POSTSCRIPT / October 15, 2000 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Privatize Pagcor? What if another crony gets it?

HOW come Erap Estrada refuses to give up the presidency?

A jeepney driver, great lover, gassing up near me yesterday at the neighborhood service station offered this explanation: “Bakit siya ka-carbarn, e di pa siya nakaka-boundary?”

“Ma-erap talagang bumoundary kung marami kang operator,” he said with a wink before he drove off in a cloud of diesel smoke.

* * *

FINALLY, Erap Estrada came up yesterday with the bright idea of privatizing Pagcor, the state gambling house whose mass-based Bingo 2-Ball is threatening to bring him down like a deck of cards.

The President stayed up late with the boys the night before to kick around his grand privatization plan for Bingo 2-Ball, Erap’s dressed-up version of the illegal numbers game of jueteng.

Let’s help them polish the idea hatched in the night by subjecting it to the searing light of day.

* * *

IN privatizing Bingo 2-Ball, Erap appears more obsessed with solving his problem of negative public perception, and not really the more basic problem of lifting a people mired in poverty.

The logic seems to be that if a thing poses some problems, get rid of it. State-run Pagcor has given rise to some serious problems for the President, so get rid of it fast.

But while privatization can erase the jueteng payola scandal blown up by Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis Singson, it does not offer a solution to the problem of government allowing gambling to sap the productivity of the masses.

Privatization means running away from the vicious cycle of poverty and poor productivity.

* * *

THERE’S suspicion that privatization is more of a money-making scheme than a sincere attempt to solve the myriad problems posed by state-sponsored gambling victimizing the masses who have been reduced to dasal (prayer) and sugal (gambling) to lift themselves from poverty.

What is our guarantee that Pagcor or Bingo 2-Ball does not land on the waiting palm of a Dante Tan type or some crony who had contributed heavily to the 1998 campaign chest and to some private coffers?

Privatization may just be a case of shooting two birds with one stone: Getting rid of a virulent problem and making money in the process.

Wala na bang expertise ang Estrada administration kundi sugal?

* * *

THE public must be warned of the confusion being sowed by a well-funded campaign to divert attention from the payola charges hurled at Erap Estrada by his drinking-gambling buddy Governor Singson.

The clumsy attempt to picture Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who was abroad when the payola bomb exploded, as having a hand in Singson’s ratting on the godfather is one such attempt to mess up the issues.

Another ploy is to keep repeating the question: Why impeach President Estrada or demand his resignation when the Senate blue ribbon committee has not ruled on his guilt or innocence?

* * *

MANY people have been taken by that misleading question. They do not know that the Senate committee, ably led by Sen. Nene Pimentel, is not tasked to determine the guilt or innocence of the President. The committee is not sitting in judgment, but is merely conducting an inquiry in aid of legislation.

No Senate committee can presume to try the President, the top man of a separate and co-equal branch of government. If there is no trial, how can there be any determination of guilt or innocence?

So what blue ribbon verdict are we waiting for?

* * *

THE Senate, with the Chief Justice presiding, can try the President only if impeachment charges are first looked into and filed by the House of Representatives. The Senate, on its own, cannot initiate impeachment proceedings, much less plunge into a full-blown trial without a prior process in the House.

Now if at this point the Senate itself cannot determine the guilt or innocence of the President, what more with a mere committee of Pimentel?

The disinformation artists have distorted the scenario. They have turned the process upside down. They would have the impeachment debates in the House commence only after a Senate committee shall have handed down a guilty verdict on the President!

* * *

GUTTER politics reared its ugly head at the Senate last Wednesday during the blue ribbon inquiry on jueteng payola allegedly involving no less than President Estrada.

Seeing the mayor-wife of suspected jueteng operator Bong Pineda in the hearing, a woman senator went ballistic and subjected Mayor Lilia Pineda to a barrage of questions clearly aimed at showing that Vice President Arroyo is a close friend of Bong Pineda.

So what if the two are friends? The subject of the inquiry is the alleged delivery to President Estrada of jueteng payola averaging P10 million each month. Arroyo has nothing to do with that.

It was explained that if a conscience-stricken President resigned, or if he were impeached, the Vice President would take over. Since Arroyo is a friend of a jueteng lord, she should not become the president and serve the unexpired term, so the logic goes.

* * *

WE’RE appalled by the senadora’s nagging on a point that is totally irrelevant to the payola issue. The Vice President has nothing to do with the President’s allegedly collecting jueteng tong, so why should she be dragged into the heated debate?

The last time we read the Constitution and the penal code, which was yesterday, it was not yet a crime in this jurisdiction to be a friend or a kumare of a suspected jueteng operator. Neither did we hear any allegation that Arroyo was also extorting millions.

Not contented with that, the senadora bamboozled the mayor on the latter’s not knowing the exact location of her husband in the US, where he had gone for medical treatment. She demanded why the mayor did not know where her husband was at that moment.

We were waiting for Bong Pineda’s wife to shoot back: “Kayo po, senadora, alam po ba ninyo kung saan-saan napupunta ang asawa ninyo?”

* * *

AT this point, it might be useful for readers to review what the Constitution says about impeachment and the process of removing an incumbent president.

While there is a provision in the Local Government Code for the recall of local elective officials, there is no such parallel recall provision pertaining to the President. The Chief Executive is removed only through a process called impeachment.

Of course the President can also step down or be removed by death, permanent disability, or resignation. Amid the crisis swirling around Erap Estrada, the processes more often heard are impeachment and resignation.

* * *

WHEN the President is thus removed, the Vice President “becomes the President.” Note the term “becomes.” The charter does not say that the Vice President becomes the “acting president” or that he “assumes” the presidency. The Vice President becomes the President and serves the unexpired portion of his term.

A different usage is noted when both the President and the Vice President are removed or rendered unable to discharge the duties of the President. In this situation, the Senate President or, in case of his inability, the Speaker of the House, shall then “act as president” until the President or Vice President shall have been elected and qualified.

The Senate President or the Speaker only acts as president while elections are held to elect a President.

* * *

ASIDE from the President, other officials who are to be removed only by impeachment are the Vice President, members of the Supreme Court, members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman.

They can be removed on impeachment for and conviction of culpable violations of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.

Only the House can initiate all cases of impeachment. It need not wait for a Senate committee (as in the inquiry into the expose of Singson) to complete its investigation as some quarters suggest in a bid to confuse the public.

* * *

NOT only congressmen are allowed to file a complaint for impeachment. Any citizen may do that upon a resolution of endorsement by any congressman.

The complaint must be acted upon within 10 sessions days and referred to the proper committee within three session days thereafter.

Within 60 session days from such referral, the committee must submit its report to the House with the affirmative vote of a majority of the committee members. The committee resolution must be calendared for consideration by the House within 10 session days from receipt.

By at least one-third vote (now 73) of the total members of the House, the approved Articles of Impeachment of the committee is then sent to the Senate and trial by the Senate shall forthwith proceed.

* * *

IN effect, then, the House acts like an investigating fiscal (prosecutor) and the Senate acts like a court trying the case sent to it by the fiscal.

The Senate has the sole power to try and decide impeachment cases. When the President is on trial, the Chief Justice presides, but does not vote. Conviction is by a two-thirds vote (15) of all senators.

No impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within one year.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 15, 2000)

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