POSTSCRIPT / March 29, 2001 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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RP gov’t a co-equal of NDF in peace gab?

GRANTING that government negotiators are dying to bask in Scandinavian spring weather and granting we have the money for junkets, maybe we can let them talk to the National Democratic Front panel in Oslo or thereabouts just to start the peace ball rolling.

But before government negotiators pack their tourist bags, let’s get two conditions nailed down in writing:

  1. The NDF must affirm that discussions abroad will not mean to them, or have the effect of, internationalizing the negotiations or giving the front and its affiliates a status of belligerency.
  2. After that meeting abroad, the next one must be held in the Philippines.

* * *

CONSIDERING the far-reaching implications of the negotiations, the two conditions given above are, we think, fair and reasonable.

If the Arroyo administration is reluctant to pin down the NDF on these two points before resuming talks, there must be some dark ulterior motive behind the announced intention of the government to sit down with the NDF in a foreign capital.

And if the NDF balks or refuses to agree when the government presses these two conditions, the logical conclusion is that the NDF is negotiating in bad faith. It would then be the height of naiveté to walk into their political and propaganda trap.

* * *

WAS President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo presented a fait accompli in the hurried wrapping up of preliminary agreements regarding prior discussions, the agenda of upcoming talks, and the choice of venue?

GMA had hardly warmed her seat when the NDF suddenly announced that some substantive terms had been agreed upon with the government, that the minutes of past meetings had been approved, and that there was already an agreement to resume the talks abroad.

The President should have said “teka muna!” (in the grand tradition of her Executive Secretary Renato de Villa) and ordered an immediate freeze. As she is now responsible, she must not be stampeded into blindly validating commitments of runners of the previous regime.

* * *

WE wonder if GMA’s advisers informed her of the recent official statements of the NDF and their implications:

  1. Announcing the resumption of the talks in a foreign capital even before the just-installed Arroyo administration had a chance to assess its position and announce its decision.
  2. Claiming a status of belligerency arising from its meeting-of-equals with the “GRP” (Government of the Republic of the Philippines).
  3. Referring to military officers captured by the New People’s Army as “prisoners of war” who are treated and released in accordance with Geneva conventions and other internationally accepted procedures for the handling of POWs.

* * *

BY keeping quiet on the public statements of the NDF, the Arroyo administration impliedly agreed with them, including the granting of a status of equals to the band of dissidents directing a war of liberation from the safety and comfort of the Netherlands.

If the Arroyo administration does not agree with those points publicly raised by the NDF, it must say so in crystal clear terms — also in public official declarations.

Let it not be said later that we lost a war, not on the battlefield but in the tricky underbrush of propaganda. Compared to the NDF veterans, the Arroyo team looks like a bunch of babes in the political woods.

* * *

BECAUSE of its urgency, we repeat what we said in an earlier Postscript  that the government must stop calling its negotiating panel the “GRP” or the Government of the Republic of the Philippines. These are some of the reasons:

  1. Across the table talking to the “GRP” is not another government but a bunch of dissidents. By calling itself “GRP,” the government raises the other side’s status to that of an equal — a belligerent status that they now claim in their propaganda.
  2. The “GRP” panel cannot presume to represent and commit the entire Philippine government, surely not the Legislature and the Judiciary which under the Constitution have some oversight functions involving contracts and agreements entered into by the Executive.

* * *

THEY tell us that for negotiations to succeed, we must grant good faith all around.

Still, many observers continue to be bothered by the question: Do the Netherlands-based NDF elders really want an early solution to the insurgency problem in the home country and write finis to their revolution?

We will not dare answer this sensitive question. Instead, we’ll tell you a story:

THE son of a de campanilla lawyer had just been admitted to the bar. He went to his hearings brimming with good faith and a touch of idealism.

Over lunch with his father three weeks later, he announced that he had just won his first case, a big one, for their law firm.

“Which one is this?” asked his father, surprised.

“It’s that long-pending land dispute we’ve been handling for the governor’s family,” said the proud son. “The case had dragged on, outliving three judges and several switching of lawyers by the adverse party, remember?, but finally we’ve won it!”

“That one?” exclaimed his father, dropping his fork.

“Why, Papa?”

“Hijo, that was precisely the gold mine of a case that sent you to law school and a world tour every spring,” the old man muttered. “Now I guess we’ll have to prospect for another gold mine for your younger brother.”

* * *

SUDDENLY there’s renewed campaign fervor among People Power Coalition partisans. While before they conceded that they could live with an 8-5 win in the senatorial derby, now they want nothing less than a 13-0 shutout.

It seems they were galvanized into frenzied campaigning for a 13-0 total victory after Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago announced that she would be willing to be shot at the Luneta if the PPC scored a 13-0 sweep.

* * *

THE furor over the banning of the film “Live Show” would not have been as electric as it was had Malacañang (meaning the State) kept its ordained distance from Jaime Cardinal Sin (representing the Church).

GMA blundered in letting it be known that she banned the film upon suggestion (demand?) of the Cardinal. While her being an obedient daughter of the Church may sit well with many Catolicos cerrados, she should have considered that she was not an ordinary member of the flock but the President of the Philippines.

The Cardinal himself also erred, we think, when he summoned and reportedly castigated then MTRCB chairman Nicanor Tiongson, a government official, for allowing the showing of the film to viewers who are 18 years or older, and proceeded to pressure GMA to ban the film.

GMA is not an acolyte of the Cardinal who must carry out his every wish, and His Eminence has no business ordering government officials around.

* * *

HEWING to the principle of separation of Church and State, the government and the Catholic Church (and other religions) must keep the dividing line clear. They can lay down their respective rules and guidelines for moviegoers, and neither party should meddle in the enforcement of the rules of the other.

It is problematic to have common rules for both government and the Church with the government expected to bear the brunt of enforcing them. The Church should do its own enforcement and not pressure government to carry out its wishes.

* * *

WE keep receiving complaints from subscribers of some health care businesses. Some readers insured with “I-Care,” for instance, said they have found many doctors under the program to be cold, reluctant and sometimes obnoxious.

Asking around, we discovered that doctors under some insurance programs receive fees smaller than what they normally receive from regular patients. That must be the reason why they do not seem as interested when consulted by insured patients.

A person taking out medical insurance is actually buying protection and peace of mind. The problem is that after religiously paying premiums year after year, when it’s time to make a claim or avail of the benefits, the patient is sometimes given the run-around. The patient does not get the protection and peace of mind that he paid for.

Maawa naman kayo!

* * *

WE’VE also received a lot of email seconding our proposal for converting the North Luzon Expressway into a special Traffic Safety and Discipline Zone (SafDiz with a long “a”).

The idea is to set the NLE apart as a controlled area where traffic rules are enforced relentlessly round the clock. If you’ve driven a car in the US, or inside Camp John Hay and Subic Free Port, you know what we mean.

Filipino drivers who are road monsters undergo an instant transformation once they enter Subic or John Hay. Suddenly they are safe and disciplined drivers. Why can’t they be consistently law-abiding when driving in Manila or elsewhere?

* * *

WE’RE asking the Philippine National Construction Corp., managers of the expressway, to consider making the NLE a “SafDiz,” a controlled zone of safety and discipline, through a 24-hour no-nonsense enforcement of traffic rules.

The SafDiz idea is feasible. Let’s try it.

Once we have it working on the NLE, we can replicate it on other road networks such as the South Luzon Expressway, the Roxas Blvd.-Coastal Road, and the three mountain roads snaking up to Baguio.

Through SafDiz, we’ll be educating motorists and whole families using these roads not only on road discipline but also on other aspects of citizenship. We will be conditioning ourselves to always obeying the law — on the road and everywhere else.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 29, 2001)

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