POSTSCRIPT / October 26, 2000 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Only 2 actor-senators left for Erap’s impeachment?

NOW we really have reason to pray. It could happen that when (if) the impeachment charges against President Estrada reach the Senate, there might be only two noncommittal senators left to hear the charges.

Only Senators Ramon Revilla and Tito Sotto, as far as we can keep track, have not said anything at the public hearing being conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon and justice committees into a jueteng  scandal linking President Estrada.

It could happen that all senators who have made some judgmental statements or have asked loaded questions during the hearings would either inhibit themselves or be disqualified from sitting to judge President Estrada when the time comes.

It would be something to see the accused Erap Estrada in a reunion of sorts with his showbiz pals Ramon Revilla and Tito Sotto during the impeachment trial.

* * *

WE also have reason to pray for Yolanda Ricaforte, the wife of a tourism undersecretary who reportedly did the bookkeeping and prepared the jueteng ledgers. Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson said the ledgers documented deliveries to Erap Estrada of more than P400 million in jueteng  payola.

She was originally expected to testify yesterday before the Senate joint committee hearings co-chaired by Senators Nene Pimentel and Rene Cayetano. But, in a now-familiar routine, the witness suddenly ended up hidden in a hospital room.

Let’s all pray for her to have the strength to tell the truth and nothing but. As this vital witness testifies, bless her. Keep praying for her and projecting a steady stream of truthful statements from her lips.

* * *

SENATOR allies of Erap Estrada keep badgering the Senate leadership to stop the hearings on the ground that the impeachment process has started in the House of Representatives and that, invoking the sub judice rule, the Senate should stop the inquiry.

Sen. Miriam Santiago, for one, is questioning the propriety of the inquiry occasionally touching on accusations against President Estrada while impeachment charges are being investigated in the House.

But Senator Pimentel, Blue Ribbon committee chairman, keeps retelling the fairy tale that their inquiry into the jueteng  payola scandal is not a trial of President Estrada but is a process in aid of legislation.

* * *

THE Senate has to maintain the myth that its committee inquiries are, without exception, in aid of legislation. They are not supposed to arrive at a verdict of guilt or innocence of any party mentioned at, or summoned to, the hearings.

This line must be maintained despite the unfortunate antics of some hyper senators who browbeat witnesses who say things not to their liking or who give derogatory information about persons close to the senators.

The Senate must hold the in-aid-of-legislation line, otherwise the entire system of legislative inquiries would collapse.

* * *

EVEN assuming that the Senate hearings may lead to an informal conclusion that there is probable cause for charging Erap Estrada with receiving jueteng payola, that possibility is not enough reason to stop the Senate inquiry.

The House processing of the charges against President Estrada is, if we may draw a parallel, only in the investigation stage. The House functions much like a prosecutor or fiscal who first investigates to look for prima facie evidence, while the Senate acts as the judge or jury when the charges are elevated to it by the House.

At this point, no one knows if the House would file the charges with the Senate. Further, nobody knows if jueteng  payola — the subject of the Senate inquiry — would be in the bill of particulars to be forwarded to the Senate.

With that, the Senate has no reason at this stage to speculate and gag itself on the jueteng payola scandal.

* * *

YOU may not believe it, but a variation of the attempt to restrict the Senate inquiry is to impose a rule that the name of President Estrada should not be mentioned at all in the hearings!

We know that some senators burn incense before Malacañang, some hang around the presidential floating casino to earn some “balato,” some look upon Erap Estrada as a god, but still… Thou shalt not take the name of Erap Estrada in vain?

Some senators appear to be taking too seriously their being the President’s de facto lawyer.

Senate President Franklin Drilon, sir, what’s happening to the once venerable Senate?

* * *

MALACANANG, the fulcrum of power and the source of benevolence, is not that helpless. If Erap Estrada is indeed innocent, he and his friends need not worry. They need not panic.

They can relax and just let the democratic process take its due course. Anyway, truth will prevail in the end, di po ba?, if we do not tamper with the process.

If Erap is indeed innocent, there is no need to destroy evidence, to suborn witnesses, to tell lies, or to threaten media. If Erap is innocent, Malacañang’s main concern should be to ensure a fast, free flow of information.

The President’s attorneys among the senators should move to expedite the inquiry, not to derail it. They should not be afraid of the truth — if indeed their friend and benefactor Erap is innocent.

* * *

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

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