POSTSCRIPT / September 14, 2000 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Coming soon: Abus will slip thru cordon

THAT was bad form for President Estrada to tiptoe back home like King George slipping back into Buckingham Palace at 4 a.m. after a date.

Mr. Estrada was on an official trip, a junket all right but still an official junket, and he should have come back like everything’s normal and official.

For him to slip out a side door of the plane and gingerly pick his way down a service stairs is, well, unpresidential. He was lucky Rolly Galman was not there waiting on the tarmac with Avsecom backup.

But that’s vintage Erap, you might say.

* * *

THIS girding for a possible assault on the Abu Sayyaf encamped with their precious hostages on the island of Sulu is eerily like a case of déjà vu. It seems that we’ve heard the same lines, saw the same scenes in times past.

We hope we’re proved wrong this time, but we’re saying for the nth time that after all that noisy flailing of arms, after the plotting and massive mobilization, the press releases… the Abu Sayyaf would just slip through the usual cordon.

Watch as the noose tightens around the kidnappers’ lair amid the beating of war drums and the people’s cry for blood. And watch the Abu Sayyaf give them the slip.

Again – please prove us wrong!

* * *

BUT we would feel assured if there is less of theatrics, of press releases, of photo ops and warlike statements from the Palace, the military, and the rest of the agitated cast.

If the government has anything in mind, maybe they should just do it – instead of telegraphing their moves through the media.

* * *

BY this time, we should have realized that we have been taken for a ride by Libya.

Where in the past that country sent clandestine aid to Moro separatists and terrorists, it has just been able to do the same thing in full view of everybody, with the consent of its victim the Philippines — and even coming out guapo after the transaction.

Those millions of ransom dollars given to the Abu Sayyaf plus the promise of development aid are nothing but a mere continuation of the same aid Libya has been sending to these terrorists and secessionists.

This alone should be enough argument for the flat rejection of even just a hint of ransom or reimbursement of board and lodging expenses, being given to the Abu Sayyaf or to any kidnap gang in the future.

* * *

PALACE apologists say that the administration is launching its own version of jueteng under Pagcor because the poor man’s illegal numbers game could not be stopped anyway. The government might as well cash in on it, so goes the logic.

This is the brilliance that illuminates the Erap administration as it plods on, as it attempts to lead us through the darkness.

Money is the root of all evil, some moralists say. Under this dispensation, however, money is the ultimate justification for everything, anything.

Even the grand Estrada plan to settle the Marcos wealth cases and give global immunity to the heirs of the dictator was justified by Erap by insisting that this bankrupt establishment is in dire need of money and the Marcoses are a good source.

* * *

OBSESSION with money has been a moving force of this administration. It has elevated gambling into a major economic activity.

That’s because gambling is something Erap understands from A to Z. It is easy to sell him the idea of gambling fueling the economy.

Well, why don’t we just apply the same simplified money logic to justify everything in sight? Let’s just then legalize kidnapping for ransom, issue a license for it, and share in the ransom payments?

In fact, with creative taxmen on their heels, if we cannot send to jail those naughty Abu Sayyaf on kidnapping charges, we might just be able to do them an Al Capone and get them on tax evasion charges once we flush them out as legit businessmen!

* * *

BUT then, with their billions, the Abu Sayyaf could be able to retain that heavyweight lawyer who seems to hold the platinum key to the chambers of many judges, and even justices of the higher courts.

No problem. If we still cannot get them by court action, Malacañang can always work out a settlement where we get part of the loot and they get the balance plus an omnibus clearance to boot.

* * *

THE key question about jueteng is not whether it is legal or illegal. It’s just the law that makes an activity criminal.

The law at present says jueteng is illegal, so it’s a crime. But if Pagcor, under its franchise, sponsors or in effect licenses it, jueteng or its authorized variation becomes legal.

The question, rather, is whether jueteng is good or bad for the people. Before it embarks on its own jueteng operations under the Pagcor franchise, the Estrada administration should first answer that ethical question. So far it has evaded the question.

* * *

IF the government position is that on balance jueteng is good for the people, then let it go ahead with this form of gambling and defend it before the people. If the government dares to openly take this position, let it reap the whirlwind of adverse public opinion.

But if the government concedes that jueteng is basically bad, no amount of verbal or legal acrobatics could justify it. If jueteng in the hands of untouchable gambling lords is bad, it does not become good just because its sponsorship has passed on to government hands.

Pagcor has its socially redeeming points, but it cannot turn black to white. If jueteng is indeed bad, even if its officers sprout angels’ wings, jueteng under its aegis does not suddenly turn socially acceptable or ethically correct.

* * *

THE point is that Pagcor management has nothing to do with the morality or ethics of jueteng.

Whether in the hands of gambling lords or in the hands of Pagcor, jueteng which is bad per se cannot become good and acceptable.

* * *

THE argument that we need the money – presumably referring to the revenues that would accrue to Pagcor and indirectly to the government and the economy – is cruel.

We have to be reminded that jueteng does not take from the rich to give to the poor. It takes from the poor to give to the operator and some lucky kibitzers along the gravy train.

Ninety-nine percent of those who bet in jueteng come from below the poverty line.

Government’s taking over jueteng, despite the sterling reputation of Pagcor chairman Alice Reyes, will not change this hard fact. Jueteng under a new operator will still take hard-earned barya from the masses lured by visions of a windfall.

For every one-peso bet collected, how many centavos actually go back to the people in terms of benefits and services? How many get waylaid by sticky fingers?

* * *

UNTIL now the false argument keeps cropping up that the proposed National Oil Exchange (OilEx) will not work because it has no refinery to convert imported oil into gasoline and other refined products.

Oppositors also point out that the Philippine market is too small to be able to force the OPEC to lower the price of its crude oil. These arguments about importing and refining oil and battling OPEC are being spread to confuse the issues.

But the OilEx will not import oil! It will import only refined petroleum products. So there is no need for it to put up a refinery. It will not deal with the OPEC, but with some 40 refineries and traders that will bid low to sell us finished products.

* * *

WE can understand the alacrity with which the oil companies raised the pump prices of their products. They had to rush it because the price of crude oil is likely to go down with the addition of 800,000 barrels of oil to the OPEC production starting next month.

It’s too early to say that the injection of more oil into the supply line will lower the price, but this is possible even with the coming of the winter months when oil consumption for heating in the West goes up.

If the local oil companies are overtaken by a lowering of crude prices, they could lose their reason for raising the prices. So they had to do it now.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 14, 2000)

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