POSTSCRIPT / December 16, 2001 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Coco funds in SanMig: Challenge & opportunity

COCO SHARES UNTOUCHED: We understand that the 15-percent slice of San Miguel shares that Japanese beermaker Kirin has bought for $540 million did not come from contested government-sequestered stock but were unencumbered unissued shares.

With that important footnote, we see Kirin’s entry into San Miguel as a legitimate business transaction. Seen in the context of a sluggish economy, it is a welcome development.

Aside from injecting half-billion dollars in what President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo termed a “shot in the arm” of the economy, the entry of the giant beermaker at this time could be a positive signal to other foreign investors eyeing the Philippine market.

If the deal tilts the equation slightly in favor of San Miguel chairman Danding Cojuangco, so be it — as long as it does not water down substantially the 27-percent sequestered shares being guarded by the Presidential Commission on Good Government.

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HAYDEE ON WATCH: The Cojuangco factor is still there to think about. But with PCGG chairman Haydee Yorac watching, we feel we have somebody we can trust to look after the interests of the government and the dispossessed coconut farmers.

Instead of quibbling over details, all parties should now work speedily for the final determination of the fate of the coco levy funds (plus the assets derived from them) in San Miguel and elsewhere. That pile of money should be freed posthaste and used for its intended beneficiaries, the poor coconut farmers.

Everything considered, and assuming there was full and timely disclosure of all essential details of the transaction, we welcome the Kirin investment in San Miguel.

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FRESH START: The Supreme Court’s 10-5 majority decision declaring the coco levy funds as public funds and the fair warning sent to Kirin by the PCGG failed to stop its buy-in. We’re sure the Japanese knew fully what they were getting into. In fact, we assume that they are already several steps into the future in their planning.

Kirin’s bold move was a statement of faith in the strength and stability of San Miguel, as well as the fairness of the Philippine judicial system.

The SC majority opinion penned by Justice Artemio V. Panganiban — who is earning a reputation for his bold and trail-blazing legal ideas — has raised the debate over the coco levy fund issue to a higher, more definitive level.

We are afforded a fresh start. With the P130 billion (and still growing) fund explicitly declared as public fund, it should be easier now to resolve the long-dragging debate about its just and final disposition.

President Arroyo is suddenly confronted with a challenge and an opportunity to wrench away the leeches living off the fund and give it back to the small coconut farmers in whose name the levy was imposed by then President Marcos.

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TRIVIALIZING IMPEACHMENT: Why do we tolerate characters with dubious motives to trivialize the impeachment process enshrined in our Constitution?

Impeachment is not a gun drawn and fired every time the fancy hits us. It is a process reserved only for the most grievous abuses of selected officials, namely the President, Vice President, justices of the Supreme Court, members of constitutional commissions, and the Ombudsman.

By the nature of their functions and responsibilities, these officials are given ample space within which to perform their assigned tasks under the Constitution. The idea is to shield them from harassment suits and thereby render them more effective.

When President Arroyo herself was threatened with impeachment just because she took over from then President Erap Estrada who was subjected to an unprecedented impeachment trial, the impeachment move against GMA was mercifully shot down.

That’s how it should be. We should not trifle with such a constitutional process as impeachment.

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ALL FORM, NO SUBSTANCE: Now we see another fast-draw artist of a lawyer firing an impeachment charge against Ombudsman Aniano Desierto. For what? For something as hazy as a wiretapped phone conversation about an unnamed somebody having been supposedly offered what might have been a bribe.

Let’s not trivialize the impeachment process. Otherwise, when the time comes for us to wield it to protect ourselves from a really abusive official, we would be as ineffective as the boy who cried “wolf.”

Let’s not waste the time of our busy lawmakers. At the same time, we hope our congressmen would be more discerning when an impeachment complaint is shown to them. Anybody, even a non-lawyer, can type out a complaint in this country where affidavits are as plenty and as flighty as straws in the wind.

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CLERICAL DETAIL: The impeachment case filed against Desierto has passed the first pro-forma stage in a House committee checking if the complaint is sufficient in form. Of course it will be found to be sufficient in form!

This clerical detail simply means that the papers had the required elements such as a complainant, the complaint, the notarization, and the signature of at least one congressman endorsing it. It’s so easy to type out a form-complaint and have one of more than 200 congressmen sign the piece of paper.

With these basic criteria, we can produce one impeachment complaint each Monday of the year and have it comply with the requirements of form. At the rate and in the manner we do things, the committee findings that the impeachment complaint against Desierto was sufficient in form did not mean much as far as pinning him down goes.

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DIGNIFYING HEARSAY: The House committee should have waited for the finding of another committee looking into the complaint’s being sufficient in substance. This other committee is scheduled to sit down and dig deeper into the meat of the complaint on Tuesday.

We wonder what this second committee will do with a complaint based on hearsay — meaning a lawyer claims his businessman-client told him that somebody (Desierto) said this or that and that a freelance cameraman helping the Ombudsman in his press relations solicited some camera parts ostensibly for Desierto (who has no need for them).

What do you do with a flimsy complaint like that, especially if the lawyer’s client who supposedly bribed the Ombudsman is himself denying giving money to the Ombudsman? With his client already denying it, why is the lawyer still grinding his axe?

What will our solons do with a lawyer who violates the confidentiality of his relationship with his client and who goes around peddling illegally tapped and possibly spliced phone conversations?

What do you do with a lawyer who goes forum shopping by filing a complaint before the House, then calls a press conference and there presents his case supported by an illegal tape recording? We think there are enough wide-awake congressmen in the committee who would refuse to be used.

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U.S. CONGRESS GRATEFUL: In Washington, DC, meanwhile, the US 107th Congress has passed a joint resolution (S. Con. Res. 91 and H. Con. Res. 273) “expressing deep gratitude to the government and the people of the Philippines for their sympathy and support since Sept. 11, 2001.”

The Congress noted that the Philippines has been “among the world’s most steadfast friends of the United States during a time of grief and turmoil,” and that after the US launched military operations in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, President Arroyo immediately announced her government’s unwavering support for the operation, calling it “the start of a just offensive” and made available all the country’s military installations to US forces’ transit, refueling, resupply, and staging operations.

In general terms, the US Congress “acknowledges the economic and military needs of the Philippines and pledges to continue to assist in addressing those needs.”

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IMPLICATIONS: One significance of the joint resolution is its reaffirming the US commitments under the 50-year-old RP-US mutual defense pact. Enforcement of some of its provisions requires so-called “constitutional processes.” Such a congressional resolution could help expedite such processes if the need arose.

The resolution cited terrorist threats from, it said, “the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army, National Democratic Front and the radical Islamic Abu Sayyaf group, as well as armed secessionist campaigns by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and elements of the Moro National Liberation Front.”

The House version did not mention the MNLF among the terrorists, but the Senate did. As for the NDF and the NPA being labeled as terrorists, that is the sense of the US Congress and not necessarily that of the Philippine government nor the Arroyo administration.

On veterans affairs, the House subcommittee on health has scheduled a field hearing on Wednesday in San Diego, California, relating to the delivery of health care to World War II Filipino veterans.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 16, 2001)

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