POSTSCRIPT / June 26, 2001 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Erap must speak up on his loyalists’ plans

As a former President who, we presume, still loves his country, Erap Estrada should make a strong public appeal to his supporters to stay calm and collected during and after his arraignment tomorrow before the Sandiganbayan.

Reports are rife that Erap’s followers are preparing to spill into the streets and, if necessary, create some disturbance to dramatize their objection to their hero’s being tried for the heinous crime of plunder.

This is Erap’s chance to show statesmanship by nipping the potentially violent show of force of his loyalists.

His silence or his failure to hold back his followers could mean that whatever they are planning to do is with his consent, if not direction.

* * *

ASIDE from a public statement, Erap should show by his own actions that he believes in his innocence and in due process. This is important.

Erap can contribute immensely to civil order by calmly facing the charges. If he is really innocent, proving it should be very easy, considering that truth is on his side and he has vast resources.

Instead of allowing his lawyers to throw obstacles to a speedy trial, Erap should move for an early start of the trial and for hearings to be conducted every day until he wins acquittal.

An innocent man would want to personally confront his accusers. He does not hide behind expensive lawyers or street mobs.

* * *

ERAP himself should be the first to demand that his trial be fully covered by the media, preferably televised.

This would give him free access into the homes and work places as well as the minds of his constituents, to whom he wants to prove his innocence. He should welcome the chance to have the world watch him demolish the manufactured evidence and the false testimonies of his tormentors.

Street marches will not add to his arguments nor bolster his plea of innocence. On the contrary, violent distractions could injure his cause.

* * *

THE debate over where to detain Erap has dragged on too long — when it should not.

The issue is actually very simple. When a man is charged with plunder, where should he be detained while his case is being heard? The Sandiganbayan should be able to answer this question by reflex.

But the court is suddenly faced with somebody who used to be the President and the judge thinks, mistakenly, that the rules have to be twisted or adjusted to the demands of the accused.

The judge thinks, mistakenly, that there is one rule for a former President and another rule for others.

All that the judge has to do is close is eyes, take a deep breath and exhale, then order the accused — whoever he is — detained where the judge would normally order him detained.

* * *

BUT the lawyers of the accused put up excuses (naturally since they are paid to). Kesyo the accused has a bad back and cannot sleep just anywhere, he might be knifed in his sleep, or he might be ambushed on his way to the court, or that he is sick and must be hospitalized et cetera ad nauseam.

If we accept all possible exceptions and permutations, just the issue over the detention site will take several months to resolve.

By allowing the prolonged debate over this and that detail of detention sites, we think the judge is in effect conniving with the lawyers maneuvering to delay the process.

* * *

THE aches and pains being complained about by Erap at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City are not life-threatening. Some of them may even be just imagined.

If a doctor interviews and examines all detainees at the QC jail, 99.99 percent of them would complain of some ailment, ache or something. So do we transfer them from the QC jail to the Veterans hospital?

Maybe we should, if we cannot cure them where they are. But that will not resolve the question of bellyaching and malingering being used to gain preferential treatment and precious delays.

* * *

ASSUMING Erap should be detained apart from the rest since he was once a President, then let us look for an existing detention facility that would temporarily satisfy the need of the moment.

We submit that it is improper for the Arroyo administration to build an entirely new structure specially designed for Erap and his son Jinggoy. (Why Jinggoy should share presidential privileges is another matter.)

If it is not QC jail for him, Erap (minus the son clinging to daddy) should be sent to an existing detention center. He should not be left to graze in a lying-in medical center nor sent home (in the guise of house arrest). Neither the medical center nor the luxurious residence of the accused was designed as a detention site.

* * *

IF security and convenience are the main considerations in choosing a detention place, an ideal place would be the Camp Crame quarters where Erap was first taken for processing after his arrest.

We suggest that the Sandigan judge bang the gavel, stop the endless debate and immediately order that Erap be returned where he came from — to Camp Crame.

Some people who are getting impatient with the rigmarole are already asking if the judge is waiting for something.

* * *

IN the last Postscript, we started to discuss simplicity when we ran out of space. The very first section of the forgotten Article XI (Accountability of Public Officers) of the Constitution says: Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.

This is the only rule we need to impose on officialdom in the first step toward a sweeping top-level reform in government.

Fortunately for us, we have a President who can creditably come down from her Mt. Sinai and knock the heads of officials with a tablet engraved with this constitutional commandment.

* * *

ALL the elements of Section 1, Article XI, are crucial to reforming government, meaning that if only our officials would take it to heart and do their best to live and work by it, we would be on the way to saving this country.

With this section consisting of just 37 words governing policy and practice in the bureaucracy, we would not even have to spend billions amending the Constitution.

All we really have to do is amend our personal and official lives.

* * *

THE phrase “and lead modest lives” is, to us, the clincher.

Leading modest lives would prevent, or cure, many a personal and official malady afflicting public officers. Studies have shown that many officials have been sidetracked to corruption when they stopped leading modest lives.

Leading modest lives does not mean forsaking ambition, or taking a vow of poverty, suppressing initiative and imagination, or mindlessly following a simple routine until retirement.

Leading modest lives means living within one’s means. When an official hankers inordinately for a lifestyle well beyond his means or pursues a life dictated by vice and passion, he is exposed to the pressures of corruption.

* * *

WHEN a Social Security official looks after his own economic security and not the interests of SSS members, when he chooses a P6,000 pen instead of a P60 sign pen that works just as well, when he buys cellphones with five-digit price tags to place calls that ordinary phones can handle… that is not leading a modest life.

When officials charge their personal and household expenses, including the wages of maids, family drivers and relatives, when they use officials vehicles (maintained, fueled and driven at taxpayers’ expense) for family and business purposes, when they refurbish their luxurious offices at whimsical intervals, when they go on endless junkets, that is not leading modest lives.

When new officials first report for work on weather-beaten 1.6-liter bantam cars and go home before the yearend on luxurious vans, when officials stop eating packed lunch and shift to fine dining at five-star hotels, when officials shed their polo barongs and come out in imported Italian suits and adorn themselves with loads of gold trimmings… that is not leading modest lives.

When officials assign cronies and contractors to maintain their pampered mistresses and continually look for new ways to rake in hurried millions, that is not leading modest lives.

* * *

OFFICIALS must be reminded that they are public servants. But many of them become insensitive to the plight of their employers (the people) because they have used their offices to rise above the masses.

If only officials, especially those from transportation and traffic agencies, would take the bus (or even the jeepney) some days of the week, we would not have the transport and traffic mess that we ordinary commuters have to contend with everyday.

If only public officials would be required to send their children to public schools, our children would not have to settle for substandard public education and enter the race with a serious handicap later in life.

* * *

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal Arroyo may want to take a look again at Section 1 of Article XI and see how she could make officialdom work and live by it.

If that section, especially that end-part about leading modest lives, could be observed just 20 percent, that would be a signal achievement.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 26, 2001)

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