POSTSCRIPT / November 26, 2000 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Davide a decorative, deodorizing fixture?

AKALA namin matitinong abogado itong sina ex-Chief Justice Andres Narvasa and ex-Justice Secretary Estelito Mendoza. How come their opening gambit is to delay the impeachment process by filing a two-bit criminal lawyer’s motion to quash?

We understand their desire to justify their mega-fees as lawyer of impeached President Estrada. But do they have to razzle-dazzle their client with some smart moves to earn their keep? In the first place, is it smart to engage in dilatory tactics?

Mr. Estrada should remind his lawyers of his oft-announced desire to hurry up with the impeachment process. If they insist on throwing bum motions, Mr. Estrada might as well replace them with Commander Robot’s lawyer Oliver Lozano.

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LAW professor Edwin Lacierda notes: “The President’s counsel are trying to impress on the public that this (impeachment) case is criminal in nature. I am sick of (lawyer Raul) Daza’s arguments that impeachment is criminal in nature. In fact, if you will notice, Narvasa et al. filed a Motion to Quash (which is done in criminal proceedings) and not a Motion to Dismiss.

“In the event the motion is denied, I have a feeling they will question whether the offenses charged are impeachable in nature, because not all crimes are considered impeachable. For example, the House judiciary committee that investigated President Nixon did not include tax evasion as an impeachable offense, although it was a crime and Nixon falsified his tax returns.”

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TREATED to the cheap antics of the Estrada lawyers, we hope Chief Justice Hilario Davide, who presides over the historic impeachment trial, does not pack up and excuse himself from the Senate hearing and attend instead to his more serious tasks in the Supreme Court.

The good justice, by the way, may have to clarify this early his functions and powers as presiding officer in the impeachment court.

Note for instance Rule VI of the rules of procedure adopted by the Senate for the impeachment process. It says that while the Chief Justice as presiding officer “may rule on all questions of evidence… which ruling shall stand as the judgment of the Senate,” any senator may question his ruling and ask for a vote on it.

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IMAGINE the chief magistrate handing down a well-considered ruling, only to see it overturned by a bunch of senators that could include the likes of Ramon Revilla, Tito Sotto, Gringo Honasan, Tessie Oreta and John Osmeña!

On a crucial issue, just one vote — such as that of Revilla, who heads the Committee on Silence — could defeat a ruling of the revered Chief Justice. Ano ba yan? The Chief Justice should not have been recruited if he would just be a decorative and deodorizing fixture.

We think that while a ruling of the Chief Justice could be tossed to the body and dissected in a limited debate, the heavy burden — after the arguments are heard — of rendering a final unappealable ruling should rest solely on him.

Incidentally, the Chief Justice presides over the trial because that’s the way it is done in the US. It does not matter to us copycats that the US Chief Justice was brought in mainly because the US Senate is presided over by their Vice President, who stands to become President if the impeached President is found guilty and removed.

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ON how the vote is cast, especially in the final reckoning when the guilt or innocence of President Estrada hangs, we think the Senate should shun an open balloting. This is to draw out Conscience Votes and prevent the brazen bundling of party votes to round up the desired number of votes.

The last time the Senate elected its top officer, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel announced matter-of-factly that since 13 votes were needed to elect the Senate President in the 24-member chamber, he had to vote for himself to secure that magic number.

He knew the votes of his colleagues before he cast his. This is not the kind of close-ranks partisan voting that we want to see in the impeachment trial.

In the final voting where the pro-Erap senators may move to block a two-thirds vote “of all the Members of the Senate,” some of them could be watching the trend of the early ballots and counting heads before deciding how to vote.

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EVERY senator who wants to vote according to his conscience and resist the dictates of the party should be given the opportunity to freely cast his honest vote.

At the time he is voting, no senator must know in advance the votes of his colleagues as that might influence him. The senators should, therefore, be made to secretly write their votes and their names on a form that would be collected for tabulation.

Only during the counting will the senators’ names and votes be announced. When his name is called and his vote announced, the senator may stand to explain his vote if he wants. Only at that time — after all the votes had been cast — will a senator’s vote be known.

There are still some senators who, even under extreme partisan pressure, would vote according to their conscience and their objective appreciation of the evidence. Let us give these senators a chance to be truly independent at the time they cast their votes.

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ON another issue, thousands of motorists being crammed daily into a single lane of the South Luzon Expressway leading to the Filinvest off-ramp in Muntinlupa are just about to explode.

While they wait single-file with motor running, sometimes for as long as half hour, for their turn at the regular exit booth, right beside them is an empty lane reserved for electronic pass (e-pass) holders.

The daily peak-hour buildup dramatizes the stupidity of cramming 99.99 percent of motorists into one narrow lane while grass has started to grow on the rarely used other lane reserved for stray e-pass holders.

We heard that the clerk manning the e-pass exit toll booth has to drown herself in strong coffee to keep awake while waiting for the occasional e-pass motorists to come along.

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WHEN will the Philippine National Construction Co., the tollway operator, admit this stupidity and do something about it?

Billy Esposo, a veteran from the Cory 1985-86 campaign, said that the initial payment for e-pass holders is P1,600 a year, consisting of a basic charge of P1,100 for the transponder, plus P500 expendable for usage of the tollway. Yearly renewal fee is P1,000.

He notes that the scheme is designed to speed up the flow of vehicles armed with e-passes and, in general, make it easy for all motorists using the tollway. Theoretically, if adopted by the majority of motorists, the e-pass will reduce the manpower requirements of the PNCC in terms of toll collectors and ticket issuers.

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ESPOSO raises these questions:

  1. Why is PNCC being allowed to impose additional fees on e-pass users when, by using such a system, it stands to save so much money in reduction of toll collectors? At a minimum of P6,000 a month multiplied by 13 months (because of 13th month pay), savings per toll collector/ticket issuer taken off the payroll is P78,000 per year. This figure, multiplied by the number of toll collectors/ticket issuers will be a considerable amount.
  2. Consequently, why should e-pass users be penalized for helping PNCC reduce its payroll?
  3. E-pass sellers say the P1,000 per year is “renewal of membership.” Is the PNCC now an exclusive club? Total collection from e-pass users is P1,000 times the number of 10,000 victims. Higher figures should be expected because their ad offers the discounted rate of P1,600 for the first 10,000 subscribers. So, P1,000 x 10,000 = P10,000,000 minimum additional yearly income from new e-pass users.
  4. Why is the PNCC being allowed to cause traffic jams along the tollway? Are the traffic jams a trick to force the majority of motorists to buy e-pass(es)?
  5. Why doesn’t some official take action to stop these traffic jams, considering that this results in wastage (plus the attendant pollution) of tons of imported fuel and downtime in terms of business which in turn results in the further weakening of the economy?

Paging members of Congress (many of whom are seen using the Filinvest off-ramp) and the Secretary of Transportation and Communications to cut down on the oppression of motorists, the wastage of precious fuel, and economic losses. That is, if these officials care at all.

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AFTER Wednesday, taipan Lucio C. Tan, 66, will find himself being addressed as Dr. Tan. He will be conferred that day a doctorate degree in Applied Agriculture, honoris causa, by the Central Luzon State University in Muñoz, Nueve Ecija.

This former factory chemist is well known for his modern farming techniques in the tobacco and hog-raising industries. Not that many know that he is also an expert in honeybee culture.

He recently surprised CLSU officials and professors with an impromptu lecture on honeybee-keeping, in which he has been active since he was a young man, and gave it a national perspective by relating it to development.

His Foremost Farms Inc., one of Asia’s largest livestock farms, has 16,000 sows that produce at least 320,000 pigs a year. Its main farm in Baras, Rizal, sits on 208 hectares of mountainous land. He is putting up a 105-hectare piggery with a slaughterhouse in General Santos City in Mindanao.

The open-air conferment ceremony will coincide with the CLSU’s 10th midyear graduation program.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 26, 2000)

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