POSTSCRIPT / March 6, 2001 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Rule of succession, not mob rule, installed GMA

SOME people can’t understand why million-dollar lawyer Rene Saguisag is being denounced as derisively as his client Erap Estrada. Do lawyers share in the guilt of their clients?

It surprises some of us, because of a whisper reverberating all over town that Rene was actually positioned by anti-Erap strategists precisely to be retained by Jose Velarde and thereby ensure his losing his Supreme Court cases.

Please don’t tell Erap.

* * *

IN a letter to us, Rene expressed hurt over our referring to him as a “million-dollar” lawyer. He said he might get into trouble with his wife and the bureau of internal revenue, who had been subliminally told that he has been ministering to Erap pro bono.

To the rescue, we hasten to explain that “million-dollar” is merely our awkward way of saying “Wow!” and expressing our wonderment and admiration for this talented Mabini lawyer.

“Million dollar” as we used it did not refer to his retainer’s fee. We feel that his fee, if any, should be much higher considering his value-added lawyering, not to mention the stature and the pocketbook of his client — and the gravity of his crimes.

* * *

SINCE, as Rene claims, he is just helping Erap free of charge, the way is now clear for his giving the fallen President the free legal advice that, everything considered, he should not bother moving for reconsideration.

Rene should tell Erap the bare fact that a recon is hopeless considering that the Supreme Court decision was a 13-0 shutout. Not even Titong Mendoza with his bulging briefcase could dazzle at least a majority of the justices to reverse their votes.

Of course it would be a different situation if, in addition to a fantastic flat fee, Rene were paid for every pleading, every little legal move, he makes for his client. If that were the payment scheme, then certainly he could tell the desperate Erap to go ahead and file as many motions as are allowed under the rules.

* * *

IF Erap would just deign ask this non-lawyer columnist, pro bono of course, our ready advice would be for him to plea bargain.

Sir, just admit you went overboard after a night out with the boys — and then ask for leniency or clemency. Everybody knows you’re guilty anyway. Playing hard-headed would just complicate matters.

Making a clean breast of everything would also cut down the cowardly cronies who are lining up outside the office of Justice Secretary Hernando (not Hernani) Perez to squeal on you.

Seize the initiative, Sir. Confess your sins so those treacherous turncoats would be rendered worthless to the state. Then, Nani need not submit to your cronies’ demand for immunity and he can start throwing the book at them too. After all, they are just as guilty, di po ba?

* * *

BACK to the line we’ve been peddling since January: The Supreme Court decision should firm up the constitutional basis of the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo vis-a-vis People Power.

For political, legal and historical reasons, we should now propagate the official version that GMA was installed 14th President of the Republic not so much by so-called People Power as by constitutional succession.

The simple, logical line is that President Estrada resigned, thereby creating a vacancy and, by automatic operation of the rule of succession spelled out in the Constitution, Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo became President.

* * *

WITHOUT meaning to belittle People Power (for we recognize its relative value), we want to point out that staging a mini-revolt or whipping up a mob is not among the modes provided in the Constitution for changing a president.

It is extra-constitutional, if not unconstitutional, as a means of unseating and installing presidents.

Angry street mobs may scare a sitting president into abandoning his post, but in the end it is the Constitution that will provide the unerring guide to a peaceful, legal and democratic transition.

* * *

THE Supreme Court declared that a vacancy occurred in the office of the President because Erap resigned. That resignation, one of the modes listed in the charter, paved the way for GMA.

If we accept the premise that Edsa II was what removed Erap and installed GMA, then by sheer mathematical logic we have to admit the possibility or even the inevitability of an Edsa III, an Edsa IV, Edsa V… ad infinitum.

To accept this and enshrine it as a necessary mode of recall and replacement of presidents would transform us into another banana republic with a revolving door to the presidency endlessly revolving.

* * *

COROLLARY to our advice to Erap to plea bargain, we dare suggest to former First Lady Loi Ejercito to cut her hypocritical senatorial campaign, drop everything and see her confessor right away.

We think this is the best preparation for quietly joining her husband in jail and facing a more tranquil future.

The former First Couple may not realize it yet, but admitting any wrongdoing and making timely amends are the first steps toward their liberation from anxiety and their becoming less vulnerable.

But in suggesting their talking to a priest or confessor, we do not mean one of those fat, grinning types the alacrity of whose absolution is in direct proportion to the thickness of the envelope.

She would be in good hands if she talked to somebody like Fr. James Reuter.

* * *

THERE should be some way to enable around four million young voters to register for the May 14 elections despite the rule that no registration must be conducted within 100 days of any election.

The failure of most of these new voters to register was hardly their fault. The Commission on Elections itself failed miserably on two counts: (1) Informing the new voters of the need to register, and (2) Giving them reasonable time to do it.

We have a generally young population. To deprive some four million of them their constitutional right to vote would puncture a big hole into the credibility of our elections.

If the problem is money, there must be a way for funds to be raised in the meantime to cover registration expenses. What we think is sorely lacking is the political will on the part of the authorities.

Why are the old fogies in government afraid of the youth?

* * *

ANOTHER glaring failure of the Comelec is in the designating of common areas for posters and similar election propaganda materials.

Elections in this country come as regularly as the seasons. There is absolutely no way the Comelec could be taken by surprise by a national election.

Yet, by the way the Comelec is (mis)handling the issue of common poster areas, it would seem the poll body is hearing of it for the first time. What have they been doing all the time? We mean, aside from cutting deals with contractors and bidders.

* * *

IF Comelec officials have run out of ideas, we can lend them my barber. He may not be million-dollar like Rene, but he is also pro bono and prolific.

First off, my barber says that since among the major violators of the poster rule are officials running for reelection, the Comelec can declare as common poster areas (meaning where posters may be legally pasted), the residences and offices of these officials.

He says that the fence, walls and everything else around the houses and offices of officials in the running should be declared open for all sorts of posters. Let them know how it feels to be swamped with election trash.

Then we can include the walls and everything else in the premises of the Batasan, the Senate and the offices of local officials, the kapitolyo, City Hall, the municipio, as well as their houses and those of their mistresses.

* * *

THE Comelec could deputize all citizens and authorize them to remove, deface or vandalize all election posters, billboards and similar materials placed outside the Comelec-sponsored areas.

As Comelec deputies, these vandals will be immune from arrest, harassment and prosecution.

We should see spray artists decorating campaign posters and billboards with graffiti. Kids with itchy fingers and pentel pens can draw mustaches, swastikas, horns and blackened teeth on the pictures of candidates.

Fred Lim types can spray-paint red crosses or verboten signs on faces staring from posters and billboards. Fire-breathing urban guerrillas can write seditious exhortations across walls plastered with posters.

* * *

IN short, my barber says, let there be a free-for-all in destroying out-of-line posters and billboards without the vandals being held to account for that patriotic spree.

Tourism Secretary Dick Gordon could seize this rare marketing moment and ask straitjacketed neighbors like Singaporeans to come over and engage in an orgy of spray-painting and anti-government vandalism while chewing gum.

Imagine the liberating release of the pent-up frustrations and urges of every participating vandal!

In gratitude for the resulting sales boom, paint manufacturers and suppliers of marking pens can donate some of the materials needed by organized vandals. The BIR can do its bit by giving tax credits to donors.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 6, 2001)

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