POSTSCRIPT / April 5, 2001 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Erap arrest, detention to generate sympathy?

THE best way we know to overcome fear is to confront it. The Arroyo administration can do just that now. In fact, it has no choice but to.

The administration will have to confront the lurking fear that the detention of ex-President Estrada with the filing of the nonbailable charge of plunder against him would generate sympathy for him and his candidates.

Our guess is that like shadows vanishing when light is thrown at them, that fear of Erap would soon be found to be without basis.

* * *

THERE is a thinking in some administration circles that with the May 14 elections less than a month away, it is better not to risk a possible pro-Erap backlash with his arrest and detention.

But there is also a bloc insisting that, on the contrary, his detention would feed the seething rage of the people against Erap and push forward the wave of reform and resolve arising from Edsa II.

With the Ombudsman filing the charges yesterday with the Sandiganbayan and the expected order by the graft court for Erap’s arrest and detention, speculation would become intense on the possible effects of his detention.

* * *

ANYWAY, to see how our readers see the implications of Erap’s detention, we pose this survey question to them:

“Will the arrest and detention of Erap Estrada generate sympathy for him and influence the outcome of the May 14 elections in favor of his candidates?”

Please rush your responses before they are overtaken by events. We need your real name, your original address, age and location. Responses that cannot be verified or traced back to the sender would be trashed.

For easier sorting of responses from the rest of the mail, please type “SYMPATHY” on the subject line if responding by email or on the envelope if by regular post or messenger.

* * *

IT would be a mistake for the administration to overdo its prosecution of the fallen President. Overkill is the surest way to whip up sympathy for him.

Remember, Erap is a consummate actor. Behind bars, Asiong Salonga would know how to tug at the heartstrings of his beloved masa.

Malacañang should fight the temptation to comment endlessly on the Estrada cases and to engage in a running commentary on the trial. The Executive should keep its distance from what is actually a judicial process.

The ball is now in the Judiciary’s court. Let’s leave it to the Sandiganbayan and the Tanodbayan to do their ordained jobs. They will know what to do, as usual, without Malacañang intruding.

* * *

AS a rule, we object to the imposition of a news blackout on public affairs. This is based on the general principle that knowledge is crucial to forming an intelligent public opinion.

However, we support the ban on the media coverage of military operations against the Abu Sayyaf on Sulu. The all-out pursuit was ordered by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo after the bandits announced plans to behead today their American hostage Jeffrey Schilling.

The terrorists’ announcement of the threatened execution explains why we should not allow the Abu Sayyaf to use media in manipulating the public mind. The terrorists are using media to scare us into doing their bidding.

The Abu Sayyaf would behave differently if denied access to media. Leave the terrorists to the oh-so-tender mercies of the military.

* * *

AS for the military, the soldiers who risk their lives while the rest of us exist in relative peace and comfort, it is impossible to win a war with kibitzers insisting on dictating how the fight should be carried out.

We grant the good faith of media in their reportage and commentaries, but we also have to admit that we sometimes get in the way as we try to manage the war from our padded swivel chairs.

In the fight against the Abu Sayyaf, let’s give the military the benefit of the doubt and let it unleash hell on that barbaric band with a minimum of kibitzing from the media.

* * *

WE also agree with the recommendation of the Ombudsman that Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson be granted immunity from suit related to the cases he had helped put together against Erap Estrada. He deserves it.

Some of us seem to have forgotten or glossed over the fact that with his blockbuster expose on his erstwhile friend, Singson started the chain of events that roused up the community to the plunder and corruption in high places.

Singson himself admits he is no saint. In the same way that his interesting past did not make his testimony less credible, his confessed brushes with the law should not stop us from recognizing his contribution to our reawakening and our finally catching a big fish.

* * *

NOW Malacañang knows how filthy has been the texting market of cellular phones. Opening several lines to texters as part of her administration’s openness, President Arroyo found herself on the receiving end of dirty (“bastos”) text that her staff said comprised more than half of the messages received.

The difference between us ordinary victims of obscene text and GMA is that she is in a position to go after the purveyors of dirty messages. She has ordered the telecommunications office to go after the dirty texters, who apparently had forgotten that their numbers were on record.

* * *

CELLPHONES with texting features enjoy a distinct market advantage over personal computers in this third world country.

The first advantage of cellphones is price. A cellphone with adequate features costs (P5,000) only a fifth of a decent PC (P25,000), yet it is enough for sending and receiving voice and text messages. Its other features are a bonus.

The new generation of cellphones may cost more but they can do other things that PCs regularly do, such as emailing, accessing Internet sites, downloading important information, sending images, playing sounds, etc. And their reach is global.

Another advantage is the simplicity of cellphone one-hand operation. The user can take his cellphone anywhere, unlike a PC which is bound to a desk in the house or office. The cellphone’s small size makes it handy.

* * *

WHILE there is no significant social stratification in the use of cellphones, there is a tendency for the poor to be left behind in the march of Information Technology as applied to personal computers.

Such a possible widening of the IT divide between the rich and the poor was the subject of a recent talk of Senate President Nene Pimentel.

“Freeing people from poverty is easier said than done despite the advent of the information technology in the country,” Pimentel said. “As the experience in some countries show, many of the groups that are excluded from traditional economic activity are also discriminated against in the online world.”

* * *

“SUCH issues should be addressed in this country now,” he said. “Otherwise, information technology will help perpetuate the great divide between the rich and the poor — only this time, the division will be called as the divide between the Information Rich and the Information Poor, the latter being people who have no access to information technology.”

He warned that “unless our lawmakers and policymakers will have the vision and political will, IT will become just another tool to further marginalize the greater sector of our people.”

* * *

PIMENTEL explained: “The flat-rate of less than P2,000 for unlimited, cable access, being offered to exclusive villages and traditionally ‘can afford’ areas in Metro Manila is one solid proof that the big players in the IT world have to be compelled by our government to even feign some social responsibility by at least enforcing a sort of rich-poor-ration installation.

“For every one household that these big players install a cable modem with unlimited access, at least two similar installations in a barangay hall should be installed. The flat-rate cost can be shared by the townsfolk in a cooperative manner or, the local government and/or in partnership with the private sector, can shoulder the connection fee.”

* * *

PIMENTEL also called attention to the high cost of hardware and software, one of the reasons for a country’s being an IT laggard.

“Another thing is the lack of vision and political will to make the most of the Open Source programs and applications,” the senator said. “Now, even IBM and Hewlett-Packard are moving into the world of Linux. And here we are, dirt poor, with no credible social, medical or social welfare programs, and we prefer to shell out our precious dollars to Bill Gates’ proprietary world of Windows.

“Why not at least compel our state universities to lead the way in using this free applications? Even a pilot project for the Comelec’s computerization initiative. Why not the whole government’s computerization needs?”

* * *

THE senator said that he would have been completely using Linux and other free applications had it not been for “the prohibitive amount of time I would need to download these programs.” (And to learn to use them, we may add.– fdp)

Kung sino pa yong mga labis na ang pera, sila pa ang may unlimited access, cable modem pa.” Pimentel lamented. “At ang mga kahig-tuka, sila yong nabubugbog sa connection rates.”

POSTSCRIPT fully agrees with Pimentel and supports his advocacy on Information Technology.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 5, 2001)

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