POSTSCRIPT / November 21, 2000 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Now, Erap and cronies to face raps on Mimosa

THE trial of President Estrada facing four articles of impeachment has begun in the Senate. Let us give the constitutional process a chance.

We have witnessed the individual oath-taking of the senators as impeachment judges. To allow ourselves a fresh start, let us give the senators the benefit of the doubt. Let us assume that they would remain true to their solemn oath to be fair and just.

At this point, the best attitude is to assume the good faith of our senators and the efficacy of the constitutional process. Beyond the impeachment trial is either a bright tomorrow for our fragile democracy, or chaos.

* * *

WE were among those heartened by the decision yesterday of Senate Majority Leader Francisco S. Tatad to renounce his ties with LAMP, the administration party, and take his seat as an impeachment judge “with open eyes and an open mind.”

“Without ties to either side but equidistant to both,” the Opus Dei member said, “I shall perform my duties according to my best lights, guided solely by the truth, justice and the common good as a well-formed Christian conscience has taught me to discern these all these years.”

His move darted like lighting to friends and relatives who have been praying for his bolting the Estrada party and shedding any partisan bias that might interfere with his best judgment.

Now we know that the impeachment debate has inspired some soul-searching in some of us. Including President Estrada, we pray.

* * *

IN an open letter to the people read before the Senate, Tatad referred with a hint of hurt to innuendoes that he was with the core bloc of eight senators that Sen. Miriam Santiago had said would doggedly ensure the acquittal of Mr. Estrada.

A respected member of the working press before he joined government, the Bicol senator said that until he sees the evidence to be presented during the trial, he would not know what his vote would be.

“It is therefore absurd for others to assume what my vote will be,” he said, “and then to condemn me, before the vote is taken, on the basis of their own prejudgment.”

We know Tatad, and we actually had that gut feeling that something like his bolting the administration party was bound to happen before the impeachment trial went under way.

* * *

LOOKING beyond the impeachment trial, Tatad advised: “Whatever happens to President Estrada or those who are eager to replace him, we must make sure that the ultimate victory belongs not just to a small elite but to all our people.”

“Should Mr. Estrada survive impeachment, we must make sure that we see meaningful changes in the economy, public morality and government,” he said. “Should the process turn out badly for him, we must make sure we see the reforms we never saw under his presidency.”

He added: “We must not allow the most venal and wicked individuals who have remained unpunished for their past crimes to return to the scene by posturing on the side of goodness and parroting the political line of the day just to hide their opportunism, their hypocrisy, their corruption, their crimes. This happened not too long ago; we should not allow it to happen again today.”

* * *

THERE was no hint of it in Tatad’s statement, but one such high crime was the extorting of a controversial coconut levy from coconut farmers during the martial rule of the Marcos dictatorship.

Part of the multibillion-peso coconut funds were funneled to the San Miguel Corp. and later sequestered by the government as ill-gotten.

Issuing Executive Order 312 last week, President Estrada got some P50 billion of the contested SMC shares (paid by coconut levy funds) for a new trust fund ostensibly for upgrading the coconut industry and improving the lot of farmers.

Mr. Estrada signed the EO while the nation was distracted by the animated debate over his impeachment or resignation. He forced the issue despite the fact that a case on the nature and disposition the coconut levy funds was still pending with the Supreme Court.

* * *

THE Aquino and the Ramos administrations had declared the coconut levy funds as public money and precluded their being assigned to or awarded to private individuals. Such policy has been upheld by the Supreme Court.

Mr. Estrada’s order in effect lifting the sequestration would give part of the contested funds to his friend Danding Cojuangco, who was among the original Marcos cronies who cooked up the coconut levy in the first place.

Using coconut farmers as the excuse and beneficiary of his action, Mr. Estrada’s order would place in government hands the 27 percent in the 47-percent contested block of SMC shares representing the coconut fund.

The balance of 20 percent was to be handed to Cojuangco in what looks like an out-of-court settlement similar to the illegal 75-25 percent settlement that the Marcos family has been insisting for the $750-million Marcos loot held in escrow with the Philippine National Bank.

* * *

MALACANANG expects to raise P50 billion from the sale of the 27-percent block to be taken from the coconut shares in San Miguel. The plan is reportedly to deposit the money with the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB), which is Cojuangco-dominated, giving the Tarlac businessman effective control of the entire 47 percent.

Some analysts explained that Estrada’s freeing of the sequestered SMC shares at the height of the impeachment debate was no coincidence. Precisely, the coconut levy funds are allegedly central to an urgent action plan for buying the acquittal of Estrada in the impeachment trial.

Fears have been expressed by the opposition that a P1-billion fund would be used to subvert the impeachment process. The emerging source of the money is the coconut fund sought to be freed by the Estrada order.

* * *

BY coincidence, the use of coconut funds was also mentioned in an alleged Malacañang grand plan reportedly put together with the help of Cojuangco, the Zamora brothers, Ernie Maceda, and US-based political PR man Paul Bograd.

A reader using the penname Darth Nader outlined the strategy, summarizing the supposed five stages of the plan as: (1) Discredit the accuser (Chavit Singson) and his allies; (2) Discredit the potential of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as an alternative leader (through jueteng links and accommodation with the Left); (3) Restrict the process to impeachment; (4) Control the Senate through the coconut levy funds; and (5) Acquittal.

Bograd was the same PR man mentioned last week by Rep. Heherson Alvarez as having been awarded by the Palace with a $5-million PR/crisis management contract.

Local public relations practitioners reacted negatively to the revelation since they know Bograd to be merely relying on local outfits for much of his output.

* * *

NADER also analyzed the positioning of the so-called eight Swing-Vote senators, or those whose inclination in the impeachment trial are not yet well defined.

There were some minor errors noted in the Nader analysis. Reader Wilson G. Bailon, for instance, pointed out that contrary to Nader’s classificastion, Sen. Blas F. Ople listed with the Swing Votes is not a reelectionist.

Another reader, Abel C. Coloma, told us that some paragraphs of Nader were apparently lifted from a column of Amando Doronila. We checked and found that they were indeed taken from it. We apologize for Nader.

Tatad was listed by Nader with the five pro-Erap hard-core senators. As it turned out yesterday, the senator still has an open mind.

But the Nader piece was generally well received. We were swamped with email agreeing with his assessment of the senators’ inclinations. Check our issue last Sunday for his analysis.

* * *

FORMER President Ramos reiterated yesterday before the kapihan crowd at a Manila hotel his December 16 “deadline” for President Estrada to adopt some tough measures to stem the continued erosion of public confidence in his administration.

Why December 16? Ramos said that was the official start (with the simbang gabi) of the Christmas season in the country. He was obviously implying that something dramatic has to happen before Christmas, or else….

He also lambasted the administration for trying to buy public support. He said Mr. Estrada has launched a program selecting the 100 poorest families in every province and doling out P10,000 to each family.

Such doles won’t work since they do not contribute to making the poor productive, he said. There would be more lasting benefits all round, he said, if the funds for such doles were consolidated and devoted to a well-thought out project.

He also denounced the cruelty of giving to landless families pieces of paper misrepresented as land titles. In a case in Novaliches, he said, the same land was given out again to the same beneficiaries just to create a photo-op for Mr. Estrada.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 21, 2000)

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