POSTSCRIPT / May 13, 2001 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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It’s easier to transport a ballot box than Erap

IT’S easier to transport a ballot box than to transport the entourage of former President Erap Estrada and his son Jinggoy between Santa Rosa, Laguna, and San Juan City.

That should be obvious to the officials of the Sandiganbayan, the Commission on Elections, the justice department, the police and all agencies debating where Erap should vote tomorrow.

Even the newspapers, it seems, cannot agree on where Erap and Jinggoy will vote. One paper says it’s going to be in San Juan, while another major paper says it will be in Santa Rosa.

Let’s not make things any more complicated. Let father and son vote in the controlled confines of their Santa Rosa detention house. It’s much easier to carry and secure a ballot box than to transport the Estrada entourage to and from San Juan.

* * *

THE elections tomorrow will show if we have matured, if we have learned from our monumental mistakes involving Ferdinand Marcos and Erap Estrada, both of whom were removed after massive upheavals from the streets.

If the results tomorrow show that Erap still holds sway with the great masses and is able to make his candidates win in a big way, that is a signal that we have not learned our lesson.

Let us make up for our error of installing an Erap to the exalted Office of the President. Let us not commit the same blunder of voting for candidates on the basis mainly of their popularity.

We are holding elections tomorrow, not a popularity contest.

* * *

THE reaching out to the poor by the Catholic Church and members of the elite is another conciliatory gesture that would help play down the class war being whipped up by Erap Estrada and his propagandists.

Like the Vatican that recently apologized for the sexual misconduct of some priests, the local Church hierarchy and the elite apologized for their shortcomings in dealing with the less fortunate members of the community.

The apology, however, will be meaningless if not followed up by public acts of restitution and a sincere and sustained effort to make up for the exploitation of the poor over the years.

The elite in particular must realize that it cannot exist as a self-sustaining island surrounded by a hostile sea. The poor will be waiting for proof of sincerity long after the elections.

* * *

IN Quezon City, surveys in depressed areas have elicited the bright note that they are looking up to Speaker Sonny Belmonte, the administration candidate for mayor, to pluck them from their disadvantaged position.

They refer to the people-orientation and the public service projects completed by Belmonte during his term as QC congressman. One thing going for Belmonte is his integrity and his capacity to lift the sprawling city from neglect and ensure its rational development.

Many middle class residents we’ve talked with tell us that they are more comfortable with Belmonte precisely because of his managerial ability honed over decades in private business and the government service, including several giant corporations such as Philippine Airlines and the Government Service Insurance System.

* * *

MOST of the surveys we’ve seen, meanwhile, point to an 8-4-1 result in the voting tomorrow for senators, with eight slots going to the administration’s People Power Coalition, four to Erap’s candidates, and one to broadcaster Noli de Castro.

(Our mentioning this survey trend does not mean that that’s how we will fill out our own ballot tomorrow.)

The Iglesia ni Cristo ticket also has it at 8-4-1 in favor of the PPC, but one big difference is that the INC has inserted, as expected, former first lady Loi Estrada among its chosen opposition candidates.

In most other surveys we’ve seen, Loi is a loser. Watching her unsteady performance in the charts, we won’t be surprised if despite her seemingly unlimited funds she would fail to make it to the winning 13 slots in the homestretch.

* * *

IT appears from most surveys that the PPC hold on the top nine slots (with De Castro) has firmed up with Joker Arroyo, Franklin Drilon, Juan Flavier, Ramon Magsaysay Jr., Sergio Osmeña III, Francis Pangilinan, Ralph Recto and Manuel Villar enjoying comfortable leads.

Having been pushed to the bottom of the heap of probable winners, especially after the orgy of violence at Mendiola by pro-Erap forces, opposition senatorial candidates have been reduced to fighting among themselves to land in the crowded cellar.

The opposition candidates clawing for space in the shifty bottom of the winning column are Edgardo Angara, Panfilo Lacson, Miriam Santiago, Juan Ponce Enrile, Gregorio Honasan, and Loi Ejercito.

At least two of these cliffhangers would be elbowed out, ironically, by their own partymates.

* * *

WE can imagine that topping the senatorial derby is a consuming objective for Drilon. Landing in the No. 1 position would boost his expected bid to wrest the Senate presidency, a favorite launching pad for would-be presidents.

In this campaign, he would find himself on a collision course with Senate President Aquilino Pimentel, who has been on friendly terms with senators identified with deposed President Estrada.

The Erap-inclined senators hold the majority in the present Senate. Drilon must not only top the winners in the senatorial race, but must ensure that there would be at least nine of the PPC senatorial candidates winning with him.

* * *

IMAGINE Mandaluyong Mayor Benhur Abalos being asked, in the thick of his reelection campaign, to account for city funds disbursed when he was only seven years old!

He must feel relieved with the junking in the nick of time by Ombudsman Aniano Desierto of the P1.8-billion graft case filed against him by a political rival who resurrected the same charges he had filed against Benhur’s father when the latter was also mayor. (The previous charges were also dropped.)

Desierto said there were no lapses on the part of Abalos in accounting for the funds. The mayor had formed a committee to trace all the supposed missing funds and assets of Mandaluyong and has been regularly submitting reports to the Commission on Audit.

Some of the funds insinuated as having been misplaced or misused by Abalos are cash advances made during the past 31 years. In junking the charges, the Ombudsman noted that the COA already issued last September a ruling in favor of the city treasurer.

Abalos explained that the COA “merely wanted to inventory the assets of the city and reconcile all the financial data for the past 31 years when I was only seven years old.” He noted that this is a common accounting problem of many local government units.

* * *

ONE sidelight keenly being watched is the effect of Erap’s downfall and indictment for plunder, and the attack of Erap partisans on Malacañang, on the chances of candidates identified with the fallen President.

In Palawan, the fallout from the fall of Erap and his followers’ attack on the seat of government are working in favor of Rep. Alfredo Abueg, the PPC candidate for governor, according to surveys coming from the island-province.

Abueg is running against acting Gov. Joel Reyes and Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn, one of the few loyalists who stayed with Erap until his last moments in power at the height of Edsa II last January. It seems Hagedorn rises or falls with his friend Erap.

* * *

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

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