POSTSCRIPT / June 19, 2001 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Gov't has lost right to ban ransom deals

IF a kidnap victim is in mortal danger and his family or associates can afford it, and if the government can’t help him anyway, the government should not fulminate if ransom is then paid to gain his freedom.

By this time, it is clear that hostages of the Abu Sayyaf terrorists, especially those who are neither rich nor prominent, are left to their own devices to escape from their captors.

With the government’s dismal failure to assure the families of kidnapping victims that it is capable and competent to rescue the hostages, it has lost its right to impose a no-ransom rule.

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THIS is the same case with the American hostages. It would be misplaced pride and obstinacy if the Philippine government insists that the Dos Palmas drama is a purely internal matter and rules out “foreign intervention.”

The government should open the door to American overt involvement in tracking down the kidnappers and rescuing the hostages. That is, if the United States wants to get involved for the sake of its citizens.

It might set a precedent? That’s precisely the idea!

Let’s serve notice to the Abu Sayyaf and similar adventurers that when they kidnap our foreign visitors for ransom, they invite the full fury of combined Philippine and foreign forces.

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THE surfacing in the South of Ilocos Sur Gov. Chavit Singson negotiating the surrender of Abu Sayyaf Commander Robot again calls to mind jueteng, one of the biggest unfinished dirty business of this and past administrations.

We hope President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo does not think that the issue of official protection of illegal gambling, including jueteng, had been swept under the rug by the overpowering problem of Abu Sayyaf depredations.

We recall that not too long ago Singson exploded the bombshell that at least P10 million in jueteng protection money was being delivered by him to then President Erap Estrada each month.

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CURIOUSLY, jueteng did not vanish with the exit of Erap and the succession to the presidency of a supposedly reformist Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. In fact, jueteng has flourished with a vengeance with her now in command.

(In jueteng, two numbers from 1 through 37 are drawn. A bettor who guesses the winning combination wins a prize. In some places, a peso bet wins P800.)

Since Erap is gone, and since jueteng continues to rage like an epidemic, who is now getting the regular monthly multimillion-peso payola?

Are we to believe that only local officials and police officers continue to receive the usual intelligencia from the illegal numbers game victimizing the masses?

Posing it bluntly, we ask: How much in jueteng payola is now being hand-carried regularly to the Palace (or wherever the deliveries are being made)?

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THE President’s home province of Pampanga emerges as the testing ground of GMA’s sincerity in fighting illegal gambling, particularly jueteng.

She faces closer scrutiny because she is the kumare of Bong Pineda, the elusive businessman who has been identified as a jueteng lord in police reports, as well as in the Singson report to the Senate Blue Ribbon committee. Pineda also happens to be the husband of the mayor of Lubao, the Macapagal hometown.

The gallery is asking how GMA can be expected to deal jueteng lords a crippling blow if she cannot even save her own province from their clutches.

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THE jueteng draws in GMA’s home province are not only once a day, but three times daily! The province-wide operations involve thousands of bet collectors (cubrador) and a brisk turnover running into millions.

With this magnitude and its wide-open operation, it is a wonder how jueteng can flourish without the police, local officials and the President being at least aware of it.

If GMA is indeed an improvement over Erap and if she sincerely wants jueteng stopped in her own province, she can easily do it. But why is she not doing it?

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WE’RE this impatient with official coddling of jueteng lords mainly because we have seen first-hand how this seemingly harmless “diversion” has destroyed families and the future of otherwise productive citizens.

The reprehensible aspect of jueteng is that its victims are mostly the poor, who lose their meager income (sometimes it’s even borrowed money that they bet) to the gambling operators and their protectors in government.

The daily draws promising windfalls are addictive. Clinging to the possibility, however remote, that they might just hit the jackpot in the next draw, the poor players keep betting — and sinking into penury.

They do not pause to think that nobody gets rich from jueteng, except the operators and their protectors in government.

It’s high time GMA told us on whose side she is – the poor or the gambling lords — and if she cares at all.

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THE unprecedented case of reelected Bataan Gov. Leonardo Roman, who is set to serve his fourth elective term on June 30, has been elevated to the Supreme Court by a voter calling for the reversal of Comelec decisions allowing Roman to claim the office.

The Constitution and the Local Government Code limit local officials to three consecutive terms or a total of nine uninterrupted years in office.

Roman was first elected governor in a recall election in 1993, and started to serve his first term in 1994. He ran for another term in 1995 and won. He ran and won a third term in 1998 to serve until noon of June 30, 2001.

But he ran again last May 14 for another term and the Comelec allowed him despite the limitation to only three terms or a total of nine consecutive years in office. He won the election unopposed and is set to take his oath on June 30.

If the Comelec’s allowing him to serve this fourth term is left unchallenged, Roman would be in office until June 30, 2004, or a total of 10 years, clearly beyond the limit set by law.

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WHY did the Comelec allow his running again last May 14 despite the three-term limit? The poll body said that Roman’s first term that started in 1993 was not a full term and should not be counted in determining the three-term limit.

The Comelec said that since Roman won in a recall election and not a regular election in 1993 and was serving only the unexpired term of recalled Gov. Enrique Garcia, he was not considered as serving a full first term.

But Roger Galang, the Bataan voter who went to the Supreme Court to block Roman’s fourth term, cited the Supreme Court’s own ruling in Borja vs. Comelec (295 SCRA 157) that for determining the constitutional limitation on terms, the elective official’s serving an unexpired term as a result of a special election “is rightly counted as his first term.”

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COMMISSIONER Joaquin Bernas of the Constitutional Convention, explaining the idea of an official serving the unexpired term of another, said in his book on the 1987 Constitution: “…if one is elected Representative to serve the unexpired term of another, that term, no matter how short, will be considered one term for purposes of computing the number of successive terms allowed.”

Bernas’ comment was based on a clarification by then Commissioner Hilario G. Davide (now Chief Justice) in answer to this query of Commissioner Jose Suarez: “For example a special election is called for a Senator, and the Senator newly elected would have to serve the unexpired portion of the term. Would that mean that serving the unexpired portion of the term is already considered one term? So, half a term, which is actually the correct statement, plus one term would disqualify the Senator concerned from running?”

Davide replied: “Yes, because we speak of ‘term.’ And if there is a special election, he will serve only for the unexpired portion of that particular term, plus one more term for the Senator (and two more terms for the members of the Lower House).”

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THERE is an illustration in the incoming Senate of this “half term” being counted as one term for determining how many terms an official has served.

If Sen. Gregorio Honasan lands in the 13th slot, he would serve only half of the regular six-year term since he would be serving the unexpired term of former Sen. Teofisto Guingona who has been appointed Vice President.

With Honasan having served one term already and with his succeeding “half-term” being counted as another full term, he would be considered to have served two terms. He will therefore be disqualified from running for a third term in 2004.

Question: When Governor Roman was elected to serve the unexpired term of the recalled governor in 1994, was he considered to have served a term for purposes of counting how many terms he has served?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 19, 2001)

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