POSTSCRIPT / March 7, 2000 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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In this country, it’s a crime to be jobless and look poor

SEN. Rodolfo Biazon and other lawmakers batting for the reactivation of the discredited Civilian Auxiliary Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) may want to read again the Constitutional mandate to dismantle all paramilitary forces in the country.

Section 24 of Article XVIII (Transitory Provisions) says:“Private armies and other armed groups not recognized by duly constituted authority shall be dismantled. All paramilitary forces including Civilian Home Defense Forces not consistent with the citizen armed force established in this Constitution, shall be dissolved or, where appropriate, converted into the regular force.”

We want to remind the senator and the other honorable members of Congress that the legislature is required to pass enabling laws to carry out this constitutional ban on private armies and paramilitary units.

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IT has been 13 years since the ratification of the charter, yet our lawmakers continue to refuse to pass the laws to give force and effect to the charter’s mandate. Instead of pursuing the ban, the senator is even proposing the reactivation of CAFGUs.

On another plane, President Estrada insists on “correcting” (his term for amending) the Constitution even before the charter could be given a chance to prove itself.

More than a hundred enabling laws needed to carry out charter provisions (such as that section on paramilitary units) have not been passed and tested, yet our leaders are already talking of rewriting the charter.

Why don’t we first give the Constitution a chance to operate and prove itself before we tinker with it?

Another provision waiting for an enabling act is that one banning political dynasties. This case partly explains lawmakers’ refusal to act. Such reformist provisions go against their interests so why should they move nga naman?

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PRESIDENT Estrada reportedly has another formula for the sharing of the $615-million illicit wealth held in escrow with the Philippine National Bank. The fund is being eyed as source of the $150 million to compensate Marcos torture victims.

Mr. Estrada’s idea is reportedly that after the $150 million is paid to the torture victims, the balance of $465 million would go to the government instead of its being split 50-50 percent with the Marcoses as earlier planned.

The report is silent on the “non-negotiable” condition of the Marcoses that they would part with the money (which they claim to be theirs) only if they would be granted a global clearance and immunity from suits.

If total absolution of the Marcoses is still appended as a condition, the plan to give the entire $465-million balance to the government should be rejected. The Supreme Court itself has ruled that no settlement could include immunity from criminal suits.

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WE go back to the basic fact that the $150-million judgment against the Marcoses (compromised from the original $2-billion award) pertains only to the cases filed by 9,539 torture victims of the dictatorship.

The moment the victims accept the $150 million, it follows that the slate is wiped clean as far as those torture cases are concerned.

But the granting of total immunity by way of settlement cannot and must not extend to other cases, including those still to be filed. The consolidated judgment by the US District Court in Hawaii pertains only to the 9,539 cases on record.

The Marcoses cannot expand the scope of the compromise and demand global clearance and immunity outside those specific cases decided in Hawaii. Any omnibus settlement that includes all criminal, civil and tax cases filed and still to be filed against them must be rejected. It is preposterous!

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THE urgent need of many of the victims is being used by the Marcoses and the Estrada administration to generate sympathy for their plight and dissolve objections to their being paid under compromising conditions from the PNB escrow fund.

We need not swallow bitter global settlement just to be able to pay the victims. There are other ways of immediately compensating them without having to agree to that onerous settlement with the Marcoses.

For instance, if it’s true that President Estrada’s heart bleeds for the victims, he could advance some amounts to them in the meantime to be paid back, interest-free, when they are able to finally collect.

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THE victims should test the sincerity of President Estrada and formally ask him to devise a way for advancing the money, payable upon their collection. Repayment should not take too long since the President naturally wants to collect without much delay.

Between Mr. Estrada and his cronies, with his intelligence fund, his social fund and pork barrel funds hidden in the budget, the President can raise enough money to tide the victims over till they collect.

Let’s cast aside in the meantime all thoughts of clearing the Marcoses. Leave that to the tender mercies of the courts.

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ANOTHER option is to have all parties agree to slice off $150 million from the escrow fund in the meantime for payment to the victims.

The approving parties include the Marcoses, the government and the victims. There is no need to secure the agreement of Judge Manuel Real, the overreaching district magistrate in Hawaii.

The $465 million left in escrow after $150 million is set aside must not be touched or split now between the Marcoses and the government. The disposition of that balance should wait for the final judgment of the courts.

What we’re simply saying is that if there is a will, there is a way to pay the victims without having to compromise our justice system and our conscience.

The global clearance demanded by the Marcoses is the only real obstacle to the immediate payment of the victims. So let’s put it aside, and get $150 million from the escrow fund for the victims without touching or committing the balance.

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IN case you have not noticed, we’re already in the Third Millennium. But here we are allowing policemen the discretion to arrest and detain helpless individuals for a vague notion called vagrancy.

The police definition of vagrancy is when you are “loitering” in a public place “without any visible means of support.”

If you hang around a public place and you happen to be jobless and penniless – and you look it — you are a vagrant! The Quezon City police can haul you to the precinct and book you for vagrancy.

In this country, or at least in Quezon City, it is now a crime to venture out of your house, or shanty, if you are jobless and look poor.

And if you try helping citizens rounded up for vagrancy, as Rep. Michael Defensor did recently, and you happen to be a critic of the Estrada administration, sabit ka! You’re in deep trouble!

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DRIVING leisurely around Clark Field, seeking shelter under its spreading acacias or sampling Pampanga cuisine in its quiet eateries could be a refreshing experience for city creatures.

But the spell is sometimes broken when one starts noticing the litter in the parking and picnic areas that have been attracting out-of-town visitors.

It pains us natives to see that visitors leave plastic bags, paper plates, soda cans, napkins and other litter after eating picnic-style in the rest areas around the former American base.

Why can’t people gather their litter and dump it in the garbage cans provided for the purpose? Who do they expect to clean up after them?

The alarming thing is that litterbugs see nothing wrong with it. No wonder other countries keep moving ahead while we remain bogged down in shit and dirt.

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FOR a point of comparison, take MacDonalds and similar burger eateries.

In civilized countries like the United States, after you eat your burger and whatever else, you gather your trash on your tray, dump it yourself into the trash box, and leave the tray on top of the box.

You do that because, well, you have to do it. You just do it without even reflecting on why you do it.

In this benighted land, after eating and scattering things on the table, you just leave the mess. Bahala na who would clean up after you. Try gathering and dumping your own trash and you would look odd.

You might even appear poor and “low class” doing that menial task — and end up being arrested for vagrancy. You see, the rich have servants and they do not clear the table.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 7, 2000)

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