POSTSCRIPT / March 1, 2001 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Wong case highlights weak AFP leadership

MUCH has been made of the absence of the word “resign” in the farewell statement of ex-President Estrada when he packed up and abandoned Malacañang, the seat of power, on Jan. 20, 2001.

On this one missing word is pinned his argument that he has never resigned from the presidency. He said he just went on leave, insinuating that he may decide to come back from vacation later if he could.

But then, neither does his valedictory use that operative phrase “on leave” or “going on vacation.” With this oversight, how can Erap still insist that he is a “President-on-leave”?

That valedictory, construed in the context of the situation at the time, is a final farewell of a resigned President.

* * *

WE are still waiting, by the way, for million-dollar lawyer Rene Saguisag to point to the line or section, or even just a footnote, in the Constitution saying that a President, acting or actor, is immune from suit.

Like his client Erap Estrada, we’re having a hard time reading fine prints. So we hope Rene will help us locate that definitive line in the Constitution promising immunity to a criminally-bent president.

We ask our readers also to check their Constitution and help look for it. We promise a prize to whoever can locate any mention of “presidential immunity” in the charter.

* * *

WHEN a defeated Erap took the barge that ferried him across the stinking Pasig, he was taking a one-way journey much like the dead crossing the Styx, a river in Greek mythology serving as the entrance to the underworld.

The Eraps of the ancient Greeks were transported to Hades, the abode of the spirits of the dead, via the Styx. Before Erap, his friend and mentor Ferdinand Marcos also took the same lonely route in 1986 across the styxy Pasig on his way to his own political Hades.

The Styx, now called the Mavronéri, is in northeastern Arcadia, Greece. It plunges over a 600-foot cliff, then flows through a wild gorge. The ancient Greeks believed that its waters were poisonous.

It is doubtful if Jose Velarde or anyone else consigned to the Hades of politics would ever be allowed to go back even if he bribed the aged ferryman Charon with dirty millions withdrawn from Citibank.

* * *

THE open quarrel between the erstwhile Navy chief, Rear Adm. Guillermo Wong, and his subordinate Marine officers is the latest manifestation of the serious breakdown in discipline and the deterioration of leadership in the armed forces.

Years ago, it was unthinkable for junior officers to publicly gang up on their superior — a major service commander! — and demand his removal with a threat of mutiny. But here it is happening right before us with the AFP top brass helplessly looking on.

The silly excuse for this scandalous spectacle was that the Navy chief bawled them out in public for some anomalies involving the purchase of logistics! So what if he did? They want him to kneel and beg them to please stop being loose with public funds?

If we accept that as a valid excuse for challenging authority, we’ll never see the end to excuses for whining, foot-dragging, back-biting, mutinous talk and insubordination.

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IF anybody should resign or at least be consigned to floating status, it should be the officers linked to the alleged anomalies. And when they are on the outside, they could damn Wong to their heart’s content.

Gen. Angelo Reyes, AFP chief of staff, is showing weak leadership for being unable to control his men or at least stop the stubborn exchange of indirect fire through the media.

Reyes has himself partly to blame for this serious breach of discipline. At a time when then President Estrada was under siege, the general abandoned his Commander-in-Chief and ran to the other side. That’s bad, a very bad example.

* * *

THE most that Reyes should have done, if he found being loyal to his chief untenable, was to sit it out until a new political leadership took over. Then, and only then, could he shift his loyalties.

He reportedly stampeded to the camp of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo because he was informed that several units under him were poised to break away and join the EDSA forces around GMA. He supposedly wanted to preempt the rebel officers.

The fact that he was not in control at that critical point was bad. But his frantic solution, that of abandoning his Commander-in-Chief and flying into the arms of GMA, was worse. His glowing academic credentials could not make up for his utter failure as a military leader on the ground.

* * *

BUT it must be said that Reyes is also a victim of the confusion in the aftermath of the 1986 EDSA Revolt. That crossover gave birth to a verbose Constitution that messed up and exaggerated the military’s role in the emerging community.

Section 3 was inserted in Article II saying: “Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State. Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.”

Having tasted the blood of political power in EDSA 1986 and later in the series of coup attempts of misguided elements of the armed forces, the military has refused to go back to the barracks.

* * *

MISREADING the confused intentions of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, the military now believes that it has been anointed as some kind of enforcer of the people’s will, a guarantor of good governance, and virtually a fourth branch of government!

Witness the shameless adventurism of top military commanders cozying up to the political actors on the revolving stage.

While Erap Estrada was secure in the thought that as Commander-in-Chief he was backed up by Reyes and the armed forces (not to mention his Ping Lacson’s national police), the GMA camp was just as confident that it had the AFP warm bodies and the guns to drive out Erap in case he proved difficult.

Delusions of power have permeated the military and gone to its head. The addicted military has transformed itself into a genie in combat fatigues with its own three wishes (Power, Power, and more Power!). And it refuses to reenter the lamp.

* * *

THERE is this disturbing report, meantime, that the Lopezes, Aboitizes and the Alcantaras have been aggressively lobbying with President Arroyo to secure the appointment of their man as the new Energy Secretary.

Jess Alcordo, an Aboitiz pointman, was earlier named to the energy department but since he was a long-time employee of the Salim group of Indonesia that has substantial interests in power generation, he was yanked out and named Napocor chief.

It was during the incumbency of an Aboitiz that the country suffered the most crippling power crisis since World War II. From 1991 to 1995, an Aboitiz failed to solve the problem. It is thought that another Aboitiz man would only aggravate it.

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THE Lopez clan, whose franchises are expiring from this year until 2004, is also trying to pass on to consumers stranded costs that amount to billions each year. The same holds true for the Aboitizes, who own power plants in Mindanao and the Visayas.

Industry sources said that the Lopez-managed Meralco and First Gas are fighting off all challenges to their monopoly. These giants are also trying to buy Napocor power plants the way they would in a fire sale. Worse, they want their liabilities paid by captive consumers.

* * *

ANOTHER matter of serious concern is the reported desire of the Lopez-Aboitiz group to control the country’s 119 electric cooperatives, which is allowed under the House version of the Omnibus Power Act that was rammed through by then Speakers Manny Villar and Noli Fuentebella.

The Lopez-Aboitiz group, with the backing of the Osmeñas of Cebu, is now pressing the appointment of a known Lopez man as Energy Secretary. His record? He managed the emasculation of the bill to favor his allies.

Erap Estrada was hounded out of office for something like P5 billion in jueteng payoff, commissions and political contributions. This is peanuts compared to the P200 billion that the Lopezes and the Aboitizes stand to gain if they could have the power measure passed and have the consumers foot the bill.

* * *

PRESIDENT Arroyo earlier suspended action on the proposed Omnibus Power Act because the government would stand to lose more than it could gain, and the people would just be burdened by obligations that rightfully should be shouldered by whoever takes over Napocor.

To be consistent, GMA should appoint an Energy Secretary who could whip the power lords into line and rein in their rapacity.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 1, 2001)

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