POSTSCRIPT / December 18, 2001 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Lawyers, judges, fixers work better in the dark

ERAP TO GO SCOT-FREE: You know why the Sandiganbayan trial of former President Erap Estrada for plunder and other crimes is going around in circles? Why the public never fully understands why the justice presiding over the trial fell into complications and was replaced? Why after a protracted trial Erap will, by all indications, be acquitted on a technicality?

The dismal situation at the Sandiganbayan is mainly the unfortunate offshoot of the general public’s having been locked out of the trial with the banning of live televised coverage of the Estrada trial.

Bring in live TV coverage approximating the close monitoring afforded the impeachment trial of Erap and we can cut down the legal rigmarole. Allow the public a full, live view of the proceedings, via live TV, and we will minimize the probability of big crooks getting off the hook.

Are we really a hopeless case? Why are we sitting on our asses doing nothing to stop the charade at the Sandiganbayan? Justice is too precious to entrust to the lawyers, the judges and the fixers operating away from public glare. Bring in live TV coverage!

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RANSOM IN THE CARDS?: It’s amusing reading the military’s confident announcements that they are closing in on the Abu Sayyaf on Basilan island and are about to rescue the remaining hostages. One would think our troops are operating on an agreed schedule.

The only explanation for this cocky assurance of our military being able to get the hostages out very soon is that some parties are in the final stages of earnest negotiations for the hostages’ release and are about to agree on the price and the delivery details of the hefty ransom.

The way the military talks carelessly about the imminent recovery of the hostages, one would think they want to torpedo the bargaining. Why, have the gentlemen been left out?

By the way, a crucial part of the negotiations is safe passage for the Abu Sayyaf. The moment the US advisers are able to recover the pair of American hostages, there is no more obstacle to their unleashing maximum firepower on the terrorists. And the terrorists know that.

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OSAMA ALSO CORNERED: It is interesting to watch the end game in Afghanistan. The US has Osama bin Laden cornered, so they claim, in the labyrinthine caves under forested mountains. The US says it is positive Osama is still there and that his days are numbered.

This reminds us of the countless times our own military had announced that they have got the Abu Sayyaf encircled and that our troops were tightening the noose on the gang. And every time, with boring regularity, the quarry was able to “slip through the cordon.”

Will their brother in the faith Osama be able to pull the same vanishing act with American special forces, Northern alliance and the rest of the posse covering every inch of ground around his mountain redoubt?

Abangan: Will the wily Osama also slip through the cordon? (Assuming he’s really holed up there as claimed.)

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ZERO-INTEREST TEMPTATIONS: At street level back in the US, they are still reeling from the economic fallout of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Washington, DC, and New York, the political and business capitals of America.

Retail sales plunged a record 3.7 percent in November from October’s inflated level. Car sales dropped 11.9 percent in November after soaring 24.2 percent in October apparently because of unusual incentives to buyers.

Car buyers, for instance, were being lured by zero-interest payments over long periods, three years for instance. For appliances and such small items, zero-interest payments for one year is common.

The “Buy-buy-buy!” hypnosis being applied on American consumers did a lot in October, but it slackened the following month. The slowdown was understandable considering the rise in jobs being lost and the decline of income being whittled by the depressed situation.

We’re mentioning this because what happens in America will have a whiplash effect on the Philippines with a minimum time lag of six months.

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TRAVEL BLUES: Now we make a little kuwento about the (mis)adventures of our compatriots as they move around the globe in search of something elusive.

We recently carried an item about a Filipina who has had her share of shabby treatment in the hands of obnoxious immigration officers, in Saipan for instance, who seem to look down on travelers bearing Philippine passports.

It’s infuriating, of course, and we were not surprised to receive angry reactions from some Filipinas. We quote part of an email from Vi Massart writing from Paris where she now lives:

“That Filipina married to a Swiss should have slapped the Saipan official when he was being discriminatory and to hell with the holiday in polluted, insipid and insular Saipan… and she was with her husband to boot!

“What effrontery! Also, she should have asked why on earth he wanted to keep her passport and her ticket — did that stupid immigration official want to use it for himself?

“This never happened to me, even in the US where gross, overbearing and insolent immigration officials are at their worst… and I travel all over the world once a month at least. I would have never allowed any idiotic foreign immigration official to ask me discriminating questions.

“There’s such a thing as courtesy in the first place.”

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LONDON INCIDENT: Going on, Ate Vi narrated: “Once on my return to Paris, some immigration jerk examined my passport longer than necessary (two minutes or three perhaps because the fellow was not used to seeing a Filipino woman with a French passport) when it usually took no more than 10 seconds or 20 at most to do that (yes, that’s how fast they can be here in Paris).

“I simply asked him in a crisp, clear and loud voice that everybody could hear that if there was nothing wrong with my passport, he should let me pass, otherwise he should promptly arrest me (and put up my wrists in jest) so the other people waiting behind me could get in.

“The official was not amused (but everybody else waiting in line was), returned my passport illico and that was that.

“A few years ago, I was accompanying a Filipino official to London for a visit. Unfortunately, he didn’t have his official Philippine passport, but only a regular passport although our group was welcomed by an official from the Philippine embassy in London.

“The immigration official in London Heathrow kept asking him stupid and embarrassing questions (what was he going to do in London, why, where was he going to stay, how long, what for, how much money did he have, was he going to work in London, could he swear that his wife was not going to stay to work, how sure was he, who gave him the visa, did he know the person at the British embassy who gave it to him, when did he get the visa, who was he going to see in London, and on and on and on, etc. etc.) in spite of the representation made by our embassy official.

“I couldn’t stand it any longer, so I butted in because it was really getting to be so irritating and impolite and said that the gentleman was a high-ranking Philippine government official on a tour for two days with his wife and two members of his staff and if that explanation didn’t suffice, I would call the Philippine Ambassador right away.

“After all, my friends had a perfectly valid visa to visit London delivered by no less than Her Majesty’s embassy in Manila.

“This only irritated the official and was becoming more impertinent to the whole group so I asked my friend and his wife to ask for their passports back so that we could catch the next flight and return to Paris straight away where French officials are ‘more courteous and welcoming.’

“I asked for the official’s name, wrote it down and I added that such insult would definitely not go ‘unnoticed’ neither in Manila nor in London if it had to be the last thing that I would do in this world and that I would inform Her Majesty’s ambassador in Manila right away of the affront to a Philippine government official of a certain stature.

“He couldn’t do or say anything more than give me a grunt in spite of the ‘scandal’ I was causing because I was a European passport holder.

“Well, I think, that did it, because the immigration official relented right away and allowed the group in with no questions asked to the other members.

“We have to stand up to insolence because if we don’t who will? If we are not doing anything wrong, why should we kowtow to these stupid discriminating, xenophobic, anti-social foreign immigration officials?”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 18, 2001)

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