to do with it.

What Real should do is order the Marcoses to pay, period. Where the Marcoses would get the money is all up to them. They have more than enough loot stashed away in secret vaults to pay the victims a thousand times over. Let them take it out.

* * *

WE won’t be surprised if Judge Real has been snared into the high-stake strategem to use the case to reward the Marcoses with a global settlement wiping away all legal, civil and tax cases against them.

One must never underestimate the power of money, especially when counted by the millions (in dollars yet). I don’t see American judges sporting halos.

Compensating the Marcos victims with $150 million (minus the fat fees of the lawyers) is incidental. It’s just a ruse. The real objective is to buy back respectability for the Marcoses under the guise of paying the victims.

The poverty and the urgent need for money of many of the victims are being used to pressure everybody, including President Estrada and Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Francis Garchitorena, to agree to the hasty release of the payment from the escrow fund.

* * *

PRESIDENT Estrada should stop acting like the attorney and guardian angel of the Marcoses. And Judge Real should stop eyeing the escrow account and just order the Marcoses to pay within the deadline, period.

We’re lucky there is Garchitorena still holding the line in the name of sanity and justice. The pressure on him to go along with the black plan is tremendous.

People who believe in the Sandiganbayan’s principled stand should speak up and stand by him.

* * *

EVERYWHERE you go in Metro Manila, you see people coughing. The likelihood is that the cough is traceable to air pollution. The pollution in the air hanging heavily on the metropolis is getting serious by the day.

Between coughs, we repeat with vehemence: We are slowly being poisoned to death by the dirty air. Are we waiting for people to start dropping dead in the streets before we act? What’s the government doing?

We asked earlier what the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is doing, and the DENR pointed to the Department of Transportation and Communication as the agency responsible for clean air.

At this point, we don’t care who does it – as long as somebody does it fast.

* * *

LOOKING for the culprit, we took to task the policemen and the traffic officers fielded by the Metro Manila Development Authority who we said should run after smoke-belching vehicles in the streets.

We were surprised to be told that rounding up smoke belchers and putting them out of commission could not be done by the MMDA. Reason given: MMDA officers need to be deputized first by the DOTC.

It looks simple enough to us for a policeman, any policeman with a badge, to flag down a bus emitting deadly black smoke so thick that motorists behind it can hardly read its name and body number.

We do not need sophisticated devices (and the usual multimillion-peso purchase contracts) to spot smoke belchers. We only have to look at the vehicles lumbering by. Yet the authorities refuse to see them.

We don’t want to look stupid following the finger-pointing, the blame-tossing. If the smoke belching buses continue rolling merrily on, our only conclusion is that the bus operators are bribing officials of the MMDA, the DOTC and the police.

There is no other explanation for their failing to act on a clear and present danger to the population.

* * *

REMEMBER that story we published about one Abigail Tiu, whose 26-year-old son was reportedly injured severely when water taken out of their microwave oven suddenly splattered and scalded him?

Here is the score on that story forwarded to us by former Timesman Ernesto Nievera from New York:

Abigail, who appears to be in her thirties, is not married and has no son. The story attributed to her is false, but it keeps going around.

She works as a computer programmer in New Jersey. The phone number we have published is her work number. A couple of people have called her about the story.

The story said her son placed a cup of water in the micro-oven to boil. When taken out, the water looked normal and harmless, then flash steamed and scalded him. We ran a followup item from reader Glen Dizon explaining such behavior of water bombarded by microwave.

We apologize to her and our readers. But we advice users to heed instructions of microwave oven manufacturers on the proper care and use of their products.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 5, 2000)

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