POSTSCRIPT / March 19, 2000 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Suddenly we realize: We need a President!

IF we have not seen the handwriting on the wall yet, the bloody Muslim rebellion in the South and the big-time graft and corruption cases erupting all over should make the message so stark and compelling that we would not miss it: We need a President!

We mean a real, live, 24-hour President leading us with sure steps and a firm hand through the treacherous minefield littering our way.

* * *

WITH its three brawling sailors safely out of the country, the United States now wants the Philippines to waive jurisdiction over their case of physical injury and estafa pending before a municipal court in Cebu City.

If we got it right from Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon Jr. testifying in the Senate, the US is not questioning the jurisdiction of the Philippines, but is simply asking for the transfer of jurisdiction from the Philippines to the US.

In appearing before the Cebu municipal court this week in response to its summons and entering a plea of not guilty, the three crewmen of the USS Blue Ridge and their superiors formally recognized and accepted the original jurisdiction of the Philippine court.

* * *

TO prevent a miscarriage of justice, the issue of jurisdiction can be raised at any point while a case is pending. But, if we read it right, the American motion does not question the jurisdiction of the Cebu court, but merely asks that its jurisdiction be waived in favor of the US government.

In other words, as we have said in an earlier POSTSCRIPT, criminal jurisdiction is no longer an issue in this case of the three US sailors on shore pass mauling a Cebu taxicab driver.

Philippine jurisdiction is recognized, but the US asks that it be waived.

* * *

SIAZON said the Philippine government has 20 days to consider whether to grant the US motion or not. He added that President Estrada would make the decision.

We beg to disagree. We’re not a lawyer, but we believe that the President (Executive) cannot usurp the exclusive authority of the Cebu court (Judiciary) which has taken over and to which both the complainant and the respondents have submitted themselves.

If it wanted to try its own personnel, the US government should have stopped its men from submitting themselves to the Philippine court and stalled for time while it tried working out a waiver of jurisdiction of the host country.

Before the arraignment of the trio, when the case was still in the investigation stage, the President could have accommodated the US request if he was minded doing so. Not now when it’s too late.

* * *

BUT the Cebu court’s having taken original and exclusive jurisdiction may be a blessing in disguise for President Estrada.

We can imagine that the President, who has been dying to do the US a big favor, may want to grant the US request. But such move would entail a staggering political cost that he may not be able to afford at this critical stage of his beleaguered presidency.

If the President needs an excuse to avoid such a dilemma, he now can rightly say sorry to the Americans — pointing out that the Cebu court is already on top of the case and that not even the President of the Philippines may wrest it from the judiciary.

To accommodate the Americans, however, Mr. Estrada can tell them privately that he would work out some kind of settlement. If he delivers, and we believe he can, he would have earned points from all sides without compromising Philippine sovereignty.

* * *

WITH time and some friendly persuasion, the mauling victim could be convinced to accept settlement and drop the civil action. As for the criminal aspects of the case, with the direct witness, the victim himself, suddenly losing interest, it is improbable that the case could prosper.

With settlement, the US would have gotten back its people intact, the Cebu court would have done its solemn duty, the victim would settle back apparently satisfied, the lawyers would have gotten their usual fees, and the Philippine government would have neatly sidestepped what could have been a potentially damaging case.

With everybody getting his due, justice would have been served. And the controversial criminal jurisdiction provision of the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement would have passed its first test.

* * *

AS expected, our comment that the Department of Tourism has been falling on its job drew loud protests from some dedicated DoT personnel who have been working hard whoever sat as tourism secretary.

In 1999, they pointed out in a letter, there were 2.2 million tourist arrivals (with less than five million air seats available) and $2.6 billion in tourist expenditures.

The reacting personnel were Asst. Secretary Ma. Theresa I. Martinez; Director Grace R. Yoro, financial and management service; OIC Violeta P. Florentino, administrative service; and Director Evelyn R. Cajigal, legal service.

They said: “A lot of people do not realize that when they hit the DoT, we the employees are affected badly. We are professionals. We work and give our full support to whoever is appointed to head our agency.”

* * *

WE’RE glad we elicited such emotional reaction. The DoT leadership has to be jolted into action. Such sentiment should not go unheeded by the political appointees leading the department.

All that valuable professional staff work would be wasted if not properly and fully utilized by competent managers at the top.

As we said, at the end of the day, the question of the taxpayer is: “What has this department done for me?” The question may not be fair, but it’s there begging for an answer.

* * *

FROM the private sector, reader Susan Calo Medina sent us a list of destinations that one can drive to over the weekend.

She listed the usual destinations in Rizal, Laguna, Pampanga, Clark and Bulacan. She expressed amazement that we were not, she said, aware of these places. (We know these places and have in fact visited some of them during those years when we were doubling as a tourism editor. – FDP)

Still, we will pursue our questions: What is the DoT doing to make these supposedly delectable destinations known to Filipinos in search of places to visit? Where are these places exactly, how do we get there, how much does it entail, what are the suggested hotels and restaurants, what can we expect, where is the tourism office nearest them?

We meet countless people asking the same questions. With the summer break sneaking up on us, this concern over tourism promotions has some urgency.

* * *

THE brochures or promotional materials, assuming the DoT has them, should not be kept in bodegas. They should be distributed fast to operators and prospective travelers, not indiscriminately but according to a well-studied strategy.

Also, we still have to see really fetching ads in key media. It is axiomatic that any marketing program without an advertising component is an exercise in futility.

And then, what ever is happening to the supposedly lucrative business of conventions, organized familiarization trips and ecotourism? Let’s not wait for interested parties or prospects to inquire. Let’s seek them out and keep our outlets busy.

But first first first, let’s prepare our facilities and the rest of our tourism infrastructure — lest our visitors, and we, end up disappointed. We don’t want it said that we’re selling this beautiful country short.

* * *

THIS report of Andrea Godinez Hoffman of Dumaguete City is related to the case of the Cebu cabbie mauled by US sailors, but we’re relating it here as it also touches on tourism. She says:

“In December 1999, my American husband’s sister came to visit us in Dumaguete City. We took her to Cebu and toured her around. On our first day, we took a taxicab and we directed the driver to take us to several places and just wait for us and we would just pay him by the meter and pay him extra for waiting and a promised tip. He agreed without haggling.

“I thought everything would be OK as he seemed generous helping us point out interesting sites and places in Cebu and the taximeter seemed to be running OK.

“When we asked him to finally drop us at SM Cebu, this very unfortunate incident happened. While alighting, my sister-in-law felt she left her shoulder bag and turned back to the cab. She saw the driver quickly hiding her bag under the front seat and tried to get away, but my sister-in-law was quicker and managed to grab the driver’s hair while groping for the bag under the seat.

“She instinctively slapped him and told him what a shameful thing he just did. My husband by that time was already at the driver’s side holding him by the shoulders but coolly telling him that what he did was wrong.

“Curious onlookers begun to gather and I told both of them that we had to leave. No authorities arrived, not even the mall’s security personnel. Then another taxi stopped beside us and the driver got off holding a steel pipe.

“When my sister-in-law saw this, she screamed and told his brother to run as the man seems headed towards my husband. We all backed off and half-ran towards the mall entrance and reported to the guards. The incident was eventually reported to the police.

“My sister-in-law, though she likes Cebu very much, vowed never to go back”.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 19, 2000)

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