POSTSCRIPT / March 8, 2001 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Mad cow? Relax, shift to fish, fruits & veggies

THE signing of affidavits by former SSS and GSIS top guns saying that ex-President Estrada ordered them to buy massive shares in Belle Corp., a favored gaming firm, should not be the end of prosecutors’ interest in the raiding of pension funds.

There should also be an effort to ferret out SSS and GSIS insiders who must have made a killing on the confidential information that big bloc purchases of Belle shares were about to be made.

The sworn statements linking Erap Estrada to the billion-peso plunder were signed by Social Security System chairman Carlos Arellano and Government Service Insurance System president Federico Pascual (no relation).

* * *

ON orders of Erap, the SSS and the GSIS invested some P1.8 billion in Belle, holder of the jai-alai franchise. Belle, in turn, reportedly gave Erap P189.7 million as commission for the unusual fund infusion.

A small circle of SSS and GSIS officers knows of impending major loans, investments and similar fund movements. Insider information on just one transaction involving a listed firm could make some of them multimillionaires in less than a week without investing a single peso.

As quiet preparations were made for the massive infusion of SSS and GSIS funds into Belle, who positioned themselves to catch a windfall?

* * *

PRESIDENT Arroyo is right in being overly careful and refusing to sign (as of yesterday) the appointment of her daughter Luli as a foreign service officer. Just one tiny drop of nepotism could poison our brand-new President.

There was a flurry of encouragement, including one from venerable Blas Ople, for her to go ahead and sign. But one can never be too careful these days. The place is crawling with plotters just waiting for GMA to make a mistake.

The law says only the President may appoint and sign the papers of diplomatic officers. There’s no evading that.

The suggestion that Foreign Secretary Tito Guingona would sign “for and by authority of the President” would just aggravate the situation since it is a clear, premeditated evasion.

* * *

THERE is no question that Evangeline Lourdes “Luli” Arroyo is eminently qualified.

We covered the diplomatic beat for many years and know first-hand that the foreign service tests are the toughest government examination. The mortality rate is staggering.

We used to regard with awe the young college graduates who step forward from the faceless population, pass the rigid tests, leave the rest behind and start a diplomatic career on the basis of merit and not political connection.

These budding envoys used to be called FAOs (Foreign Affairs Officers), but RA 7157 or the Foreign Service Act passed a decade ago changed their titles to Foreign Service Officers. From this small exclusive pool come the country’s career diplomats.

* * *

LULI was with the last batch of successful candidates. Out of more than 3,000 examinees, only 327 survived the initial stages to move on to the more rigid oral and written tests. Of the 327 finalists, only three made it.

The successful candidates were Luli, journalist Noel Novicio and DFA employee Magnolia Maog. We still have to check the statistics, but over the years our impression is that more women pass the tests.

When Luli took the tests, by the way, her Mom was not yet President. But now that she is ready for appointment, GMA just happens to be the appointing power. How cruel naman the rules!

* * *

WHAT do we do? Unfortunately, my barber is on vacation in their province so I’m left alone to grapple with this monumental problem.

If only we could blow diversionary smoke, we would demand that anybody who initiates nepotism charges against GMA for signing her daughter’s appointment should be made to post a bond and sit for competitive examination alongside Luli.

If the complainant gets a higher rating, the charges stick. If not, the complainant loses the bond and Luli’s appointment is affirmed.

* * *

THE only other thing we can think of on this slow day (it’s starting to feel like Lent is upon us, isn’t it?) is for Luli to postpone her oath-taking. The problem here is her losing seniority as her two companions would be appointed and gain promotions ahead.

Worse, if GMA runs and is reelected in 2004, her poor daughter will have to wait and lag in the seniority roster by as long as nine years!

* * *

TO compensate, Guingona could hire her at once as special assistant. The foreign secretary and not the President would then sign her appointment. Luli would not be a foreign service officer, but that alternative job with Guingona should give her exposure to live-fire diplomacy.

Mom is thus saved from nepotism charges. But poor daughter loses seniority.

Of course, a clear solution for a really doting mother is for GMA to go on leave — here we go again! — and Guingona as Acting President would then sign the papers. After a decent interval, GMA returns from vacation.

Some mothers would do that for their darling daughters!

* * *

THE other family problem of GMA involves her son Juan Miguel (Mikey) running for vice governor of Pampanga. But this is less complicated, particularly from the legal point of view. It’s more political than legal.

GMA has made a big fuss about her being different about kamag-anak in and around her administration. She is also supposed to be against political dynasties.

Yet, here is a new twig of an emerging dynastic tree sprouting without her doing anything to nip it?

* * *

LEGALLY there’s no law prohibiting it, because of the decade-old failure of Congress to pass the enabling act to define and ban political dynasties as mandated by the Constitution.

Mikey is of age. He can and does make his own decisions, including running for public office. While he may heed what his mother says, he makes his own adult decisions.

If he wins in his bid — and our hometown know-it-alls mark him as a sure winner — he would be installed not by his president-mother but by the electorate of his province. She may be President, but Mom would have nothing to do with it.

* * *

SOME of us are not the least disturbed by the “mad cow” scare that has caused a big slump in the sale of beef, meat in general, and hamburgers.

All we have to do in the face of the madness is continue with our usual disdain for beef and pork. We just continue with our diet consisting mainly of seafood, freshwater fish, vegetables and fruits. And vitamin supplements.

If we are to derive anything positive from the “mad cow” scare, it is our shifting or sticking more firmly to a meatless daily diet.

* * *

SO, go ahead and be scared of beef and pork. You’d be surprised at the salutary effects your new meatless diet would have on your health.

When the “mad cow” scare dies down, just continue with your new diet. Give away the meat in your freezer, and cultivate an interest in the variety of fish, fruits and greens in the market.

Talk about it and convert others to your new regimen. But don’t sit down and talk about it in a burgerhouse.

* * *

ANOTHER madness that is upon us is in the indiscriminate fielding of supposed party-list congressional candidates.

One such atrocity is MAD, acronym for Mamamayan Ayaw sa Droga, the vehicle chosen by Erap showbiz pal Richard Gomez to win a congressional seat. This loose government-backed movement has become a political tool of Richard. Mahiya naman kayo!

This reminds us… in the last 1998 elections, one of the more garrulous sons of Erap tried entering Congress via the same shameless party-list route. He ran, claiming to represent the youth! It was a good thing he lost.

Why, are the youth so marginalized and underrepresented in Congress that only Erap’s son can speak for them as their party-list representative?

* * *

IF the rules are this loose, who will stop Gays and Dolls, Abu Sayyaf, Born Again, El Shaddai, the Deaf and the Blind, Suffering Housewives, Irate Consumers, Concerned Citizens, TV Talents, the Working Press, Annabel’s, the Jaycees, Hunters ROTC, Alpha Beta, Mga Guapings, et cetera, from running for the fund of it?

There was this character in the 1998 elections who took millions from the Veterans Bank as contribution to his bid as party-list representative of veterans! Where did the millions go? The poor veterans whose money sustains the bank were not even aware of the plunder.

Again this May, there are the usual attempts of formidable blocs to gatecrash into Congress by sponsoring party-list candidates. These include chambers and organizations of big businessmen, contractors and professionals who by any stretch of the imagination are not marginalized or unrepresented.

* * *

WE see party-list posters campaigning for Bayan Ko, AKO, Tayo, Magsasaka, Maralita and such catchy tags. There is no attempt to explain what the tags and acronyms mean, what they stand for, who are behind them, who are their nominees, and what their programs are.

Enough unwary voters might just write one of the more catchy party-list names on the ballot and unwittingly elect fraudulent representatives of allegedly marginalized but non-existent organizations.

The Commission on Elections need not wait for somebody to challenge each and every party-list candidacy. The Comelec must exercise its powers to protect the sanctity of the electoral process by weeding out fraudulent candidacies before they are let loose upon the public.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 8, 2001)

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