POSTSCRIPT / March 13, 2001 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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NPC in quick count? Let’s fix the club first!

THE board of the National Press Club must level with its members and tell us, if not also the public and the Commission on Elections, the secret financier behind the Club’s bid to be accredited for a nationwide quick-count project.

The NPC does not even have enough funds for its underpaid personnel, the proper maintenance of the clubhouse, its huge utility bills, and its other gargantuan liabilities — yet here it is bidding to do an expensive poll quick-count in May!

Where do we get the millions needed? How do we crank up a nationwide infrastructure on short notice?

* * *

WHERE is the detailed action plan for such an ambitious undertaking? Who will man the base and the rest of the network down to the regions, provinces, towns and barangays?

Where do we get the computer network, the fleet of vehicles, cellphones, adding machines, TV sets, and other necessary hardware? How do we recruit, train, position and pay workers?

How do we ensure the integrity of the poll quick-count? How do we protect the NPC and its members if the project ends up being another scandal?

As the NPC is not organized, staffed and funded for such an adventure, there is a lurking suspicion that somebody had suggested the project to some of the officers and promised to provide the money. Who did?

Instead of embarking on this adventure, why don’t we fix the club first?

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IT seems that the Comelec is under the impression that the NPC has the capability and enjoys the full support of mainstream media to undertake a quick count. The Comelec is presuming too much.

The poll body has grabbed the NPC application and is using it as a foil to the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) bid to gain accreditation as a deputized quick-count organization.

We suggest that Comelec officials led by Benipayo walk UNANNOUNCED one morning to the NPC offices (it’s a short walk away from the Comelec in Intramuros) and check things out.

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ON late registration, we grant that when the Comelec hesitates to register some four million first-time voters on grounds of lack of time and enabling law, it is not out of a malicious intent to deny them their right to vote.

It may just be that Comelec chairman Alfredo Benipayo, being new on the job, has not been able to study all the laws pertaining to the registration of voters.

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FORMER Comelec chairman Ramon Felipe Jr., who was in charge during the Cory years, calls attention to Section 29 of RA 6646, the Electoral Reform Law of 1987, which Benipayo may have missed.

The section provides: “Designation of Other Dates for Certain Pre-Election Acts — If it should no longer be reasonably possible to observe the periods and dates prescribed by law for certain pre-election acts, the Commission shall fix other periods and dates in order to ensure accomplishment of the activities so voters shall not be deprived of the right of suffrage.(emphasis ours)

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FELIPE says that this section granting the poll body ample power to do certain necessary pre-election acts was retained verbatim by RA 8436, the Computerization Law. He adds that such standby powers of the Comelec under RA 6646 were not repealed by RA 8189, the Continuing Registration Law.

He says also that the provision of the Omnibus Election Code (BP 881 as amended) for the regular registration of voters on the 6th and 7th Saturdays before Election Day — which fall this time on March 31 and April 7, 2001 — has not been repealed.

In other words, if in addition to the daily or continuing registration that ended last Dec. 29 the Comelec wants to schedule special registration, especially for first-time voters, it can very well do so under the law.

In 1987, the Comelec under Felipe conducted a special two-day registration for over 1.6 million new voters just one month before the May 11 congressional election. This time, the Comelec under Benipayo has over two months to list first-time voters who have not registered.

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IN fact, RA 6646 as cited by Felipe was the same law invoked by the Comelec under Benipayo when it exercised standby powers to extend from Dec. 15-30, 2000, to Jan. 2-14, 2001, the filing of some certificates of candidacy for the May 14 elections.

If the deadline could be conveniently extended for candidates, why cannot it be similarly moved for voters? Without voters, candidates would be an absurdity.

To be consistent, the Comelec must void the certificates of candidacy filed after the original Dec. 30, 2000, deadline — otherwise it must similarly extend voters’ registration that supposedly closed last Dec. 27.

Imagine the ensuing chaos if candidacies filed during the January 2001 extension were voided! Imagine if one of those who filed certificates of candidacy within the original deadline (Dec. 30, 2000) moved to disqualify those who filed later!

* * *

THE Supreme Court is expected to consider this important point of Felipe in ruling on a class petition filed by a UP coed for the tribunal to allow her and others similarly situated to register.

If Felipe is right and the high court concurs, it might not even be necessary to call Congress to a special session to amend the new law cited by Benipayo in ruling out registration within 120 days of a national election.

One way out of the legal thicket, as we’ve said, is for the Supreme Court to now rule in favor of the petitioning coed et al., and for the Comelec, the political parties and everybody else to quietly accept the ruling and carry out the special registration.

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PARDON my ignorance, but will somebody please tell us what the term “civil society” means.

The term cropped up in press commentaries after the recent street demos of the perfumed crowd of Makati, and then rose to prominent mention after Edsa II drummed up enough noise to scare away Erap Estrada from Malacañang.

We’ve never used the term, because we don’t know what it exactly means, or, to be more precise, what it is intended to mean in the local context.

* * *

AS used in local media, “civil society” seems to refer in a restrictive sense to an educated, presumably moneyed, elitist crowd to which the rest of society must listen. It does not necessarily encompass the entire civilian population outside the military. Or does it?

Do we take it that in contrast to this so-called “civil society,” there is an “uncivil” segment that is probably inclined to boisterous, uncouth, rough behavior? Is this “uncivil society” generally poor and uneducated, one tending to identify with Asiong Salonga types? Is “uncivil society” walang K?

If we failed to catch the contextual meaning of “civil society” as used in press commentaries, please tell us.

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IT is still subject to the usual denial and threats of libel suit, but the report that Irene Marcos and her husband Greggy Araneta tried to transfer last month at least $13.2 billion from the Union Bank of Switzerland to the Deutsche Bank in Germany is damning to the Marcoses.

The Deutsche Bank documents allegedly signed by Irene were an careless admission of the existence of the UBS multibillion-dollar account whose existence she has been denying. The funds’ projected transfer to Germany is generally seen as a laundering attempt.

* * *

IRENE being perceived to be the most quiet among the Marcos children, why is she now in the eye of this storm over squirreled Marcos wealth?

Under existing law, when it is shown that a public official has property or wealth manifestly out of proportion to his legitimate income, the excess wealth is presumed to be illegally acquired and is seized. The burden of proof is on the official, not on the state.

Our theory is that since the Marcos widow Imelda, eldest daughter Imee and son Ferdinand Jr. (Bongbong) were or are government officials, they are vulnerable to graft and corruption charges if any excess wealth is found in their hands.

* * *

SO, the fabulous Marcos wealth that has been assiduously hidden under elaborate schemes, was probably gathered and placed under the name and care of Irene.

If Irene has a fantastic hoard in a bank abroad, or several hoards in several banks, she is not under as much legal compulsion as her mother and her siblings to explain — except probably her payment, if any, of the required taxes.

Having received ample inheritance and being married to a businessman who is independently rich, Irene has reason to possess sizeable wealth. Eat your hearts out!

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 13, 2001)

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