POSTSCRIPT / February 6, 2001 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Desierto’s delaying our rendezvous with history

IT is most urgent that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appoints a Vice President immediately.

If anything should happen to GMA, there should be a Vice President ready to plug the vacancy before deposed President Estrada makes good his threat to bounce back from vacation and reclaim the presidency.

As it is in nature, a vacuum invites all sorts of forces to rush in. Imagine what would befall this nation if something happens to GMA and there is no Vice President to block the return of Jose Velarde?

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THE Senate President, Nene Pimentel at the moment, shall act as President if the two top positions in the Executive branch are permanently vacated. Special elections for a regular president to serve the unexpired term shall then be held within 60 days.

That’s the orderly constitutional process, but in this rough and tumble world, and with Asiong Salonga still staggering around the neighborhood, one can never tell what could happen.

For national stability and also to firm up the legal basis of her presidency, GMA must not delay appointing a Vice President.

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NOT counting outstanding congressmen, there are many good senators who would make a good Vice President.

Ms Arroyo should not worry too much about a new Vice President possibly spoiling her plans to run for president in 2004. It seems to many people that this consideration is what’s delaying her making a choice.

But hasn’t she said that she was not dreaming of becoming a great president, that she would be content with being a mere “good” president? If she meant that, then she should not allow her 2004 presidential bid to becloud her faculties.

She could just concentrate on being a “good” president, and 2004 should take care of itself.

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AND here’s another infuriating delay that could spell trouble.

Ombudsman Aniano Desierto is taking too long to evaluate the criminal charges filed against deposed President Estrada. He gives us the eerie feeling that he is waiting for some dark plot to overtake the filing of the charges with the Sandiganbayan.

The Ombudsman should be reminded that he is not called upon at this point to produce evidence to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. This is not the trial yet. His job is simply to find probable cause, to show that there is prima facie evidence.

The whole wide-awake world knows that the evidence against Mr. Estrada is strong, so what is Desierto waiting for? Why the slow drag? Why should it take him 60 long days to see what is already staring him in the face? What’s going on?

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IN a turnaround from his vote against opening the second envelope in the stalled impeachment trial, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile is now demanding that the same envelope be opened before the Ombudsman makes a decision on the filing of the charges against Mr. Estrada.

Right on cue, Desierto is now mouthing the same dilatory line that he has to see the contents of the envelope first. This, despite the fact that he can make a decision independently of the envelope.

Can’t we do something about Desierto? We have this creeping feeling that he and his friend are up to something.

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DESIERTO should file at least the plunder case without further delay. All he needs is prima facie evidence, which he already has, not a full-blown air-tight case pointing to conviction beyond reasonable doubt.

Since plunder is punishable by death, the offense is non-bailable. As soon as the charge is filed, the Sandiganbayan can order the arrest of Joseph Ejercito Estrada and the former president is thrown into jail.

That is the dramatic denouement, the shock treatment, the basic lesson that should be etched into the psyche of a people hounded and enslaved by corruption!

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WE do not need a revolution, a crucible of blood and fire, we do not need to slash our guts to cleanse and heal this badly battered nation. All we need to do is throw a corrupt president into jail.

We have the historic opportunity to do just that. Do we allow the Desiertos littering the prosecution service to stand in the way?

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PRESIDENT Arroyo has announced a period of healing and rebuilding in the tenuous transition from the Estrada administration to hers. Sounds great to a people that has seen too much stress and strife.

Before healing, however, there should be cleansing, before rebuilding, a clearing of the debris.

In our rush to heal the wounds, to bind and then build the nation, do we gloss over the rape of our democratic processes and the wanton violation of our good faith?

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SHOULD we not first clear the deck of the Chinoy cronies who bled the economy, the high-flying lawyers who broke the rules to shield Mr. Estrada, the balato twins who flaunted the dirty money and the dirty dancing, the million-dollar mistresses who sucked the President dry, et cetera?

Why are there no cases moving against the smuggling lords who frequented the Palace, the gambling operators who exploited the masses, the slick lawyers who tampered with bank records and manipulated witnesses… Has GMA forgotten about them in the flush of political victory?

Before healing, Ms President, shouldn’t there be cleansing?

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WE’D feel guilty if we did not open more space for other readers who had responded to our survey on the question Are you in favor of having former President Estrada go on exile while the cases against him are being prosecuted? Why?

The result, btw, was a vehement 95 percent for “No exile.” Here are some more of the responses.

Carmen Q. Trio, Marcelo Green Village, Parañaque: No! Estrada should not be exiled because this will be a sign of weakness on the part of the government. President Arroyo always speaks of a level playing field. This should apply to Estrada. Treat him as all accused of the same crime. He should stay here and face all charges and if convicted be made to serve his sentence.

Endbink, Bataan: Mr. Estrada does not want to be exiled, so he should not be exiled. It may be true that Estrada is corrupt, but a lot of people think he is not a dictator like Marcos. Many people also cried when they saw him on TV leaving the Palace.

Cesar C. Francisco, Dammam, Saudi Arabia: No. I would like him to serve his sentence here if he is guilty. No pardon, no parole! This will serve as an example to all other corrupt officials and raise the moral standards in government.

Mike C. Bolos, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: No exile. He should be made to answer for his illegal activities otherwise there will be no end to people in government committing illegal acts if after everything is said and done, all they get is exile as a punishment.

Miko M. Nepomuceno: Never. Pending conviction, Erap should instead be exiled to Camp Abubakar, fed with lechon and kangkong and bombarded with kidlat.

Jett E Aviñante, Ayala Alabang: No. Exile would be like releasing a destructive monster into a friendly habitat where it can gain more strength and be more destructive someday.

Carlos B. Manalastas: Never. With their bravado when they were in power, disgraced Erap, Jinggoy, JV and cronies should be prosecuted. While the case is going on, Erap should be exiled to Abu Sayyaf country together with his harem and cronies.

Leonilo M. Espiritu, Hong Kong: No. Dapat humarap sa korte si Erap at doon niya sagutin lahat ng kaso niya.

Benjamin Vallejo Jr., Quezon City: No. The people want to see him tried. If Indonesia and South Korea can make their ex-presidents face trial, there is no reason why we should not.

Adeperio, msn: This issue of exile should not even be thought of. Also, I hope that in this coming election the masses will vote intelligently. Kaso ang problema mas maraming bobo sa Pilipinas kaysa sa matatalino.

Frank Luna, Canada: Yes, we should exile Erap to kingdom come, after summarily convicting him for plunder. He already had his day in the people’s court (actually 2-1/2 years) and his guilt is showing through his bank accounts.

Tito P. Tuason: No! The law should apply to both the poor and the greedy rich. I agree with Mr. Paul Dalde that internal exile is a good alternative. Perhaps Batanes is a better choice.

Jose Jesus Dorado, Lal-lo, Cagayan Valley: No way! Letting him go is not fair to us who cried for truth and justice at Edsa. Didn’t you hear the people’s verdict? Guilty si Erap! Arestuhin si Erap!

Proceso Carlos, Los Angeles, California: The government should not give an option to Estrada. Matindi ang evidence to convict him. Mrs. President, be tough. If you don’t punish him, the dirty politicians will not learn their lesson.

Elvie Magpayo, 3web.net: Estrada should stay and be prosecuted to show to the whole world that democracy in the Philippines really works. Obviously he is guilty and he should not get away with it.

Ruffy Salcon, Canada: Erap should face the music. And to those government officials who want him exiled, better think twice, we won’t forget you on election day.

Manuel Collao, Saudi Arabia: Exile is out. Once found guilty by prima facie evidence, he has to be locked up or placed under house arrest, to preempt any possible attempt to re-take or destabilize the present government.

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OUR apologies to readers whose responses we cannot use for lack of space. Tips: Those that came in early and made sense had a better chance of being printed. The long ones and those whose sources were dubious never had a chance.

Again, we advice readers not to send us messages as attachments. We delete attachments without bothering to read them.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 6, 2001)

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