POSTSCRIPT / April 8, 2001 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Plunder case of Erap adds up to ‘Double 13’

IT’S probably just a coincidence, but the number of the lone plunder case filed so far with the Sandiganbayan against ex-President Estrada adds up to a “Double 13.”

The case number is 26585, which when added up is 2+6+5=13, and 8+5=13.

After the 13-0 double whammy dealt Mr. Estrada by the Supreme Court in the wake of the earlier 13-0 vote in the Senate that precipitated his ouster, the superstitious among us, not to exclude Erap himself, might see hints of double trouble ahead.

* * *

BUT from where we sit, we see various officials handling the unprecedented Estrada cases looking for excuses to delay the arrest of the fallen President and his detention from now until the May 14 elections.

Apparently the fear is widespread in administration circles that throwing Erap into jail at this time might generate enough sympathy to push his candidates in the elections next month.

Only Ombudsman Aniano Desierto appears in an unusual hurry to get on with the prosecution. But of course we understand why a badly battered Desierto is trying hard to show he now means business.

The way Presiding Justice Francis Garchitorena of the Sandiganbayan explains in great detail the reasons why the arrest warrant is not immediately forthcoming, one gets the hint that they would pounce on Erap only after the polls.

(If he is still around by that time.)

* * *

BUT if one asks Postscript readers, the fear of a backlash of sympathy for Erap and his candidates is more imagined than real.

A full 85 percent of responding readers answered a loud “No” to the question: 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?

The 85 percent who ruled out sympathy for Erap vehemently insisted that he be placed behind bars immediately. The remaining15 percent warned that the former movie star could manipulate his arrest and detention to win sympathy, especially among the masa.

* * *

WE hasten to point out that our respondents were not representative of the population. They were mostly middle class readers who have access to a computer and an Internet connection.

Only 38 percent of respondents were writing in from a Philippine address. The others were from the United States (35 percent), Canada (8 percent), Saudi Arabia and Kuwait (5 percent each), and Switzerland, New Zealand and Hong Kong (2 percent each).

The men dominated the field with their 70 percent share. The respondents’ distribution as to age is: 56-60 years old, 21 percent; 26-30, 31-35, and 36-40 years old, 16 percent each; 41-45 and 51-55, 10 percent each. The higher 61-65 and 66-70 age brackets had 5 percent each.

* * *

THESE were among the reasons given, listed in descending number of citations, why the deposed President must be arrested and detained according to law:

  1. Erap committed a grievous wrong and must pay for it. He cannot be above the law.
  2. That he was President with an oath to execute the law and protect every citizen is an aggravating circumstance.
  3. We failed miserably to follow up on Edsa I and to prosecute the Marcoses and their cronies. Let’s not commit the same mistake now.
  4. Jailing Erap will send a clear message to everybody in government, especially to future presidents and other officials, that they better stick to their oath and not engage in graft.
  5. We have to show the world that we know how to make democracy work. Note that some neighboring countries have indicted and jailed corrupt presidents.

* * *

WE thank readers who took time to respond. Also for gladly giving us personal circumstances like age and address. Some readers abroad even gave us their home and work phone numbers and reported briefly on how Filipinos in their area have been faring.

Readers’ participation in the molding of an enlightened public opinion is important in a democracy like ours. People must speak up and be heard. (If our leaders refuse to listen, that’s another matter that can be dealt with in another manner.)

Newspapers, as it is with other media, are a sounding board of the public. We apologize for not having the space to print the very interesting remarks sent us by respondents.

* * *

WE understand the military’s taking Army Major Noel Buan, newly released from captivity, into a restricted debriefing before he is set loose for media to feast on.

Buan is a military officer. His service remained uninterrupted even during the 21 months that he had been in the hands of the New People’s Army. Upon his release yesterday, the military naturally had the first crack at the long-missing officer.

Debriefing is a normal procedure in such a situation. This cannot be carried out if the media would simultaneously engage the officer in a parallel debriefing of sorts.

Even Buan’s family, which we assume is steeped in the traditions of the service, should understand why the officer had to report to his superiors upon his return from captivity. Of course the military, a close-knit community, would know how to mesh Buan’s military duties and his just-as-important duties to his family.

* * *

ON the propaganda side, it is best for the military to keep the Buan release as low key as possible. The earlier the big to-do about him dies down, the better.

Looking at the scoreboard, while his release was a positive point for the Arroyo administration’s peace initiatives, it earned bigger points locally and internationally for the National Democratic Front and the NPA.

Aware of this global stage, the NDF kept inserting its usual political terminologies to help imbed them in the public consciousness. There is unending reference to Buan as a prisoner of war (POW) and there was the bringing in of the International Red Cross to receive him under Geneva conventions on the handling of POWs.

* * *

THE fact is that Buan could have been simply turned over by the NPA to a ranking military commander without fanfare, and that’s it.

But that’s not the way propaganda is handled when two co-equal governments (the Government of the Republic of the Philippines versus the National Democratic Front of the Philippines) are dealing with each other.

On balance, the GRP lost that one to the NDFP.

* * *

WE note that geologist Jose Antonio Socrates is urging the government to rush the bathymetric survey of the continental shelf where the disputed Kayaan islands are located.

(A bathymetric survey maps the seabed as it would look if suddenly the sea dried up. The continental shelf is the extent of the land gradually sloping down from the shore up to where it suddenly drops off.)

The pressure on government is explained by the fact that the United Nation’s deadline for countries with territorial sea disputes to submit the legal evidence of their claims is November 2004.

As usual, we have been napping. It has been seven years since the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea set the deadline, but not much has been done in preparation for the 2004 deadline.

We can almost see it: In late 2003, there will be a big debate and a mad rushing about as we cram to beat the deadline. The end result: We will lose our claim.

* * *

WE understand that we are not totally zero in terms of surveying the Kalayaan area. A number of oil exploration groups, some of them in cooperation with the government, have made studies in the area. While their data may not be extensive, they have something.

We have also heard of unpublicized government survey activities in the same area. It may be time for the proper agency to submit a tentative report.

* * *

BUT we beg to disagree with the drift of Socrates’ line, as reported in media, that the legal basis of territorial sea claims is geologic.

Socrates seems to be saying in media that the Kalayaan islands rest on the same continental shelf as Palawan and the rest of the Philippines. Ergo, they are legally part of the Philippines.

It’s not that simple. Political boundaries are not determined by geology or geography. Sometimes such lines are drawn as a result of war or conquest or some such political event.

* * *

WE can cite many illustrations of this. Offhand, the Falklands off the coast of Argentina come to mind. They are part of the continental shelf sloping down from the Argentine coast to the disputed islands, but they are still not part of that South American nation.

If we follow Socrates’ line, Argentina should have legal sovereign rights over the Falklands on the basis of his continental shelf legal logic. But that is not the case. Great Britain, which is thousands of miles away to the north, holds and controls the Falklands.

Another strong argument is actual possession or occupation over time. Can Socrates’ geology overturn physical possession legalized over time?

There is the legal maxim that the law itself may not protect one who sleeps on his rights. For instance, our political maps have placed the disputed Scarborough shoal west of Zambales outside our national territorial boundary.

If we ourselves had neglected to include those reefs in our political map, even if they are within our continental shelf, we may have a little problem pushing our claim.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 8, 2001)

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