POSTSCRIPT / October 24, 2000 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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If he’s innocent, Erap should open all records

IT says here that Erap Estrada is itching to submit to a snap presidential election to revalidate his mandate.

If his agreeing to snap polls validates or proves anything, it is the widespread perception that in a crisis, the man in Malacañang panics and grabs at any bizarre option thrown his way, even if such action is patently illegal or ridiculous.

Will somebody please tell Erap Estrada that there is no vacancy to fill, and therefore no valid reason to schedule an off-season presidential election? Even if he resigns and thereby creates a vacancy, there is a Vice President ordered by the Constitution to become president without need of going through an electoral process.

* * *

THIS matter of presidential succession is so clear and so basic that even an aging movie actor should be able to grasp it.

Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is being attacked by Erap’s propaganda troopers for being there — just for being a vice president ready to move in to prevent a hiatus in case Erap quits. That’s how insecure the President has become.

They talk of her being a friend of a suspected jueteng lord. So what if she is? When she ran for Vice President, there was already this Bong Pineda issue and yet the electorate gave her a resounding vote of confidence — in fact, gave her more votes than they did to Erap Estrada.

It’s too late in the day to resurrect the issue, because the people have spoken.

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ASSUMING that Arroyo is a friend of Bong Pineda, are not Erap Estrada and countless other officials also Pineda’s friends? That accidental association in this country where everybody is a “pare” or “mare” of everyone else, has never been a disqualification from holding public office.

It’s also too late to ask, but is Arroyo qualified for the presidency? Well, if Erap Estrada and his performance is the yardstick, Arroyo is eminently qualified and prepared for the presidency. There is no comparison.

In fact, there are also at least five senators and three Cabinet members who we dare say can do a better job than Erap Estrada if given the chance.

Erap can go anytime without much damage to the nation, provided constitutional processes are followed to ensure an orderly transition. In fact, his stepping down may just be what the ailing economy needs for a recovery.

* * *

THE question of qualification and popular mandate has been settled way back in 1998. By a resounding majority, the electorate made Arroyo the Vice President who must take over in the event the President dies, resigns, is removed or is permanently incapacitated.

It does not make sense to require the Vice President to submit to an unconstitutional revalidating election just because the President is having problems running his household and the presidency.

Erap should not transfer to Arroyo his own insecurities. Let him face his own problems without taking her down with him. Isn’t it enough that he is already dragging the entire country down with him?

* * *

THIS is not a brief for Arroyo, but for sobriety and logic. We have not talked to the Vice President or any of her runners, although in the course of our coverage we might later have to interview her, like other politicians, if only to plumb her thoughts on a number of issues.

Arroyo may not be the perfect replacement for the incumbent, but it’s not her fault that the vast majority of the electorate installed her as the Vice President who is just a heartbeat or an impeachment away from the presidency.

We’re not in the habit of talking in defense of government officials, especially since favorable comments could be twisted as having been solicited. But we’re appalled by the desperate efforts to divert attention from the serious accusations against Erap Estrada by flinging mud at anybody who could possibly be, even remotely, a threat to his tenure.

* * *

IN parrying jueteng payola charges, which came on top of earlier scams and will soon be overtaken by bigger scandals, it seems that Erap’s boys do not care anymore who else gets sideswiped. The marching order appears to be to save Erap at all costs.

One irony is that the Senate, some of whose key members have been enlisted to help clear the godfather, is itself being destroyed in the scramble to save Erap. We don’t know if the senators of the land have noticed this.

* * *

ASSUMING that the impeachment charges hurdle the one-third vote requirement in the House of Representatives, they will be swiftly shredded in the Senate in the ensuing trial of the President.

That is, if the partisan performance of many members of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee looking into the jueteng scandal is any indication.

The hoary theory is that the committee headed by Sen. Nene Pimentel is looking into the case in aid of legislation. For the purpose, the committee calls witnesses to give information, evidence, opinion and other things the senators might need to do a good legislative job.

* * *

BUT as the past committee hearings have shown, many senators appear more interested in harassing target witnesses than in eliciting useful information. Some of them go overboard acting like prosecutors or, worse, as defense lawyers of Erap Estrada.

In contrast, as witnessed by the gallery and thousands of others following the proceedings on radio and TV, the same senators were almost groveling before two sons of Erap Estrada, Jinggoy and Jude, who were invited to testify before the committee last Saturday.

Showing shameless partisanship and almost canine deference to a co-equal branch of the government, many senators handled the two brothers with kid gloves. It did not matter that the duo appeared to some members as obviously lying.

If this is a portent of how the Senate would act on the impeachment case in the event the charge sheet reaches the chamber, the clearing of Erap Estrada is a foregone conclusion.

* * *

WHY do most people think Erap Estrada is guilty? Simple. He does not act the way an innocent person would.

As he is in control of the entire military, investigative, and police network of the government, President Estrada should find it easy to show the falsity of charges hurled against him by going into direct positive defense.

In the case of the jueteng scandal exposed by Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson, the President could have used his powers and the resources of government to immediately compel all individuals and institutions (such as banks and government agencies) to make public all documents pertaining to the transactions alluded to by Singson.

* * *

INSTEAD, he appeared nervously waiting for Singson to first come out with what he had before rebutting the charges.

If he were innocent, there would have been no need to wait. The President could have come out fighting, incensed by righteous indignation and demanding that everything be laid out immediately on the table for everybody to see.

But he remained quiet, as if fearful of more revelations being triggered by any move on his part. He was obviously hiding something.

* * *

IN the new charges that he oversaw the purchase and construction of various palatial mansions for his women friends, the President should come out clearly and immediately with an omnibus declaration that everybody was free to dig into the records of the property linked to him and his women.

The mansions have been pinpointed by the researchers of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and clear allegations made linking him and some of his women to the expensive real property.

As far as the law would permit, an innocent Erap Estrada could declare an open season on the mansions. He could open their doors to the media, for them to inspect and assess and to ask questions. He could order all government agencies and contractors involved in their construction and registration to make public their records.

If Erap Estrada is unable or unwilling to do this, the public jury would — again — declare him guilty.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 24, 2000)

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