POSTSCRIPT / January 28, 2001 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Military pension fund scandal haunts Abadia

DON’T blame Orly Mercado for resigning as defense secretary after finding himself having to work beside presidential adviser Gen. Lisandro Abadia in the national security team of President Arroyo.

With Abadia’s scandalous mishandling of Retirement and Separation Benefits System (RSBS) funds when he was AFP chief of staff and RSBS chairman, even ordinary foot soldiers may entertain thoughts of mutiny if forced to accept Abadia.

Millions in funds automatically deducted from the meager pay of soldiers supposedly for their pension were diverted to questioned real estate projects during the watch of Abadia. Part of the millions allegedly found their way into private pockets.

Coincidentally, we were amazed at the seemingly bottomless war chest of Abadia when he ran for senator in 1998. Even his media runners were reportedly doling out huge sums, raising eyebrows and questions on where they were getting all that money.

* * *

OKAY, Abadia has not been convicted of charges and must be presumed innocent. But it would be insensitive for the new Arroyo administration avowing reformist intentions to force Abadia upon us before he is cleared with finality.

Abadia is not that crucial to the success of the Arroyo administration. There are at least a dozen other possible appointees who are more competent than Abadia, and they are untainted, so why settle for a controversial general?

To spare the President that awkward corrective step of firing Abadia, the general should be man enough to just quit on his own. He can always plead health reasons, pointing out that he is suffering from itchy fingers.

* * *

PERCEIVED closeness to the President could help Abadia finally clear himself in the military pension scandal. Needing said Palace connection, he may try doing an Erap Estrada and cling to his pompous title of National Security Adviser.

Pero kung garapalan na talaga, the military cabal inside the Palace could push further and lobby for Abadia’s being concurrent boss of both the Social Security System and the Government Service Insurance System.

After all, he is the expert on pension funds, di po ba?

* * *

THAT’S a mean team of special ambassadors put together by President Arroyo to stimulate trade and investments to supplement the efforts of the regular diplomatic network.

We’re referring to Fidel V. Ramos for Davos and other economic forums, Roberto Romulo for international competitiveness, Rizalino Navarro for Southeast Asia and Australia-New Zealand, Alfonso Yuchengco for China, Japan and Korea, and Raul Rabe for the Americas and Islamic nations.

Coordination and follow up by the Department of Trade under Secretary Mar Roxas on the campaign of these special ambassadors would bring in incalculable dividends.

This proactive reaching out to the rest of the business world illustrates the urgency that the new President places on breaking away from our inward orientation and getting a piece of global commerce.

* * *

BUT will somebody please tell us what will now happen to the charges heaped on former President Ramos?

For instance, will his active involvement in the Arroyo administration mean the slowing down, if not the total shelving, of the prosecution of the Centennial Expo and the PEA-Amari scams?

Will we ever get to know what happened to the proceeds of the sale of Fort Bonifacio, touted as the real estate deal of the century, earmarked by law to go to the modernization of the armed forces?

Is Mr. Ramos now untouchable? Will the investigation by the Arroyo administration of past scandals be confined to the administration of deposed President Estrada?

* * *

MANY times, we’ve heard President Arroyo speak on the importance of e-commerce and information technology and how we could catch up with the rest of the world.

As one interested in this field, we wish the Arroyo administration would take the lead in breaking the restrictive pricing and application policies of software houses, foremost of which is Microsoft of Bill Gates.

There should be concerted consumer and official pressure on Bill Gates to loosen up his rule that each copy of his overpriced software or programs must be used only on one machine or computer. This is unreasonable.

Either Gates lowers his prices drastically or allows multiple, but regulated, use of Microsoft software.

* * *

IT may be embarrassing to admit this, but one of the reasons why a great number of Filipinos are computer literate is the availability of “pirated” copies of expensive software.

This is reminiscent of Marcosian martial rule when expensive textbooks and records were freely copied, “pirated” if you will, to bring them down to within reach of the great mass of our students.

It was a third world response to monopolistic copyright restrictions, but it helped us catch up with the first world.

* * *

WE’RE not saying that the Philippines under President Arroyo should repudiate international copyright agreements. We’re just saying that a way should be found to make computer hardware and software more accessible.

The Philippines is too small to exert enough pressure on Bill Gates et al. What we can do is multiply ourselves by linking up with similarly situated users around the world, and use the United Nations and other forums accessible to our special envoys.

One reason why texting is rampant in this country, making us the texting capital of the world, is that cellphones are priced within reach of the mass of potential users. We should be able to do something similar in the case of computers and software.

* * *

ANOTHER point we heard President Arroyo stress in one press meeting was the training of people who would make information technology and all its benefits a living reality in our country.

It is not enough that we are able to lower the prices of computer hardware and software. Complementing hardware and software is peopleware, the third element that is usually neglected.

It is useless to have state of the art machines and programs if we do not have the competent manpower to make them run and serve our purposes.

One good news from GMA is that Sen. Raul Roco, education secretary-designate, is poised to go in this direction.

* * *

UNTIL this late date, they are still debating that legal point we raised right after the Jan. 20 installation of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as president when everybody was agog with the euphoria of People Power.

Estrada stragglers are still repeating ad nauseam the line that the disgraced president did not resign, is still president although on leave, and that GMA is just an Acting President.

Why doesn’t the Arroyo camp move to settle this immediately so we could go on with the more serious business of healing and rebuilding?

All they have to do is file a petition before the Supreme Court and the tribunal would then promptly hand down a decision affirming the constitutional basis of GMA’s presidency.

There is no appeal to the Supreme Court decision, so that makes it final.

* * *

UNTIL now, there is no Supreme Court decision on the issue based on a petition duly filed, heard and decided on the merits. That makes for instability, something we cannot afford at this juncture.

As we have been saying in Postscript, the legal loose ends should not be left flapping in the wind.

When history is written on EDSA II, it should be said that GMA was installed not by People Power, but through regular constitutional succession. So-called People Power merely laid the political basis for the legal application of the constitutional process.

* * *

THE truth of the matter is that GMA could have just stayed home, watched TV, and waited to become president.

She was the Vice President and whether we like it or not she had that duty to become President (not just an Acting President) once the presidency is vacated.

The presidency was vacated Jan. 20 and she then took over automatically by operation of the Constitution. To interpret the EDSA events to mean that she was installed by People Power is to hail her as a revolutionary president, the way Cory Aquino rose to power in 1986.

But GMA is not a revolutionary but a constitutional president.

What we should do now is affirm that constitutional fact with finality by having the Supreme Court hand down not a press statement but a definitive ruling. What’s taking them?

* * *

THERE is also the mistaken notion that GMA is bound by the nominees of the search committee helping her in making appointments to the Cabinet.

The fact is that the President can appoint any qualified individual, even one not at all background-checked and listed by the search committee.

There is also the misconception that the organizations that participated in the EDSA drama must be represented in the Cabinet. While the President may look with favor on a group’s nominees, she is not bound to accept them.

The President is fully, solely and exclusively responsible for her appointments. She is responsible for her entire administration. If she fails to be a “good president,” as she has termed it, she cannot later on point to the search committee or this and that group.

We can criticize all we want the Cabinet appointments with which we disagree. But the President has the last word.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 28, 2001)

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