POSTSCRIPT / April 24, 2001 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Erap’s being president aggravated the plunder

FORMER internal revenue cashier Dominga Manalili, who is facing a plunder charge, has been denied bail and detained for the past three years at the cramped Quezon City jail. She is accused of taking P190 million in public funds.

In stark contrast, plans are afoot to ensconce former President Erap Estrada in a specially furbished detention resort when he is arrested for a similar charge of plunder involving more than P500 million.

The resthouse being prepared for Erap’s detention boasts of amenities that are luxurious by the standards of the masa deprived of the P500 million that was plundered.

Chalk that up as another lesson for our children — that in this country, the rich and the powerful are more equal than the rest of us.

* * *

THE Arroyo administration goes to great lengths explaining that such extraordinary comfort and privileges being prepared for Erap are in consideration of his having been the president. That’s twisted thinking, Secretary Joey Lina!

On the contrary, since Erap Estrada committed the alleged heinous crime of plunder while he was President, that circumstance of his exalted position and his sacred oath of office should be considered aggravating, not mitigating.

Having abused and taken advantage of the power and privilege of his office (if charges stick), the more he should be punished, not pampered and attended to like a potentate on vacation.

* * *

NO wonder reformist lawyers and volunteers against crime are threatening to go to court should the government proceed to give special treatment to Erap upon his arrest for plunder.

Leonard de Vera, spokesman of the lawyers’ group, said: “Giving Erap special extraordinary comfort and privileges like an air-conditioned, 80-square-meter facility complemented with a 300-square-meter lot with all the amenities of convenience, like special bathrooms, visiting areas, and entertainment facilities including television, radios and refrigerators, violate the equal protection clause of the Bill of Rights.”

“There is no law that grants a President, or senator or congressman special jail privileges and denies the same to all other ordinary citizens,” he said.

* * *

THIS is assuming Erap would be arrested and detained. Talk in informed circles has it that negotiations have been ongoing to classify Erap as a harmless, low-risk respondent against whom no overwhelming evidence of guilt has been presented so far.

Some government officials reportedly want to first count the reasons why there is no need to throw the former president into jail while being tried. Bargaining has been tedious, we were told, which explains why the Erap cases are moving ever so slowly.

Curiously, Erap has been saying lately that he expects to stay out of jail because the evidence against him is weak. That’s a clue that that is his first line of approach for his plea to be allowed to post bail and avoid being detained.

* * *

ONE surprise move we should also watch for is the 64-year-old actor’s suddenly complaining of some pain and his doctors promptly ordering his confinement in a hospital instead of a detention center.

After Edsa II, remember?, Erap tried using the Imelda Marcos line that he had to go abroad for medical treatment because of fading eyesight. It didn’t work. He was not allowed to leave, but his eyes appear to be still okay.

You can be sure that out of thousands of aches and ailments in the medical books, his doctors would be able to get a more likely affliction than blurred vision. Their best bet, we think, is some kind of liver problem.

* * *

THE jail in Quezon City where former BIR cashier Manalili is being detained while being tried for plunder was designed to house 700, but is now crammed with some 2,000 inmates.

Some sadists in the administration earlier floated their supposed intention of throwing Erap into this QC pigpen, but the plan was mercifully shelved when it was argued that it was not fit for a former president.

Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte said the pathetic state of the QC jail is one of the reasons why it has seen recurring riots and gang wars. “Who would not be short-tempered when thrown into such miserable conditions?” he asked.

Belmonte, who is running for QC mayor with reelectionist Vice Mayor Connie Angeles, said he would do something about deplorable jail conditions, among many other reforms he has lined up for the city.

* * *

QUEZON City was designed to become the nation’s capital, but it lost that position of honor when development lagged and living conditions and essential services deteriorated under several administrations.

If QC is able to grow and now show a semblance of development, it is mainly because of private enterprise, not because of purposeful government planning. Development went on in spite of, not because of the administration of Mayor Mel Mathay.

In fact, the priority placed by the outgoing administration on the sleazy side of entertainment sped up QC’s rise as a vice center after then Mayor Fred Lim cracked down on vice in Manila.

* * *

RESPONDING to QC residents’ clamor for a better deal, Belmonte has prepared a wholistic program anchored on enlightened governance, transparency, accountability, effective fiscal administration and efficient delivery of public services.

Recognized as the most competent and best prepared among the mayoral candidates, it’s no surprise that Belmonte has been widening his lead in recent poll surveys.

The realization of the people that they made a mistake electing a movie star to the presidency has jeopardized the candidacies of other movie stars and showbiz personalities seeking public office on the basis merely of charm and popularity.

By and large, voters in such urban centers as QC will go to the polls on May 14 wiser and more discerning.

* * *

IT may be an interesting exercise figuring out if the incoming Senate would be one inclined to support President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s legislative program.

With the pro-GMA People Power Coalition expected to land at least eight of the 13 Senate seats at stake, it is safe to conclude that the incoming Senate is not likely to be obstructionist.

Outside of the eight PPC frontrunners, there are two “independents” — Noli de Castro and Orly Mercado — who stand a good chance of making it. Aboard the Erap jeepney, we see only three — none of whom is Loi Estrada — who may be able to latch on with the winners.

* * *

WE doubt if Noli and Orly, if elected senators, would shun GMA’s overtures and insist on being identified with Erap. It would be political error to cling to one who has fallen out of power and has fallen in disgrace.

Even now, the two independents have stayed away, wisely, from the opposition campaign team despite their having been adopted by Erap when he was putting together his Senate ticket.

The same pragmatic posture can be expected of the three leading members of the Erap team who may gain ground in the homestretch and make it. Being pragmatic politicians, they can be expected to be open to GMA’s possibly talking to them.

* * *

THE same pragmatic attitude can be expected of most incumbent senators since there is no sense to one’s continued loyalty to Erap who is no longer in a position to dispense patronage.

The few Erap diehards in the opposition, those who would blindly stick with him, are not in the wining circle and don’t count, if surveys are to be believed.

There is no more Erap to stand as a rival for the attention of the senators when GMA starts talking to them.

* * *

THERE’S unrest among overseas workers and non-government organizations attending to them over the continued failure of the government to redeem the P641 million taken from overseas workers’ funds for the Smokey Mountain project.

The forced investment of the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration into the project matured on Oct. 12, 1999, but until now the money has not been returned as agreed upon.

The amount poured into the project is 28 percent more than the total welfare fee collections for 1999. That’s money now beyond the reach of overseas workers, the intended beneficiaries, although it’s their money.

An audit report indicates there is no likelihood that the misplaced amount could be redeemed in the foreseeable future and used for its original intention — improving the lot of overseas workers and helping those who encounter problems.

Shades of another plunder?

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 24, 2001)

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