POSTSCRIPT / November 30, 2000 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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It’s high time the Church cracked down on Velarde

WE conducted this week an informal survey asking our friends about their favorite AM radio station. Early this year, the 9-1 runaway favorite of the same respondents was dzMM of the ABS-CBN network. Now it is 7-3 in favor of dzBB of GMA 7.

Our followup question: “Why?” Their simple answer: They find dzBB more credible as far as political coverage is concerned. Incidentally, they said that they turn to the AM station mainly for news and commentary, and to a favorite FM station for music.

We stress that this survey is not scientific. Our small universe of respondent-friends, many of them fellow journalists, may not be representative of the huge mass of radio listeners out there.

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ANOTHER question being kicked around in the airlanes is whether protest rallies should still continue now that the impeachment process is under way. Senate President Aquilino Pimentel, for one, said the rallies should stop.

Our one-byte opinion will not matter, but we say that the rallies should continue, if only to keep the pressure on the Estrada administration. Relax the pressure and we would lose the gains made so far.

This is akin to driving. Once you reach the desired cruising speed on the highway, do you remove your foot from the gas pedal since the vehicle is already well on its way?

We should not allow the ground to grow cold. You stop the protest rallies and the Estrada administration would exploit the psychological vacuum to regroup and recoup losses.

* * *

IS President Estrada, who is increasingly isolated, no longer in control?

When his high-powered lawyers led by a former Chief Justice filed days ago a queer motion to quash the impeachment charges against the President, it was claimed that they did it without the knowledge of their client.

After the motion to quash was rejected by the Senate for lack of merit, some congressmen from the administration LAMP coalition announced they would question shortly before the Supreme Court the Articles of Impeachment filed in the Senate.

How come the President, who claims to want a speedy trial, cannot stop his boys from employing dilatory tactics? Don’t they listen to him anymore just because he is a lameduck president facing the prospects of being ousted prematurely?

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THE motion to quash, by the way, was not denied by Chief Justice Hilario Davide, as some parties keep saying in forums. The motion was actually rejected by the Senate by unanimous decision, not by Davide.

Under the rules of procedure, any ruling handed down by the presiding officer (the Chief Justice) is, in fact, a ruling of the Senate.

If any senator disagrees with a ruling of the presiding officer, he can object and move for the matter to be put to a vote. Before disposing of the motion to quash, the senators held a caucus with the Chief Justice to ascertain the individual positions of the senators.

Nobody objected to the rejection of the motion, clearing the way for the unanimous decision being handed down.

* * *

IN practical terms, President Estrada is not being tried by the Senate alone. Thanks to mass media and the wonders of information technology, the President is in effect being tried now by the entire nation.

With the original 22 senators having been joined by the entire nation in the jury box, the terms of reference in the political process have changed somewhat. When presenting their case, the prosecution and the defense now have to consider the bigger body of jurors.

We assume that when the senators in caucus were asked their respective positions on the motion to quash, many of them were influenced by the public jury watching them like an oversight superbody.

This is one of the reasons why the people should continue to have their presence felt through rallies and demonstrations.

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IT was bound to happen. Church leaders moved yesterday to demand not only an explanation but also obedience from El Shaddai boss Mike Velarde who has been perceived as seemingly operating outside the church.

They want him and his flock to attend the church-sponsored rally on Dec. 7.

One question that church leaders, including Jaime Cardinal Sin, want answered is if Velarde has been coopted by Malacañang.

For instance, when public attention was focused on the mansions allegedly built by President Estrada for his mistresses, reports came out that Velarde himself also has a luxurious log cabin in Tagaytay beside those said to be owned by Mr. Estrada and some of his wealthy friends.

Although still unverified, the reports together with other information have disturbed church leaders.

* * *

THERE was mention also of the dispute between Velarde and another religious group over control and use of broadcast facilities being held by the government.

It is hard to believe that in the context of the padrino system permeating government, action favorable to Velarde, for instance, will not affect the independence of the El Shaddai boss in his handling of issues pertaining to the President.

Perceptions of any symbiotic relationship between Malacañang and Velarde will grow if the regulatory and taxing powers of the state are somewhat held back in the auditing of El Shaddai’s collections, incomes and assets.

By itself, El Shaddai is not a religion entitled to tax exemptions. The Estrada administration, whose financial woes have reduced it to a virtual hand-to-mouth operation, must explain any tax privilege it may be giving Velarde and El Shaddai.

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ONE reader, Salvador Nocom of Sunnyvale, California, said in an email to Postscript:

“No offense to El Shaddai members, (but) I still have to see one church building they have constructed considering the millions of pesos at Bro. Mike Velarde’s disposal. Instead, they use the public place like Luneta for their weekly prayer meeting.

“Not only do they create traffic and the mess, they do not pay a single peso for the use of the public place. And yet, like all other religions, they are exempted from paying taxes to the government….

“If only the money is used wisely and decently… A few churches (I know of one influential religious sect in the Philippines) really spend for the benefit of their members, like constructing magnificent buildings, missionary work, and community services. At least, we can see where the money is being spent.

“Whether we like it or not, churches and religions are here to stay and will keep on growing. I was once asked this question: ‘What are the three ways to get rich?’ The answer: ‘Be a gambling lord, drug lord, and Praise the Lord!’”

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ONE of the Hagedorns of Palawan signing in as JH adds his own thoughts on Velarde’s El Shaddai finances:

“Who benefits from their collections that run into the millions? Has anybody told you about the mansion he is building along Madrigal Ave. in Ayala Alabang? He originally had a small house in Ayala Alabang adjacent to the property in which he is now building his mansion.

“The old small house was demolished as if it was not enough for him. New property — at least another 2,500 square meters — was added and a completely new house is under construction. This house he is building cannot cost below P20 million at the very minimum.

“How the Catholic church (mine too) puts up with this is beyond me.”

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AS in an established Church, there should be discipline in such organizations as the military and the police. We cannot imagine the uniformed service where the officers and men freely talk against their superiors or the institution itself.

In principle, we believe that PNP chief Director General Panfilo Lacson acted correctly when he relieved Chief Supt. Steve Cudal as director of the PNP community relations group after the latter was found to have been bad-mouthing the service.

That’s how it is in the service, and everybody must accept that. We always hark back to Hubbard: “If you work for a man, in heaven’s name work for him, speak well of him and stand by the institution he represents. If you must growl, condemn or eternally find fault, why, resign your position. And when you’re on the outside, damn to your heart’s content….”

* * *

GOOD news to Marcos torture victims! Now it’s not just $150 million but $1.9 billion that the Marcoses have to pay some 10,000 victims of martial rule. The US District Court in Hawaii has set aside the smaller compromise amount and restored its original $1.9-billion award to the victims.

To expedite payment, Judge Manuel Real of Hawaii earlier allowed a compromise $150-million payment to be taken from a (now) $750-million suspected Marcos fund held in escrow with the Philippine National Bank.

But the Sandiganbayan has ruled that the true ownership of the escrow fund had not yet been determined. Therefore, the Marcoses may not presume to use it to pay their obligations to the torture victims.

Facing a protracted delay, the victims’ lawyers then asked the Hawaii court to drop the knotty compromise and go back to the original award. The victims will now look for other Marcos funds elsewhere from which to try to collect payment.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 30, 2000)

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