POSTSCRIPT / October 19 2000 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Not only Erap, but all of us are on trial

IT’S now the entire nation — all of us — actually on trial for indifference and corruption. Sabit tayong lahat.

We cannot squirm out of the test apart from the rest. Either we acquit ourselves together or be condemned individually, and eventually fall collectively.

Properly handled, however, this trial triggered by charges of corruption topped by the President’s allegedly collecting jueteng payola by the millions could turn into a cleansing for our people. This crisis can also be an opportunity for change, if we will it.

* * *

WHILE a street crowd is noisily demanding the President’s resignation, an ecumenical group keeps praying for his conversion and enlightenment. With grace finally touching him, he might yet repent and reform in time.

The probability at this point, however, is for a wounded Erap to dig in. The danger is that if he decides to fight to the very end, he might just drag the entire country down with him. Sabit na naman tayong lahat.

The damage to the economy and the erosion of the people’s faith in themselves and their leaders, while extensive, are not yet beyond repair. Now if only there could be an early resolution…

If only Erap Estrada could retreat and insulate himself for a while from the courtiers whispering self-serving advice. Mr. President, try reaching out to the people who even now are praying hard for you, the presidency and the country.

* * *

THE political opposition appears not willing to give concessions to the President. He is being boxed in. As declared by Cory Aquino in her fighting speech at EDSA the other day, Erap Estrada has only three options: to resign, be impeached or go on leave.

The going-on-leave proposition appears to us, however, as a case of bad legal and political advice. It looks like a trap, both for the President and the country.

Article 7, Section 11, of the Constitution on which Mrs. Aquino based her advice for Erap to go on leave appears meant for a president struck with a medical problem that may render him physically unable to fully discharge his duties, much like the dictator Marcos who tried to rule from his sickbed.

We note that the President’s going on leave is not one of the situations specified in the charter wherein the Vice President is mandated to “become” the President.

* * *

THAT leaves us with impeachment and resignation as the remaining avenues that a departing Erap Estrada, if he is so minded, could take.

After much dilly-dallying, the impeachment process finally began yesterday in the House of Representatives, where impeachment complaints against a president must be initiated. The complaints are to be referred to the proper committee for investigation.

The one-third vote (73) of the House membership is not yet called to play. These affirmative votes will be counted only when the entire chamber, after receipt of the committee report, is called upon to decide whether or not to endorse or file the charges before the Senate.

The Senate would then hear the charges, or try the President, with some designated House representatives acting as prosecutors. The Chief Justice will preside over the trial, but will not vote.

* * *

THE Senate’s central role as judge in an impeachment case has raised the question of whether the chamber should allow its Blue Ribbon committee headed by Sen. Nene Pimentel to continue its current inquiry into the Singson charges.

While the committee inquiry is, at least in theory, only in aid of legislation and not intended to render any verdict of guilt or innocence, it could be argued that the proceedings would not interfere and therefore could proceed independently of the impeachment hearing.

But good sense tells us that confusion and perceptions of redundancy and misplaced zealousness are likely to result from a simultaneous hearing into the same circumstances. We think that the Senate would do well to stop the Blue Ribbon hearings now that the impeachment process has begun.

* * *

THE action in the House effectively rules out the resignation of Erap Estrada. How can a president facing impeachment resign without jeopardizing his case — unless he decides to plead guilty and resign in a move to gain clemency and a lighter burden.

In sum, therefore, at this point, the only active option left is impeachment. The other options will have to wait.

* * *

THE impeachment charges are not likely to prosper, but their mere filing is bad, especially in the case of Erap whose credibility had been seriously eroded and the public conditioned to believe the worst said of him.

This observer does not see the impeachment case progressing into a major legal problem since Erap has enough running dogs in Congress to prevent a conviction.

In the case of US President Clinton, a major factor that saved him was the good performance of the economy under his management. The public may be uncomfortable with a promiscuous president, but many Americans were willing to gloss over his indiscretion if only because he appeared to be running the country right, particularly the economy.

* * *

NOT so in the Philippines, where the economic indicators are flashing red. These are hard times and getting harder.

The only political capital the Erap can draw from are the millions of voters that elected him to office with an impressive majority. But with this mass badly eroded, it may not be able to cushion the negative reaction to his wayward governance.

In the jueteng issue, Erap stands accused of a godfather-like operation that funneled millions into his private coffers from the small bets placed by mostly poor players who often had to scrounge for their family’s basic needs of food, clothing and shelter.

The evil of this alleged jueteng payola is magnified against the booming declarations that his “Erap para sa mahirap” presidency would be dedicated to the poor. But here he is depicted as sucking blood from the poor that he claimed to care for. This is betrayal and hypocrisy of the highest order!

* * *

ANOTHER apparent victim of the raging fight for public support is the media.

Since the public in this country is not known to be mature enough to distinguish between the message and the messenger, somehow the media suffer when the object of their attention lose popularity.

A popular radio station and some channels in a network owned by some new kamaganak of Erap have been losing listeners and viewers as a result of the obvious pro-Erap bias of some of their top anchors and hosts, if not the owners themselves.

Many listeners have been shifting from their old favorite radio station to other stations that have been noticed to be more aggressive, complete, fearless and “truthful” in their coverage.

* * *

INFOTECH: Will the experts out there please send troubleshooting advice on this problem. The Navigator (browser) of our Netscape Communicator 4.7 opens, but its Messenger (for email) refuses to work. When Messenger is clicked, the opening page with the lighthouse opens then vanishes without proceeding to open.

Related questions: Will installing Communicator 4.75 overwrite the older 4.7 and solve the problem? How do we save the user files and the address book before 4.75 is installed?

We tried installing 4.75 in another folder in the C: drive apart from the earlier 4.7 version. It got installed all right, but while its Navigator opened, the same problem of Messenger not opening cropped up again. What could be the reason?

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 19, 2000)

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