POSTSCRIPT / March 28, 2000 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Erap better leave SEC alone for it to succeed

IT’S the first working day at the Securities and Exchange Commission for new chairman Lilia Bautista and the specter of presidential meddling is already looming over her head.

Remarks of President Estrada over the weekend in Baguio have given the impression that he has told Bautista to challenge the Court of Appeals order restraining the SEC from filing charges against some friends of the President.

Presidential meddling in the independent quasi-judicial SEC was precisely the issue that dragged down the stock market in the wake of the scandal involving alleged manipulative trading of Best World Resources shares of presidential friend Dante Tan.

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Mr. President, leave the SEC alone. The new chairman knows what she is to do.

We think that the proper attitude for the President to take is that the SEC is independent, its chairman knows her job and does not need to be told by Malacañang what to do.

The President’s remarks were unnecessary. The SEC chairman has no choice but to challenge the questionable Court of Appeals order for it not to do its mandated job of filing charges related to stock trading irregularities. That’s a forced move.

For Bautista not to press complaints would be dereliction. It might also lend credence to suspicion that erstwhile SEC Chairman Perfecto Yasay was yanked out so he could be replaced by a rubber stamp.

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JUSTICE Secretary Artemio Toquero will find himself in the same predicament when the SEC forwards the complaints to the justice department for investigation.

For the justice secretary, who is an alter ego of the President, not to find probable cause for filing the charges in court would open him to suspicion of covering up for friends of the President.

The situation may not be fair to the respondents, the SEC chairman and the justice secretary, but that is the way perception or public opinion goes. It may seem twisted, or unfair, but the basic issues were already twisted ab initio by presidential meddling.

It seems the President’s friends will have to suffer, rightly or wrongly, the consequences of their having sought shelter under his protective umbrella.

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THE best handling by President Estrada is for him to keep his distance from, and keep quiet on, the BW case. If he wants to influence the outcome of the case, and we are not discounting that, he can do so covertly.

Such interference is not fair or honest, but we think Mr. Estrada can live with that.

The BW Resources case has become too costly for the President. He should expedite its finally leaving the hands of the Executive department (SEC and justice department) and toss it to the tender mercies of the judiciary.

As some fiscals (now called prosecutors) say when in a quandary over a delicate case: Bahala na ang jusgado!

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EDUCATION officials wring their hands and put on worried faces whenever they get the usual report that there will not be enough classrooms for the additional enrollees in the coming school year.

This yearly spectacle need not happen, but it does.

With all the data available, we should be able to predict with certainty exactly how many classrooms, teachers and other requirements we will need next year and in the next few years. It’s pure and simple arithmetic.

Knowing the number of rooms, teachers and instructional aid needed, we should be able to prepare them in advance. There should be no surprises.

Skillful planning and preparation will rule out the recurring spectacle of education officials frantically improvising to cope with the rise in the student population.

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THE problem is lack of planning – not lack of money, as some officials claim.

We have oodles of money for pork barrel, for foreign junkets, for ghost payrolls, for luxury vehicles, for overpricing, commissions and kickbacks, for spoiled mistresses, for ostentation – but no money for educating the youth?

Even if the present leadership does not seem to appreciate formal education, we think Secretary Education Andrew Gonzales should fight for adequate funding.

The education secretary should be assertive when clawing for funds for basic education. He should not be reticent in rallying public opinion to force the allocation and release of funds for the needs of the public school system.

But first, he should tell everybody, including the gods at the budget office, exactly how much he would need.

* * *

SEE? Now Muslim secessionists are asking that a referendum be held in the South under the auspices of the United Nations to determine if the people there want a separate Bangsamoro.

That’s what our limp posture has brought us. Appeasement has been taken by rebels for weakness, and they now presume to push their luck by going international.

We cannot laugh off that bid for a UN-supervised referendum a la East Timor. If we do not move to counter it, especially in international forums, it might take root and we end up being defensive.

Remember, the right of peoples to self-determination is a hallowed principle in the UN and other world forums. Like the kris, it’s a double-bladed weapon.

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THE Estrada regime must not waste time and saliva recalling that then chairman Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was an aging nonentity resurrected by former President Aquino. We all know that.

Instead, the administration should act prospectively – and with dispatch. President Ramos did not whine about Aquino’s costly miscalculation, but proceeded to destroy Misuari by coopting him and getting him embroiled in the corrupt system.

It was an expensive operation, but Misuari has been neutralized. However, like the Hydra that sprouts more heads as it is beheaded, the discredited MNLF of Misuari has given way to a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) reincarnation.

The fundamentalist Abu Sayyaf (read Abu Saddo) is a thorny twig sticking out of the Muslim wilderness that is threatening to gobble up untended pockets of Mindanao.

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WE’VE been calling attention to it since last year, and now poultry raisers are howling against cheap chicken from abroad flooding the market. They say this could kill the local industry.

Not many consumers, however, are complaining since they have no objection to buying cheap chicken. Some of them even say “Serves them right” referring to poultry raisers who push their prices to unreasonable levels to make a fast buck.

As the government is committed to import liberalization and to providing consumer goods at the lowest price possible, it is caught between consumers and poultry raisers.

The essence of the market is fair and free competition, so it seems that the only recourse of local producer is to cut costs and lower their prices. If they can.

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HOWEVER, aside from the usually expired whole chicken and chicken parts (wings and legs) which are dumped here from abroad through legitimate channels, there is unabated smuggling of similar poultry products.

This is the more insidious problem since it is not only unfair but also illegal. What makes it worse is that it is allegedly being perpetrated by smart traders flaunting Malacañang connections.

Such claim is bolstered by the fact that the smuggled chicken is sold through duty-free outlets identified with presidential cronies who reportedly dabble in smuggling to recover their campaign contributions.

Malacañang cannot pretend to be unaware of this problem of smuggling by cronies. This is economic sabotage that not even friendship or utang na loob should countenance.

* * *

TOURISM Secretary Gemma Cruz Araneta has fans in America. Reader Manuel C. Diaz even has unsolicited advice for her:

“Before we promote tourism, we should first connect the international airport to the Skyway to ease the traffic to and from the airport. We should also clean up the Tripa de Gallina estero (near the airport) which stinks to high heavens.

“Clean up Metro Manila and abolish the travel tax for balikbayans. Of course we can apply for a travel tax exemption by wasting one day (for filing one) in the tourism office in the Luneta.

“Also stop putting up golf courses all over the Philippines. Not all tourists play golf. The money spent on golf courses should be spent on upgrading infrastructure to our tourist spots.

“Or abolish the Department of Tourism and let the private sector take over with enough tax incentives. The United States, Japan and most progressive European countries with high tourist volume do not have this government department.”

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ANOTHER fan, Gene Samson, says: “It’s amazing that Secretary Araneta includes even her media interviews and press clippings in her accomplishment report to the President. What about the ribbon-cutting pictures?

“Like her boss, Ms. Araneta appears to have no road map leading travelers to the choice tourist spots in this blessed country. The post of tourism secretary was not meant to be decorative. It entails top-rate planning, marketing skills, a little imagination.

“You’re right in saying that before we even quarrel over plane seats, we should first develop this country as a destination. No destination, no carriers.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 28, 2000)

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