POSTSCRIPT / June 7, 2001 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Sympathy votes cast for Loi, not for Erap

Former first lady Loi Ejercito need not lament her husband’s absence from her proclamation as senator-elect the other day. She did not need him there.

The doktora might as well get used to being on her own, creating her own persona as a senadora and distancing herself from the tainted political past of her husband former President Erap Estrada.

In our view, the more than 10 million votes that Mrs. Ejercito won were mostly sympathy votes — not for her disgraced husband but for her, the suffering wife.

The only credit she could concede to Erap is his including her in a ticket whose party machinery took care of the details of campaigning for and guarding the votes.

* * *

THE earlier Mrs. Ejercito disabused her mind of the theory that she was elected to office as a surrogate of Erap, the better for her. It’s high time she stepped out of the shadow of her husband.

Not everybody in this nation of more than 75million gets this rare chance to serve as a senator, and Mrs. Ejercito should now work hard to prove herself as herself and not as a stand-in for a dropout president.

* * *

IT’S uncanny that the 8-4-1 result of the senatorial race hewed to the announced ticket of the Iglesia ni Cristo — eight for the administration, four for the opposition, and one independent.

But we do not see this as a validation of the boast or belief that where the Iglesia of Eraño Manalo goes, so goes the nation. It looks to us more as the Iglesia going where the nation is headed.

With its nationwide network, the Iglesia knows how to pick winning candidates. At the same time, it then throws its organized votes to the likely winners (if acceptable to the INC) to ensure that they actually win.

And the windfall from betting on the right candidates is that the winners may actually think they won because of the Iglesia.

* * *

IT is significant that only one reelectionist opposition senator, Gringo Honasan, was able to limp back to the Senate.

Worse, Honasan landed on the tailend 13th slot, giving him only three, instead of the regular six years in office. After his half-term, this leader of several failed coup attempts is expected to fade away, especially with his mentor Juan Ponce Enrile no longer around.

Enrile and Miriam Santiago were the other reelectionist senators of the opposition Puwersa ng Masa who fell by the wayside.

They were victims of their own brilliance and the backlash to their voting against the opening of an envelope containing evidence against Erap during his impeachment trial.

* * *

THE senatorial (as it was with the congressional) elections were a clear victory for the People Power Coalition that gathered a broad coalition from the political spectrum at Edsa that forced Erap Estrada to resign last January.

The eight incoming PPC senators will boost the administration number in the 24-member Senate to 12. The number is expected to swell to a comfortable majority to ensure the capture of the Senate presidency and control of the key committees.

It is the same story in the House of Representatives where an initial checklist shows that the administration will have a working majority to capture the Speakership.

* * *

ONE big handicap of the opposition is that it no longer has a rallying figure. A jailed Erap facing plunder charges and possible long-term imprisonment is hardly the ideal party leader.

With Malacañang and both houses of Congress in the hands of the administration coalition of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the opposition has lost the most potent weapons in Philippine political combat — power and patronage.

Some of the outnumbered non-PPC senators can be expected to play footsie with Malacañang and be disposed to regarding administration bills with an open mind. They know where the Mother of Perpetual Help is enshrined.

With that, Erap will recede farther away in the political horizon. Even his wife the incoming senator, as we’ve said, will have to consider a political life without Erap. She won’t find it difficult adjusting to not having him around.

* * *

SENATOR-elect Edgardo Angara towers over his partymates (Honasan, Ejercito and Panfilo Lacson) who made it to the Senate. In fact, were it not for the opposition’s lack of numbers, he would be a logical candidate for being Senate president again.

Depending on how the wheel of political fortune turns in this topsy-turvy world, Angara may even emerge as another presidential contender in 2004 considering his blue chip qualifications.

Speaking of the presidency, among the non-PPC newcomers, Noli de Castro and Panfilo Lacson are the figures to watch.

De Castro’s capital is his national base of more than 16 million votes. Lacson’s attraction is his cleancut we-mean-business image in a nation looking for a firm hand to lead it back to order and disciplined progress.

* * *

WE can understand President Arroyo’s desire to exude a fighting spirit in the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf whose depredations have left 15 soldiers and several civilians dead. We also understand her attempt to out-Erap the original Asiong Salonga.

Force is the only language the terrorists in Basilan-Sulu understand. The problem is that force, as those grizzled warriors understand it, is not forceful rhetoric on TV but ruthless and resolute force on the ground.

Next time GMA is handed a war script to read on TV, we suggest that she pass it around to her more mature advisers, pre-test it, then ask her ground commanders if they could carry out her televised warlike declarations.

* * *

WHAT’S this crazy suggestion from the military that civilians in threatened communities be issued guns with which to defend themselves?

The military should be the first to know the folly of putting a loaded gun in the hands of somebody not trained in the correct use of such deadly weapons. They would just get hurt trying to fire it or prevent its being snatched by the enemy.

Passing guns to civilians is an accounting nightmare from which some smart operators in the military could make money. It is also a tacit admission of the military’s inability to do its basic job of defending communities.

* * *

AS for that other bright idea of declaring a state of emergency or declaring martial law in the South, whoever brought it up should be banned forever from offering advice to the President.

The military and the police do not need martial law or emergency powers to fight and do their job.

Insinuating that government forces need emergency powers is actually putting up an excuse for their present failure. It’s the same as saying that the military has failed because it lacks sufficient legal authority to function.

This is the same “emergency powers” hocus-pocus used by grafters salivating for commissions from overpriced generators and juicy contracts to help, kunwari, to solve a power crisis.

* * *

SINCE last year, we have been asking about the P8-billion trust fund from the sale of Fort Bonifacio earmarked by law for the modernization of our Stone Age armed forces.

We’re becoming self-conscious raising the point every now and then. In fact, we’re afraid former President Ramos, who sold the Fort, might misunderstand our asking rather frequently where he put the money. He might think we’re making it a personal issue.

We keep asking where the money is because until now Mr. Ramos has not answered the question. In a number of forums, such as in the Manila Hotel kapihan, he simply snapped back that the money was there. But where?

* * *

THE money for modernizing the armed forces is a trust fund. It cannot be used legally for anything else. To divert it is criminal.

And with our poor soldiers dying in the hands of terrorists bearing superior arms, the crime cries to heaven for justice.

We are amazed that President Arroyo, the Commander-in-Chief, has not said a word on this. We’re tempted to ask if there is a high-level conspiracy or a coverup.

* * *

BUT make no mistake about our comments about the war down South.

We are squarely and staunchly behind the government in the fight to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf. We think the Arroyo administration is right in ruling out ransom payments and in unleashing the full might of the armed forces and the police against the kidnappers.

We extol the heroism of our soldiers while we grit our teeth over the costly bungling of their commanders. We sympathize with the families of the casualties and demand that the government give them maximum aid not only now but also for as long as they need it.

The commanders better shape up and concentrate on accomplishing their mission instead of looking for excuses for their failures. As clarification of our earlier comments, we concede that not all commanders are that bad.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 7, 2001)

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